Saturday, May 23, 2009

It Takes a Village...

This quote traditionally goes on to talk about raising children, but I’m hijacking it for a minute to make a point. Our ideas or concepts, I would argue, are precious to us in much the same way that our children are. We birth them, nurture and mature them, and over time, we can grow very attached to them. How many times does a conflict between ideas lead to a conflict between people? Enough said.

Despite our love of one concept or another, it really takes many from the DoD “village” to raise that concept to a fully mature capability. Most concepts die before ever reaching full maturity, but that doesn’t stop us from hatching another one.

What a rush it is for us to see a concept we’ve invested in make it through the trials of the maturation process and emerge as a fully operational capability! When that happens, everyone knows it’s out there doing good for the world! The “mother” or “father” of that capability can move on to another duty station and forever wear the proud badge of capability parenthood. So many obstacles overcome… so many people being helped… self mastery… bureaucratic system mastery… a promotion…

All right, back to reality. The truth is nobody moves a concept to capability in the Department alone today.

We used to hatch concepts and grow them into capabilities with a small band of innovative and motivated heroes, remember? We celebrated them throughout history: Jimmy Doolittle, Jasper Maskelyne, and others. But what the history books forgot about are the vast number of creative, resourceful people who tried something, got funding, ran at a problem and either missed the mark, hit some other mark, or fell short of the finish line and ran out of money.

Over time and after many expensive lessons – after we seemed to hemorrhage money at these failed attempts - the DoD established guardrails and training wheels for us. Now, we have 5000 and JCIDS controls. We have documentation and reviews, IIPT’s and OIPT’s and budget calls, review boards, risk assessments, security checks, designated approval authorities, milestone decision authorities, UFR’s, milestone checks, and all manner of hawkish, intelligent people who “keep and eye” on fledgling concepts as they mature. This morass of oversight and “aid” serves to keep a project on the straight and narrow. It has the added benefit of strengthening the arms, knees and lips of Program Managers who now need to flap, duck, dodge, cajole, beg, plead, run around, and otherwise break through the gauntlet in order to ensure that the capability they’ve been entrusted with survives.

Business Transformation is about hitting the reset button and modernizing our “help” structure. As we examine the way we do business, we ask ourselves a few questions: Is the entire village helping or is all of their pulling and tugging really drawing and quartering these fledgling capabilities? Is all of this “help” actually preventing us rolling capabilities out the door fast enough to keep up with today’s pace of technology advancement? What if we took the best of the “help” and concentrated it in a single governance structure – so the questions asked are answered once and for all, instead of 8 to 15 times? Can we use today’s technology to finally draw information we’ve been collecting all of these years, without buying or building another system, and mash it up into a single picture that can be presented in real time to leadership sitting around the single governance table in real time so they can make informed decisions? Are we leveraging the power of technology and advancements in our modeling knowledge to provide much needed continuity that survives administration changes? Have we utilized the full flexibility in law and policy to lighten the administrative load on some commodities as we run them through the acquisition process?

What is currently known as the Business Capability Lifecycle “BCL” is the label we given to reference the eco-system that Business Transformation Agents are working in. It is the process, the laws and policies, the technologies, the org structures, the workflows, the communication, and the cultural factors – the entire village that we’re acting on.

Transformation will happen because it must happen. We must find better ways to organize our village to make sure that concepts grow into capabilities faster. We must find more efficient ways to organize the genetic material of the capabilities themselves so we don’t wind up with twins, triplets, or worse: parasites. We must find a way to allow PMO’s to be more successful faster, and not burn them out by making them act like one armed paper hangers as they earnestly try to manage their projects. We must find ways to orchestrate the madness and ensure that what gets produced is what’s needed, and that it is delivered in a way that most efficiently uses taxpayer dollars. And we must ensure that the wisdom of the age is applied to every capability so that maximum re-use and recombination is possible to meet the changing needs of the country.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Revolution has Started

Considering the fact that you are here reading this blog, I don't need to tell you that the rush to Web 2.0 technology and new media is having an impact. What surprises me though, is the speed and power with which this new application of technology has seemingly taken root in major sectors - to include government, almost overnight.

I just returned from Montgomery, Alabama Tuesday night. I was there as part of a presentation team commissioned to talk about Business Transformation with a group of about 700 like-minded interested and interesting people. I came away impressed by the fact that we weren't the only ones talking about transforming business operations in the Department of Defense, or about the role that these new Web 2.0 technologies are playing in transformation efforts everywhere.

It used to take a herculean effort to reach people. Senior leadership got on planes and flew to different places around the world to get a message in front of a crowd. We would pick up a microphone, address 700 or 800 people, waive the flag, talk about our agenda, close strong (hopefully), and go get coffee. On the plane on the way home, we'd mull over what we said, how the crowd reacted, and hope we reached people. We'd ask for feedback in any way we could get it, but it was usually months or sometimes even years before we knew if there was any real impact. By then, we'd forgotten about the presentation and moved on. I can't tell you how many times someone has caught me and said "You might not remember me, but I remember when you spoke at..." Whew... feedback loop closed.

Somehow, this last trip felt closer. I don't know how to describe the concept of "closer," but not knowing how to do something has rarely stopped me from trying. I'll give it a shot.

By "closer," I mean a few things. I felt that the messages coming across by the presenting teams were more closely aligned. Everyone speaking (and asking questions) seemed to have more similarities in vocabulary than differences. The concepts presented by each presenter were almost interchangeable. It was as if we'd all been reading the same book and describing the same chapter to the crowd. More than once, I sat taller in my chair and said "yes!' secretly to myself (cause it's embarrassing to utter things like that when other people can hear you).

Part of this can be attributed to a talented coordinating team on the ground in Montgomery, and part of it can be attributed to thoughtful speakers, but I suspect that some of it was the result of the speakers common experiences on the Web. We're all reading the same stuff, and the "stuff" is evolving in real time while we are reading.

I also felt that the conference was not confined to the time and dates specified in the agenda. When we arrived, our very gracious host handed us a bottle of water and struck up a surprisingly relevant conversation with us. it was as if she already knew quite a bit about us - and she did! She admitted to reading our biographies, Googling us on the Web, and reading my LinkedIn profile. She knew about us before we even landed. ...closer.

I felt that once the seminar was over, there wasn't a clean break. In other words, people have the opportunity to experience the fire that conferences like that tend to start and then keep it stoked long after we're gone by plugging in to our blogs and other collaborative tools. There seems to be more persistence as a result of the new media revolution. People get and stay closer to one another longer.

So here's the take away: the world is flattening even more than Thomas Friedman predicted. Today, we have an unprecedented power, as a result of these Web 2.0 technologies, to reach out, to plug in, and to otherwise connect with other human beings. If, as many have said for a long time, that trust and clear communication are critical to organizational health and growth potential, then perhaps we really are uniquely capable to make Transformation happen in the Department of Defense. Perhaps the time is now and, with the help of Web 2.0, we're witnessing real success in the making. I, for one, am eager to embrace these technologies and find out.

Same Genre Reading

I have not posted in this forum for a few weeks now. You might say I've been otherwise engaged. Many of the forums I post to are in inaccessible areas - available only to DoD employees with a Common Access Card (CAC).

I want you to have access to good content though. The subject of Transforming Department of Defense business operations is important.

Check out this Blog: If you appreciate what you're reading in my forum, I think you'll also find the material on this BCLBlog interesting. If and when I find additional Blogs on the subject, I'll let you know here. If you find something, please post a comment here so the rest of us can follow.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Transformation Fire

The United States Defense Department is not the most formidable Defense Department on the planet by accident. Sure, the US has resources and the American economy backing it, but it is not the material things that really make the Department of Defense great. It's the people in uniform who make the American Defense Department great.

The Defense Department is home to some of the most creative, energetic, and resourceful people in the world. They have to be. We send them into foreign lands and ask them to perform in environments where the rules are unknown, cultures and languages have to be interpreted, and mission objectives frequently change. They not only have to perform, but they must perform better than an enemy that already knows the environment; and all while the potential for mortal dangerous lies around every corner. These people are a special breed.

There's an aspect of the American service member that I believe is particularly relevant to Transformation. In spite of weaponry, the precision of training and drill, the uniform polish on boots, or the straight up and down of a well adjusted gig line, there is something extra that stirs in the hearts of some. When the chips are down, the trouble makers come out to play.

America has a long proud history of trouble makers. I'm not talking about undisciplined delinquents, but creative, energetic, resourceful and committed people who are completely willing to challenge the impossible or take on establishments in order to get the job done.

Our history books are full of these people. When Japan hit America in 1941 at Pearl Harbor, a trouble maker by the name of Doolittle took a rag-tag bunch of other trouble makers and some overhauled hardware and struck the heart of Japan. Many thought the mission - as it was originally planned - was impossible, but it was made even more difficult when the convoy was discovered and the men had to launch more than 100 miles sooner than they anticipated. Any fellow pilots reading this understand that 100 miles can mean the difference between life or death. Run out of fuel - gravity works. They went anyway - and they changed the tide of the war.

These are men and women who can't sit still when they know they have the power to do something about a problem. They are consistently tapping into their environment and figuring out what they can use to to their advantage to make their world better.

Some traditional tools of this brand of trouble maker have been duct tape, rubber bands, bailing wire, paper clips - whatever it takes to get the job done. One might hear them muttering "don't ask" or "you don't want to know" in response to a question from a superior about how they managed to get something working.

These people are Tom Sawyer-ish in their approach to life and living. By hook or by crook, they will make sure the mission is a success. They take pride in their handiwork, listen to Commander's intent and keep a weather eye on the outcome. Look hard enough and you're bound to spot these people. If you spot one, say thank you. They are very often tide-turners and battle winners.

The modern day Tom Sawyer is pretty sophisticated. Their resourcefulness keeps them on the bleeding edge and usually leaning far forward. They realize, for example, the Web 2.0 is a world and organization flattening phenomenon. They recognize that they have a powerful new tool in their tool box for side stepping bureaucracy, acting as a force multiplier, reaching farther, and for getting things done.

These people are the transformation agents of the future.

Transformation is very much a local phenomenon. We have a core set of beliefs or principles (transparency, continuity, agility, accountability, interoperability) which help us to determine good Transformation from chaos wrapped in a Transformation flag, but Transformation in an organization like Defense Finance and Accounting Service may not be immediately relevant to the Commanding Officer of a military hospital. That Commanding Officer may have a local priority that they need to get addressed.

Business Transformation needs local transformation agents to be empowered with the tools of Transformation - to be plugged in to authoritative information about things like the Enterprise plans for the Department. Business Transformation needs to listen to the transformation agents in the field to make sure that the direction the Business Transformation effort takes remains relevant.

Transformation needs the fire in the bellies of these modern day Tom Sawyers to be well fed, and for these creative and resourceful transformation agents to be empowered. The success of the Transformation mission depends on it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

There's a Place for Intolerance in Good Government

Just yesterday, I was listening to a senior government official talk about the fact that he has never been able to understand the rush to spend money that every government official is accustomed to each fall. He asked, with a shrewd look, how many corporations in America live by the "Spend everything!" credo? He reminded us all of an issue that's been bugging me for years.

The Department of Defense prepares a budget, submits it to Congress, and then is doled out money in small increments (usually 1 to 3 years worth) to accomplish the mission. Money "expires" according to a prescribed time table - money for some purposes has a longer "shelf life" than money for other purposes. If the money doesn't all get spent by the end of the fiscal year in which it "expires," the unspent portion goes back into the Treasury.

That could be a good thing, except for the fact that when it comes time for the next budget review, the government officials who saved money - the ones who would otherwise have given back to the tax payers - who some might think did a GOOD job by accomplishing their mission under budget, are actually criticized for not being able to accurately predict their funding needs. Their new budget gets cut by whatever amount they returned to the Treasury. After all, someone says, they obviously did not need that much.

Interesting, no? Instead of rewarding government leaders for managing money well and contributing to lowering the national deficit, the net effect is that good stewards are punished by having their spending power reduced. Under this system, the behavior that emerges is a mad rush to spend everything before September of each year. Spend on what, you might ask? Who cares! Just spent it fast! We're almost out of time!

The government has gotten a bad reputation (perhaps earned) for spending to much. Remember the old $30,000 hammer / $20,000 toilet seat jokes? But the truth about the cause of this problem isn't as simple as "wasteful government bureaucrats." Every organization has a system that it must work within. Often, very good people go to work in a bad system and get bad juice all over them.

Now, I hope you don't consider me unpatriotic or hypocritical for being critical of my government or the system it operates in. I'm proud of who we are and of what we do. I'm also a believer that it is our responsibility to be critical. This is how we get better together.

I was at an awesome conference three years ago. Lot's of big names were there and it was a limited audience of fairly senior government people. We listened to one speaker run through a list of characteristics, asking each time if we thought the characteristic was an example of good government.

He said "Collaboration!" and all hands went up. He said "Accountability!" and all hands went up. He said "Intolerant!" and maybe one or two overly enthusiastic hands went up - no doubt caught up in the spirit of the moment. He questioned us on that one. Why, he asked, should we be tolerant of things we should not be tolerant of? We're not asked to check our brains at the door when we report to work. In fact, there are some who believe that service to the country is a responsibility worth taking seriously.

Surely, the government is tolerant in the context of race, sex, age and other basic human characteristics, and that's a good thing! And we all like to get along and be good neighbors. But there are things that every responsible government employee should be intolerant of. Inefficiencies, redundant efforts, lethargy, silly spending of tax payer money... many things that we ought to be challenging "the system" on. It will only change if we are accountable for our own actions. Defense Business Transformation is about being accountable, and in some cases, intolerant.