Sunday, December 21, 2014

Require then acquire

Ashton Carter, the soon-to-be U.S. Secretary of Defense, has an essay in Foreign Affairs -- January/February 2014 -- in which he describes measures of the last few years to insert agility into the weapons procurement process.

We're not talking software in the Agile sense -- but some of those ideas scaled up (way up!) are applicable. Carter is talking about timeliness: being able to deliver in a timeframe that which is effective for the mission. But, of course, agilists know what that entails -- see the Agile Manifesto for guidance.

Carter goes on:
The usual process of writing “requirements,” an exhaustive process to determine what the military needs based on an analysis of new technology and future threats, would not suffice in Afghanistan and Iraq. That is because the system known inside the Pentagon as “require then acquire” demands complete information: nothing can be purchased until everything is known
Ooops! All of us who've studied these things and have had real experience in a real war time acquisition know that "require and acquire" is going to get you there fast enough.

Solution: State the mission in functional system terms; provide the timeline. Then give latitude to make it work, and then delegate to the lowest possible level to increase velocity. After all, velocity and management layers are an oxymoron -- to have one requires that you ditch the other.

Or, as Robert Gates, former US Defense Secretary said:
The troops are at war; the Pentagon is not

Thus was born the ...  "Warfighter SIG, which became the Pentagon’s central body for senior officials to weigh solutions to battlefield problems, locate the necessary resources to pay for them, and make the right acquisitions."

And, guess what they discovered: In urgent situations, the Pentagon will have to settle for an imperfect solution that nonetheless fills a gap.

The lesson learned is the same lesson learned and re-learned: To get it done, the day-to-day bureaucracy -- or the matrix system in projects -- always marches too slowly to the wrong drumbeat. Thus, special organizations, SWAT Teams, Task Forces, etc are stood up to get the job done, sweeping aside the protections of due process, taking risks, and driving for payoff.

Would that it work that way and produce results without a war to drive it!

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