David Zubrow gave the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) some troubling news in 2006 about joint capabilities. The DoD wants to estimate costs for joint capabilities as accurately as it does those for individual weapons systems. A joint capability enables service operations to meet nontraditional threats and requires individual systems to work together.
Zubrow’s SEI team found that the DoD needs, but does not receive, assessments with adequate leading indicators of cost and schedule breaches for joint capabilities, particularly those related to technology development. This important finding leads toward understanding more about how programs relate to one another. “We were able to say, ‘Here’s what’s going on from a joint capabilities view,’ ” Zubrow says.
Zubrow’s work is being sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense Program Analysis and Evaluation (OSD/PA&E) and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (OUSD/AT&L).
Zubrow’s SEI team found that the DoD needs, but does not receive,
assessments with adequate leading indicators of cost and schedule
breaches for joint capabilities, particularly those related to
technology development. This important finding leads toward
understanding more about how programs relate to one another.
“We’re another instrument in a larger effort to get a handle on something that is unprecedented from a DoD acquisition perspective,” Zubrow says of his team. In all, Zubrow’s team developed a risk taxonomy, a set of diagnostic risk indicators, and a case study in 2006. The case study used data from the Multifunctional Information Distribution System– Low Volume Terminal (MIDS-LVT) program. Service branches and allied forces will depend on MIDS-LVT for surveillance, identification, air control, weapons engagement coordination, and direction.
An expert in management, quality, and analysis, Zubrow approached the research challenge deftly. Zubrow says that he matched his team to the “parts of the challenge—cost measurement and interoperability.” He recruited a multidisciplinary team including SEI staff members James McCurley, an expert in measurement and analysis, and William Anderson, an expert in interoperability. He and the sponsor also engaged Mary Maureen Brown from the University of North Carolina and researchers from Technomics, Inc., an organization experienced in cost estimation.
Anderson worked with the research sponsor to collect data and formed the taxonomy of risk indicators, leveraging Brown’s work and SEI software development and acquisition risk taxonomies. McCurley painstakingly mined the MIDS-LVT data, burrowing through it for clues that might predict cost and schedule breaches. In the past, McCurley has analyzed multifaceted problems in such diverse areas as energy production, water quality, pollution control, and cyber security. “I like to work on complex problems,” McCurley explains. “The challenge is what drives me.”
To sum up his approach to managing the team, Zubrow echoes leadership expert W. Edwards Deming: “Create constancy of purpose toward improvement.” Zubrow’s SEI career is punctuated with other examples of his own constancy of purpose toward improvement. He was instrumental in creating a system to make process maturity profiles widely available, for instance. Also, he established a training curriculum that addresses the needs of a broad spectrum of measurement and process improvement audiences.
Zubrow’s team will continue to work with the PA&E and AT&L sponsors. “We are unavoidably moving toward systems of systems,” Anderson says. “We have to get a better handle on what it takes to get them to interoperate. When our systems fail to interoperate, we’re at risk, and our costs are higher."