Friday, December 16, 2011

Voice of the customer

General James F Amos, Commandant of the US Marine Corps, has taken on the acquistion bureauracy since assuming command of the Corps.

At issue: favored acquisition programs for modern weaponry for the Marine Corps, and to some extent, a rescue of the Marine's mission, now under fire as an unncecessary second land army.

So, when I see in a recent interview where Amos says that he had appointed himself player-coach (his phrase) on a number of troubled projects, I had to read further.

A couple of his thoughts that caught my eye:

 Math decisions are easier than thoughtful decisions based on strategy and what's best for [the mission]

[To his professional acquisition team]: You're telling me it will take 14 years to get the requirements right, develop this thing [a new amphibious vehicle], source select, test, and then field initial capability? You're crazy!

And of course he's right: if we've waited 14 years for major solutions, like the mine resistant reconnaisance vehile developed for Iraq, we'd be five years yet getting it.

Perhaps General Amos should take a page from USAF General Bernard Schriever, the father of modern program management and system engineering, who, the post war 1950s, pretty much invented how to do military weapons programs (the exception being the WW II program for the 'bomb', a program that Schriever did not participate in). In a recent book, "A Firey Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the ultimate Weapon", by Neil Sheehan, General Schriever's acquisition methods are explained in a great tale of the Cold War.

His idea is to put system engineering on the front burner, work quickly with prototypes, develop high risk ideas with multiple concurrent solutions, drive hard for the initial operating capability, and don't let better defeat good. In other words, don't let strategy, or strategic purpose starve innovation. Be prepared to accept opportunity as perhaps a better way.

Perhaps, Schriever was the original agilist!

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