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Strengthening the workforce: DoD acquisition, requirements and results

Aug. 29, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By JORDON SIMS   |   Comments
Jordon Sims is director of organization relations and programs for the Project Management Institute. He formerly served as an active-duty submarine officer in the U.S. Navy, and he has held numerous positions within the Pentagon, Capitol Hill (appropriations), and Energy Department.
Jordon Sims is director of organization relations and programs for the Project Management Institute. He formerly served as an active-duty submarine officer in the U.S. Navy, and he has held numerous positions within the Pentagon, Capitol Hill (appropriations), and Energy Department. ()

“Defense acquisition is a human endeavor.”

These are familiar words to anyone who knows Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary for Defense Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and what he sees as the heart of modernizing the DoD acquisition system. (See related story).

Kendall and his staff have made notable improvements to the system in recent years, including the major focus on workforce professionalism, training and education initiatives undertaken by the Defense Acquisition University (DAU).

It’s no secret DoD has an abundance of rules and regulations. In a sequestration environment, which will be the greatest administrative challenge of the era for the Pentagon, the workforce and the people are the most important ingredient in the DoD acquisition recipe.

DoD’s Better Buying Power (BBP) mandate establishes “increased professional qualification requirements for all acquisition specialties.” With BBP 3.0 expected in a few months, Kendall reports the new version will work towards eliminating barriers to entry. He wants to build stronger relationships with the requirements, technology, warfighter and other communities. I participated in the recent Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) symposium, the inaugural event to highlight DoD’s BBP acquisition initiative and its application to government, industry and academia.

The event provided an open and honest discussion regarding the accomplishments and challenges within acquisition facing both the Pentagon and industry today. Kendall’s focus on integrating these key components for the successful management of an acquisition program or portfolio was encouraging. There have been noticeable improvements in the contracting process, but Kendall admits requirements definition and overall management are essential for improvement.

Randall Culpepper, the PEO for combat and mission support in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, was tasked with initiating a requirements review board to help improve the requirements writing process. He and I co-moderated a workshop, emphasizing the importance of training and professional workforce development in terms of capturing a wide variety of perspectives.

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During these times of reduced funding, we all are relying on a lean staff with the right skills and experience to get the job done. The realization we came to over the course of our session was that not all of the key stakeholders and program managers who are required for acquisition program management success are trained to the same standard—particularly when you compare acquiring weapons or equipment versus acquiring services to support defense infrastructure, management structure and systems. This is especially the case with requirements definition and management. Developing relationships with other stakeholders is the key to getting the requirements right—as well as benchmarking against organizations that have these relationships.

We know requirements management is critical to successful projects. Nearly half of unsuccessful projects fail to meet goals due to poor requirements management (47 percent, according to the recently released PMI Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report: Requirements Management — A Core Competency for Project and Program Success). When it’s done poorly, the consequences can be severe. For every $1 billion spent on projects and programs, $51 million is wasted due to poor requirements management. That’s 5.1 percent for every US dollar spent, lost forever—unrecoverable and isolated to requirements management issues.

Despite this clear imperative for much-needed focus, this same research found that 76 percent of organizations do not adequately resource skills development in the area of requirements management.

The PMI in-depth requirements management report also finds organizations that recognize and develop the employee skills needed for effective requirements management have 33 percent more successful projects compared to organizations that lack this recognition and development.

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Sequestration will come and go, along with the inevitable and accompanying debate associated with national security, the ability for the DoD to respond around the globe, and the impact to the force structure. Kendall says he wants requirements managed properly so DoD has a “risk mitigation/management” plan rather than a “risk watching” plan in place for programs going forward. The Department needs to break from traditional kneejerk response to cut training budgets, and recognize that the acquisition workforce is essential to weathering the sequestration storm.

Overall, we have a skilled workforce, i.e., the people. We have rules and regulations, i.e., the process. It’s now time to develop the cohesive culture to weave it all together. We know organizations that provide a holistic approach—investing in the people, process and culture—sustain an environment of personal development and profit. This culture will lead to the continuous, positive development of people’s strengths and character, which, in turn, will continuously improve the quality, productivity and service in these organizations.

The next logical step for Kendall will be to further smooth the overlaps across contracting, procurement, auditing, logistics, and numerous other supporting roles contributing to defense acquisition. This approach will provide a true program management culture that realizes the intended benefits of its efforts via sound requirements management.

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