Monday, September 08, 2008

The Downside of Acquisition Reform

Recently, I attended a "Hot Topics" Forum at the Defense Acquisition University. The topic was the Defense Science Board Task Force Report on Developmental Test & Evaluation. The speaker (non-attributed) discussed the findings and recommendations from the report, substantially covering the Executive Summary of the report.

The Task Force was "asked to recommend changes that may contribute to increasing the number of programs undergoing Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) being evaluated as Operationally Effective and Operationally Suitable." The Task Force examined practices for Army, Navy, and Air Force. The main findings include:
  • The high suitability failure rates were caused by the lack of a disciplined systems engineering process, including a robust reliability growth program, during system development
  • Sequential workforce cuts in the last ten years had a significant adverse impact on the DoD acquisition capability
  • Acquisition personnel reductions combined with loss of guidance documents and retirement of experience senior industry and government personnel have exacerbated the adverse impact
  • Strong OSD and Service leadership commitment is vital to solving the major acquisition problems which include widespread suitability deficiencies
  • The implementation of Acquisition Reform provided flexibility but, when combined with an eroding workforce, sometimes resulted in less discipline in program formation and execution
  • DT&E needs improvement but changes in test processes will not remedy systemic program formulation and execution deficiencies
  • Reliability, Availability, and Maintainability (RAM) shortfalls are frequently identified during DT, but program constraints (schedule and funding) often preclude incorporating fixes and delaying IOT&E
  • Additional emphasis on integrated testing will improve T&E process efficiency as well as allow for program cost reductions
The cover letter states: "The single most important step necessary to correct high suitability failure rates is to ensure programs are formulated to execute a viable systems engineering strategy from the beginning, including a robust RAM program, which includes reliability growth, as an integral part of design and development. No amount of testing will compensate for deficiencies in RAM program formulation."

To put it another way: you can't test in quality.

Many program managers, both in the government and private industry, consider a thorough development test program too expensive, so it's often short-changed in funding and/or schedule from the start. The fact that test & evaluation (T&E) is typically the last phase in the development process means that T&E gets squeezed further if the product development exceeds budget or is late because it's the last opportunity to try and bring the overall program in on time and on budget.

Unfortunately, without a comprehensive strategy to build in quality -- both in product development and program management -- the program manager often has to pay even more for testing than originally estimated due to rework/redesign and subsequent retest to deal with the inevitable problems. There's never enough time to do it right, but there's always enough time to do it over.

There is a political point to be made here. Both Presidential candidates promise "change", but the intent and implementation of the change can be worse than maintaining the status quo.

One of the maxims I learned long ago is that HOW change is implemented goes a long way toward its ultimate success. The Congress' approach to acquisition reform needs to be rethought: their mandating personnel cuts without regard for the side effects have created worse waste and overruns than when they started.

Related posts:
Airbus Discovers Integration Matters
Not the way to roll out software!