Monday, April 27, 2009

A Lesson from the Continuum of Care

Coming from a background in Military Medicine, I picked up a bias or two about the benefits of a unified Department. I was a Navy Corpsman, a member of the most decorated Corps in the Navy. More medals of honor and purple hearts have been awarded to Navy Corpsman than any other Corps.

A Corpsman helped to raise the flag at Iwo Jima. Corpsman provide medical support to the Marine Corps (the Marines don't have their own) and have been embedded with war fighters all over the world throughout American history. All Corpsmen take an oath and hold the Corpsman's prayer as sacred. We also tend to have a unique perspective on the military universe.

To me, serving in the military was a very close contact human experience. I quite literally had blood, vomit, and just about anything you can imagine from every patient beneficiary category on my hands at some point: active duty, family members, retirees, reserves from the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and from what some Navy sailors call CIVLANTFLEET (the civilian world). My specialty was emergency medicine, but I pulled my share of overnight duties in the medical surgical wards, low level jump support duty with Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT's), cardiac care duty, OB/GYN duty, pediatrics... you name it. I even swam 7.5 miles with the SEAL teams in from Vieques Island to Puerto Rico in 1997 (those guys rock, by the way).

Here's a fundamental lesson I learned: it was okay (even desirable) when I was trying to solve a medical problem, to shed any organizational, age, race, religion, uniform or other paradigms and focus on the problem at hand. Sure, things like age and race were factors when considering causality and treatment; and religion gave me clues as to how best to respect the dead; but when people needed help, it didn't matter to them what color uniform I was wearing, how many ribbons I had, what books I read or what policies or politics I followed. As long as I stayed focused on what was most important at the moment, both my patient and I came away from each encounter with the best possible outcome.

In the medical community, we build our entire support structure around the human to human encounter. We commit ourselves and the resources we manage to ensuring that people who turn to us in a time of need get the best care that they can get. We take down artificial boundaries between the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the VA, and purchased care (networked civilian providers) - so that patients can go without delay to where the care environment is best able to meet their needs. We remove obstacles to data and information sharing so that the care experience is not redundant or lacking - so that we don't revisit discomfort unnecessarily, compromise safety, or miss a vital trend.

We make the time to get it right. We chase inefficiencies, ask the hard questions, combine efforts where it makes sense to combine, shut off redundant expenses, and move every available dollar to where they are needed the most.

The lessons I learned in the medical community translate very well into the realm of Business Transformation. People in the Department are called upon to find ways to work together and stay focused on what matters most. It's not about the paperwork, a particular IT program, a policy, an acquisition methodology, a financial math problem, or any other such superficial and short term convention.

Business Transformation is about our organization's ability to adapt to modern realities. It about the fact that technology evolves faster than the Department of Defense acquisition system can process the paperwork to buy it. It is about the need for America to defend itself while sustaining it's aging population, and honoring the commitments we made to people as they retire. It's about being adaptable enough to stay ahead of national increases in health care costs. It's about eliminating duplication of effort, being open about what we're working on and how we're doing, and moving dollars to where they are needed the most. It's about having financial visibility to the deck plates so that Department management course corrections can be measured, judged, and adjusted as we navigate our organization through turbulent times.

We have to be accountable, transparent, agile, and self aware. Business Transformation tools and methodologies are all means to this end. As long as we stayed focused on what was most important at the moment, and put aside our organizational, uniform, and policy paradigms, we can be successful.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Soft Skills - Solid Results

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” - Rollo May

Effective communication is a cornerstone of any transformation project. It is basic Transformation fuel. Without effective, people-centered communication, our Transformation efforts will sputter, lurch, and eventually grind to a halt.

I recently sent an email to a number of friends and fellow change agents who have been following the Defense Business Transformation program. I wished them well, updated them on what I’m doing, shared a few words about where they can find quality information. Check out some of the responses I got back:

  • “...thanks for keeping me in the loop...”
  • “...thanks for keeping in touch.”
  • “Great to hear from you!! Keep the updates coming!”
  • “Good to hear from you. As usual, you provide plenty of interesting and informative news. I miss the meetings.”
  • “Hearing from you is like bursting out of the ocean deep! Fresh air and sunshine! Please keep me on your "things you should know" list. It's been awfully quiet (here) since you left and we're hearing through the grapevine that the weekly (town) meetings are OBE. Whatever the case, thank you for continuing your communications.”

Communication is the glue that bonds people together, motivates them, and makes the impossible possible. Good communication makes a difference.

I’m not just talking about the kind of communication that passes factual information from one person to another. We can get that kind of communication from a newspaper subscription. And what happens to a newspaper once it’s read?... I’m talking about the kind of communication that conveys emotion and trust: rich, gooey, pudding communication instead of the thin, sterile water stuff we see in memos.

Effective communication is measured by the response you get. It isn’t in how splashy your brief was, how many big words or buzz words you use, or in how dense your material is.

The richer the communication and the more channels you use, the better. People like video, audio, color, facial expressions, and just about anything that provides that something extra. Think about it, which would you prefer? A fireside chat with a friend you know, like and trust; or an hour at a wooden conference table staring at a PowerPoint presentation ?

If we want to affect behavior, we have to get out of our offices and cubes and mix it up with people. Listen to what’s going on. Try to understand what are problems for people and what excites them. Listen first, then speak in terms that they can understand and appreciate. Use the Web, a Blog, your feet, your ears - whatever it takes. Use them all and use them often.

As a communication program matures, it gets focused. Setting up a podium on main street and delivering speeches about fertilizer is less effective than visiting a gardener's convention and delivering the same speech.

Try adding deliberate communication to your program. You’ll discover greater success in whatever effort you’re committed to, and like the responses you see above, you’ll find that people really appreciate it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Transformation Tip from the Kitchen

Who would argue the fact that flour, that white powder made from ground-milled wheat, is critically important to our way of life? But despite the fact that there is flour in just about every food pantry in the planet, there are few people who would voluntarily scoop up a handful and shove it in their mouth.

The truth is: by itself, flour is dry, chalky, and makes a huge mess. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine if we ate it raw, it would turn into glue and give us a stomachache. The same can be said for the various products that we use to enable transformational activities in the Department. Enterprise Architecture, for example: By itself, Enterprise Architecture (EA) has been labeled as dry and hard to digest.

Magic happens, however, when we combine a few ingredients and add some heat. Flour, when mixed with sugar, butter, eggs, milk and maybe some cocoa, pecans, and a few drops of vanilla – and baked at 325 for 35 - 40 minutes - makes some pretty awesome brownies. When my wife makes brownies, I swear people smell them for miles and come running.

The same kind of magic happens when we combine our transformation products. An investment review, for example, that is mixed with Enterprise Risk Assessment Methodology (ERAM) wisdom, Standard Financial Information Structure (SFIS) constraints expressed as EA compliance criteria; placed in context, and “baked” under pressure at the decision making table for 30 minutes can produce results that people will love. The whole is truly better (and much more effective) than the sum of the parts.
  • Investment review without EA or ERAM is like pure sugar. We get an empty short-term rush when we get funds certified, followed by a crash when long-term consequences are eventually realized.
  • An Enterprise Transition Plan (ETP) without solid content in it is like a recipe card without anything written on it. A paper cut is about the best thing we can hope to get out of that.
  • The whole mix of content provided by the EA, the ETP and investment review is like raw batter without heat If we don’t find a way to get it to the decision making table. It will eventually spoil if it’s not cooked & we’ll find ourselves making new batter.
The point is that we need it all. We need the finest ingredients, we need the recipe for assembling them, and we need heat and time to bake them. In the end, if we do a good job, we will have something that everyone wants a piece of.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Getting it All to the Table

Most decision makers I've met in the Department of Defense appreciate having someone hand them good insight or solid context that pertains to a decision that they need to make - provided the insight or context comes in a timely manner. Getting information to a decision maker after the decision has been made can actually be quite disruptive. Undoing and redoing a decision can be painful, and few decision makers enjoy this.

The Department of Defense has a lot of information systems, information models like Enterprise Architecture, and analysts. But having been in many senior level decision meetings, I can attest to the fact that not much of the "product" produced by these systems, models and analysts actually makes it into the room when decisions get made. If it does make it into the room, it's usually too complicated to dissect or too watered down to be useful. Consequently, we often make the "best" decisions we can and then look back and say to ourselves - if we only knew...

The problem is that the decision making cycle time is not in sync with the time it takes to pull together relevant, accurate and complete information. Models take time to make and even longer to use. Information systems are not talking to one another, and the data in one system may have a different meaning from the data in another system. Analysts question everything, build models, interpret data, and in general, try to help mitigate this problem, but it takes too long! By the time the analysis is done, the decision was already made and the decision makers have moved on to something else.

This poses a real challenge for the transformation community. Do we have to get information faster? How do we verify accuracy and completeness? How to we get exactly what we need, at the time we need it, to the people who need it, and follow up afterward to make sure that whatever decision was made at the decision making table is re-absorbed back into our models and used to inform future decisions.

The answer involves a good blend of technology enhancements, decision processing modifications, and expectations management. Technology enhancements need to focus on getting usable information out of multiple distributed systems faster and easier. Decision processing modifications need to help us sort out tactical decisions (ones that need to be made right away and are less likely to have long range consequences) from strategic decisions (those that don't have to be made right away and are more likely to have long range consequences). And expectation management needs to simultaneously reduce the stress of waiting and increase the speed of production.

Fortunately, the Business Transformation Agency has made some progress on the technology enhancement front. Driven by a Department-wide need for a streamlined acquisition approach, the agency developed a model and a technology support system within what's currently referred to as the Business Capability Lifecycle (BCL).

The BCL is powered by a technology core that pulls information from distributed data sources throughout the DoD. People can withdraw from and deposit into this core at every step throughout a capability lifecycle. This core holds relevant financial, systems, context, and historical information about new investments that are being presented to decision makers for approval. Until recently, the notion that we could pull mass amounts of information together in a timely manner was mostly theory. Today, it's a reality through the use of mashups.

The Business Transformation Agency has put recent advances in technology to work. Using a system that runs off of a Defense Knowledge Online (DKO) back bone, the BTA has devised a way to push and pull data from many legacy data sources, then run some logic to organize this data into relevant information gives new context to decision makers. As of this writing, decision makers in the DoD are quite literally only a few mouse clicks from dashboards of relevant financial, systems, context and systems information.

The days of bringing just what's in your head or in a limited briefer's deck to the decision table are rapidly coming to an end. With maturity of these push/pull technologies, decision makers can now bring up an Internet connection and ask to see "live" information about whatever they are deciding upon.

The promise of these new technology enhancements is the promise of better quality decisions. It will help to produce decisions that are more likely to result in long term positive changes in the Department.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What does Investment Review do for Me?

It's hard to imagine that a federal bureaucratic paperwork drill can actually be helpful to people dedicated to getting things done quickly, but that's what I'm about to tell you. It's sort of like medicine - it doesn't taste good on the way down, but it sure makes you feel better in the long run.
Investment review, as I had set it up in the Military Health System, involved four main phases:

  1. The organization seeking obligation authority would have to prepare some documentation about whatever it was they were seeking obligation authority for. They submitted that paperwork through my office.
  2. My office went through the documents with subject matter experts in business cases, security, privacy, budget, enterprise architecture, and strategic planning. This process took about 40 days from start to finish and was engineered to serve as due diligence for the Department.
  3. My office then either sent the package back or sent it forward to the OSD level Investment Review Board (IRB) with leadership and Pre-Certification Authority signatures. The IRB reviewed the packages we submitted for about 30 days.
  4. The IRB carried the finished package in the form of a recommendation to the Defense Business Systems Management Committee (established by 10USC186).

Seems like a long process, right? So what's the advantage?

Well, in addition to some of the more obvious benefits:
  • lot of eyes on new investments
  • a consistent approach to due diligence
  • filtering out of poorly conceived or low value added expenditures
  • bringing "after thoughts" like privacy and security into the main stream
There are not-so-obvious advantages. Seeking a permit to do something is nothing new. Want to build a house? you'll need a stack of them. The permitting and inspection process ensures that whatever you build meets safety codes, doesn't cause disruption to the neighborhood around your new house, and ideally enhances the value of the community for everyone.

People complain about the permitting process, but imagine what your community would look like without it.

Investment review is very similar to a permitting and inspection process. Someone wants to build something so they seek a permit. The folks issuing the permit have a long list of things that every new project must comply with (DoD uses the phrase "Enterprise Architecture Compliance"). They check the project against the list of things the project needs to comply with, and there you have it... a better, stronger, safer investment in the community.

As with housing codes, most compliance issues are the result of learning something the hard way. Someone falls through a floor, a row house fire consumes an entire city block of homes, a water break destroys five floors... These codes and compliance criteria are an expression of lessons learned. They keep us from repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

If everyone who wanted to build a house faked the paperwork, took short cuts with the blue prints, or deliberately try to fool the inspectors, we'd be in big trouble. Wouldn't you agree?

If we do this right, a higher quality Defense Department is in it for us. We will create a learning environment where mistakes that are made in one area of the Department are studied, expressed in a medium that "remembers" them and "recalls" them when it's time to spent new money - in a system that allows us to apply those lessons learned to every subsequent investment. We won't get it all done right away, but we will transform one investment review at a time.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Business of Defense Business Transformation

No one in the Department of Defense owns "transformation." The term is used freely by just about anyone who wishes to make a significant change in the Department. Changes attempted under the banner of "transformation" are as varied as the people who use the word.

We assume that most "transformations" are attempts to make the DoD environment better. We also assume that most "transformations" will involve making some significant transition from current state to future state - inevitably engaging all of the related cultural, policy, process, and other "transformation" challenges along the way. Most "transformation" movements have a champion and a following of dedicated believers who make the transformation happen.

Defense Business Transformation (sometimes referred to as DBT) is unique for several reasons:

1. It was directed by Congress, and has its own set of statutes:
  • 10USC2222 which establishes the mandate
  • 10USC186 which establishes the governance body for the effort
  • 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1)(A) which establishes the penalties for not doing it

2. It applies to the entire Department of Defense: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, DFAS, DLA, TRANSCOM, SOCOM, Joint Staff... you name it. No group that falls under Title 10 is exempt.

3. It acts on the growth plates of the organization. Investment Review only applies to new developments, modernizations or enhancements. DBT isn't trying to go back in time and retrofit everything in the Department. Good thing too, because the cost for such an effort would be prohibitive. And it's just too hard to recreate the level of documentation needed for things that were done a long time ago by people who have moved on.

4. It must use a common set of tools:
  • Enterprise Architecture: all new business IT investments must assert compliance against the Enterprise Architecture.
  • Enterprise Transition Plan: The DoD must have a transition plan for all new investments. The DBT plan speaks to the six Business Enterprise Priorities (BEP's) and the sequence in which activities will be completed.
  • Investment Review: All new business IT investments must be reviewed, due diligence must be conducted (to assert compliance against the enterprise architecture, for example), and the must be recorded before authority to obligate funds is granted. Investments of more than $1 million that are not reviewed carry a penalty as described in 31 U.S.C. § 1341
  • Annual Review: all business IT investments must be reviewed not less than annually (every 12 months).
5. All Principle Staff Assistants (PSA's) have a role to play in Defense Business Transformation.

The word "Defense" in Defense Business Transformation is important to call special attention to. It refers to the fact that this is a Defense-wide program, not an Army-wide program, a Navy-wide program, an Air-Force-wide program, a DFAS-wide program, etc. So if a capability is being developed well in the Army, for example, it would make perfect sense in the context of DBT to expose that capability to the other Services & evaluate it for re-use or as a possible replacement for a similar investment in another area of the Department.

Defense Business Transformation treats the Department of Defense as if it were one big department with several valuable branches. It attempts to make course corrections - one investment at a time - to bring the Department closer to interoperability; information sharing; agility; visibility over finances, personnel, acquisition, materiel, real property, and common supplier engagement.

It is the responsibility of every DoD employee involved in modernizing, developing or enhancing business IT - from contracting officers and their representatives, to program managers, PEO's, CIO's and anyone wishing to dedicate resources to automating business functions - to understand and comply with the law pertaining to Defense Business Transformation.

At the end of the day, if DBT is successful, the Department of Defense will have visibility of its assets, a cohesive suite of IT products, a disciplined approach to spending money on business IT, and a solid platform from which to launch more transformational projects such as Service Oriented Architecture.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Making Business Transformation Personal

Transformation in the Department of Defense is nothing new. The Department of Defense is one of the most adaptable organizations on the planet - when it needs to be. If you think about it, this is an organization that has to not only perform, but it has to out-perform militaries from any country on the planet. The United States has been doing well for more than 200 years.

Having been part of the US Military system for 18 years, I have come to believe that the brand of transformation that the Department is most capable of executing is what I call threat-based transformation. When the Department is faced with a threat, it's as if natural anti-bodies kick into high gear and rush to respond. Sometimes the adjustment needed is profound - as when we dealt with North Africa during WWII and more recently when dealing with unconventional, terrorist-based warfare - but we do adapt! Afterward, we're stronger than ever - until the next new threat.

The challenge that Defense Business Transformation evangelists face is a very natural one. We're focused on modernizing the way we conduct business internally (financial visibility, personnel visibility, acquisition visibility, materiel visibility, common supplier engagement, etc). But we are proud (rightfully so) and don't easily recognize ourselves as a threat. Transformation evangelists essentially hear the following: We're the most adaptable - arguably the most effective military on the planet. We've been getting along great - why do we have to change? Where's the threat?

Answering this question is difficult. The pain threshold (the point at which it's more painful to stay the same than it is to change) has not been reached. We who study the need for change see all kinds of reasons why the Defense Department needs to evolve: increasing financial strain on the Federal government, Vietnam era administrative structures, an over abundance of bureaucracy, increased contact with other cultures around the world, asymmetrical threats, the rapid pace of technology advancements, etc. Just take a look at the GAO's high risk areas (, and you can see a bunch of reasons, but these things all seem somehow removed from the day to day operations of the Defense Department.

The Department has a number of formally established groups all working on the Transformation mission, but to compare Business Transformation with a threat-based transformation would be unfair. In a threat-based transformation, every last soldier, sailor, airman, contractor, and civil servant lends a hand. But when it comes to Business Transformation, it could be argued that the typical Defense Department employee thinks it's someone else's job.

As we proceed with Business Transformation across the Department, we are challenged to find ways to make the Business Transformation mission personal. There is an army (no pun intended) of good, capable change agents across the Department of Defense. If the Department provided consistent and authoritative direction, and these change agents all started pitching in, we'd have the Department transformed and the GAO high risk areas closed in short order.