Things change. Stuff happens. Your once indomitable program is now being questioned in your Service, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), or Congress. You fear your program may be on next fiscal year’s chopping block. But you are meeting your requirements—under budget and on schedule. What could possibly have gone wrong?
The answer is that your program may not have been adequately future-proofed. What looked good 5 or 10 years ago to sponsors and acquisition executives is no longer so shiny and valuable. One of three things probably happened.
The threat changed. We rode the operational roller coaster from the early 1990s and the fall of the former Soviet Union to the “long war” against terrorism, and now back to concerns about the emergence of peer-competitors. Warfighting systems designed for limited missions or specific theaters may now be questioned as to their ability to perform in the perceived current threat environment.
The technology changed. Technology rapidly changes, and we have all heard how difficult it is to synchronize short, frenetic technology cycles with the longer, more deliberate acquisition cycle. Systems with older technologies may seem out-of-date and not as capable.
The people changed. Political administrations change. Military leaders rotate frequently. Key decision makers move into and out of influential government positions. New ideas and competitors emerge who purport to have solutions that are better, faster and cheaper than yours—and can prove it with two dozen or so animated PowerPoint slides.
So, what is a program manager (PM) to do? How can a program be future-proofed against threat and technology changes and new faces who may not be proponents? Let’s see …
The Threat Changed
The PM clearly has little say in how the threat changes. Potential adversaries rarely seek our advice. So the PM must keep an ear to the ground and an eye on the horizon for threat changes that may negate program effectiveness. Here are some ways to do that:
The Technology Changed
Commercial technology, particularly in computing, control, and advanced manufacturing, is moving ahead at blazing speed. Could your system benefit from technologies of autonomous vehicle control? How about 3-D printing? Here are some ways to enable this:
The People Changed
Given the frequent turnover of senior leaders in the Pentagon, it is admittedly difficult to keep the leaders informed about your program and its importance to national security. Adding to the challenge, of course, are potential competitors, whose ideas and programs seem to ooze into the building armed with flashy presentations and promises of better, faster, cheaper. How, then is a PM to deal with this? Here are a few ideas:
If you believe that a PM’s job is to remain narrowly focused on managing cost, schedule and scope, you are likely to miss the threats and opportunities coming from outside your program. Whether changes to the external environment come from potential adversaries, rapidly evolving technologies, or new decision makers, you must be prepared. To do so, you need to raise your awareness of the things going on outside your program and be prepared to address them appropriately. Good luck. Godspeed.
Dr. Roy Wood is a former program manager and Defense Department executive. He currently is the dean at Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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