How do you measure success? It’s not a new question, even in Rapid Acquisition.
We’ve certainly asked it in previous iterations of Acquisition Reform, Acquisition Streamlining, Total Quality Management, Continuous Improvement, Better Buying Power, or any other version of “think outside the box” and “best practices” in the last few decades. I’m a little jaded from all the synonyms over the years, but I think too often the question has a hidden meaning: how do we measure the success of my tenure as leader?
I’ve watched various leaders name and rename the same basic idea of innovation, a word which is already beginning to become lack-luster with overuse…about as much as think outside the box became by around 2003. When I owned my first male puppy about 15 years ago, I quickly made the analogy that new leaders, like male dogs, must mark their territory. Myself included.
We put our own particular nuances on it, even if it’s pretty much the same as every other push for innovation or disruption or agility. We almost always need to rename it to reflect the change that is consistently desired and that we are someone superior in achieving the change that our predecessors called something else. It can’t be real change if the nomenclature is the same, can it? If you look back at different pushes for change since the 1940’s, regardless of what it’s called each time or who says, “Let’s go change the world!” each time, you begin to see what looks like a time loop, only different people, different generations trying to affect change.
This time is bigger, the biggest yet. We have the advantage of social media, so we know this time that we are not lone wolves in the Acquisition wilderness trying to make something happen in a better and faster way. The last big push in the 90’s, I had the advantage of most people not really knowing I was playing around with Other Transactions or 10 USC 2373 or oral proposals or omnibus vehicles. I was able to do a lot because I worked for bosses who let me have the run of it and allowed me 95% of every suggestion I threw at a wall. If I failed, no one outside my building would know, or so they thought.
But I also had the disadvantage of most people not really knowing what I was doing. That meant that my successes were quiet ones, celebrated by Program Managers and Contractors, but no 4-stars were watching me, no naysayers on the sidelines, no plethora of LinkedIn observers ready to pass judgment if I failed or got protested or to ask for copies of what I’d done if I succeeded.
So no fishbowl effect like now, but also no chance of spreading tremendous change across the entire field of Acquisition. There’s a reason there aren’t many of us around with 20 years of OTA experience—if we didn’t find it on our own and push it ourselves, it didn’t exist. Our current version of “Let’s change the world!” is very much a product of our time in 2018 and the technology available to us now, both as requirements and as media.
So to measure success, we need to know where we’ve been—so we don’t repeat old mistakes and so we realize that 2018 isn’t the first time we’ve tried to make a big difference and that we will need to do something different from last time if the current push is to avoid the same fate. The change we look for now isn’t the same as the change we looked for before, but does echo it, even louder now than it did 20-25 years ago. And for the record, that seems to be about right when it comes to cycles of pushing for innovation, and perhaps this post will be around in 2040 or so to amuse the next generation or our AI overlords.
We also need to know where we are now, and we need to be honest with ourselves about our current state. We can’t rest on our laurels about past successes or fool ourselves into thinking that what worked for previous generations applies to what works now. Anyone who has studied war knows that fighting the same as in the last war may lose the next one. Life isn’t static. Neither is war. Nor should the Acquisition system be. We must know where we are now so that we know what needs to be changed, and that means taking the ego out of it and admitting where our weaknesses are.
The third part of how to measure success is knowing what you want the future to look like. Or what you don’t want it to look like. The second one is easier. Imagine any known threat and imagine that threat having the upper hand, and it’s easier to imagine dystopia than utopia. At least these days, when our literature reflects our societal concerns (zombies as shuffling through life, vampires as being predators of our resources to survive, preparation for an apocalypse, etc), we are more focused on a dystopian future than the past generation’s literature which was more Utopian-based (Star Trek where we all just want to be better human/aliens/androids and explore new ways of thinking).
The problem with figuring out the distance between now and the future, once we have an idea of what we want the future to look like, is that it’s a constantly changing baseline. How do you measure the here-to-there when there changes, often into something you could not have imagined or allowed yourself to be surprised by. You can use metrics, but are they the right metrics and are they metrics that support a leader’s need to be right? It’s said that what’s measured gets done, but are we doing the right things?
Measuring success is our assessing progress from the present state to the desired end state. We need to know what success looks like to measure it, and we’ve not agreed on that yet—either the technological outcomes, the human element, the quality of life of our future grandchildren, self-actualization over survival needs, the caretaking of our society and planet, etc.
Maybe it looks like getting all our files perfect and error-free. Maybe it looks like having super fast lead times. Maybe it looks like getting the current challenge out of the way.
But what if it’s more? What if we look beyond the immediate needs? You know the 2-column, 2-row chart that shows what’s important and urgent? What if we start building something that takes care of important but not urgent so that we’ll have fewer hair-on-fire important AND urgent scenarios? What if we bake speed into our Acquisition cakes by strategizing well ahead, so we have creative processes and flexible vehicles we can be agile?
What if the desired end state isn’t just to get through the immediate problem but to get ahead of it…by at least a couple of generations? Wouldn’t that look like success? And even if the future is fluid and ever-changing, wouldn’t we be able to measure it on some scale to know that we’re as close as we can get to achieving that?
To me, that success looks like not having to worry about the weapons systems protecting Great-Grandma Lorna or her descendants in 2040 or so.
c 2018 Lorna Tedder
- Rapid Acquisition Consultant
- Recently retired Contracting Officer, unlimited AFMC warrant 1991-2018
- Nationally recognized Innovation Thought Leader in Government acquisition
- Rapid acquisition teacher, both FAR and non-FAR based contracting
- Master brain-stormer and advisor to program offices across the DoD
- Expert in developing junior and mid-level personnel to become innovators in Government acquisition
- 3 decades of first-hand experience and success with Other Transactions, Oral Proposals, 10 USC 2373, Broad Agency Announcements, unique pricing arrangements, Price Based Acquisition, Award Without Discussion, streamlined source selections, multiple award IDIQs, UCAs, waivers, omnibus tool creation, Quick Reaction Capability teams, and strategic sourcing
- Do you need help? Would you like me to spend a couple of days teaching your Government team how to use innovative contracting methods? Message me on LinkedIn or my contact page.