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.

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