High Performance Racing Team Offers Lessons in Agile Development to DoD Engineers

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Concurrent, Rapid Development and Sustainment

NCMS promotes collaborative endeavors that not only provide a venue for the development and commercialization of new technologies, but that also cross-pollinate ideas to tackle industry-wide challenges. One such collaboration, between the U.S. Marine Corps and the Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) high performance racing team, focused on the similar problems that confront both organizations: both devote considerable money and effort to maintaining their inventories, replacing obsolete technologies, and engineering solutions to future challenges in ways that match the shifting needs of their users―Marines and racers.

However, while HMS is a powerhouse in its field— the team builds over 500 engines a year, has gone to Victory Lane more than 200 times, maintained a record-breaking streak of wins at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and is estimated to be the most valuable NASCAR team by Forbes’ accounting[1]—Department of Defense (DoD) development and acquisitions programs suffer from delays and inefficiencies that impair their performance and that of their end products. The NCMS project team looked to HMS’ example to recommend improvements that would allow DoD to replicate the agility and adaptivity industry is capable of.

The Rapid Development and Sustainment project, funded through the NCMS Commercial Technologies for Maintenance Activities (CTMA) Program, identified HMS’s “next race” mentality as a key differentiator that offers a model for faster and more responsive equipment development and sustainment by the Marine Corps. The “next race” mentality is a process of continual innovation around a single objective, driven by constant communication between users, engineers, and technicians. The NCMS project team developed the concept of an Enterprise Ground Equipment Sustainment Innovation Cell (EGESIC), a site of data collection and cross-cutting development that forms the centerpiece of a strategy of constant adaptation and proactive development. The EGESIC provides not only a means of meeting the immediate needs of the Marine Corps, but an example of how a large, multi-functional organization can integrate feedback and skillsets across functional areas into an agile development process.

Benefits

The effectiveness of DoD development and sustainment efforts has a real impact on the safety and performance of U.S. Marines, as well as on the efficient use of DoD funding and the valuable time of Marine Corps engineers and technicians. By streamlining processes and eliminating redundancies, the plan of action produced by the Rapid Development and Sustainment project promises cost savings along with benefits that include greater knowledge-sharing and retention, improved data collection and availability, and improved mission planning. Crucially, the plan also reduces reliance on the availability of subject matter expects, eliminating a development bottleneck and benefitting industry partners who can supply their own analyses and solutions.

Adaptive enterprises like HMS are organizations that respond quickly to changes in end-user demands through an ongoing process of experimentation and improvement. This process of continual innovation helps engineers deliver products and services that are optimized for the end-user’s challenges and respond rapidly to shifting requirements. It also, as YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki observes, allows them to make better design decisions by using data taken from real-world user behavior.[2] At the heart of the goals of the Rapid Development and Sustainment project is the alignment the Marine Corps’ acquisitions system with adaptive-enterprise principles, promoting continual innovation by eliminating stovepipes. In that light, process improvements to the DoD’s acquisitions process are an example of solutions that have relevance far beyond the defense and manufacturing sectors.

Stovepipe mentalities inhibit progress by lengthening the process by which organizations design and mount a response to new conditions and by distancing key decision-makers from the analysts and external contacts who are best situated to observe them. Stovepipes channel decision-making into multiple parallel, vertical hierarchies within the same organization, creating both top-down and horizontal coordination problems and barriers to communication. They can even leave an organization vulnerable to external threats, such as data breaches: NCMS member PricewaterhouseCoopers identifies stovepipes as a significant limiting factor in organizations’ abilities to manage cybersecurity risks, creating gaps and inhibiting responsiveness.[3]

Summary

Innovation is the essential business process by which organizations maintain their competitive advantage. However, innovation must also be harnessed—ingenuity and insight can produce concepts for solutions or improvements, but without processes to support the maturation of those concepts and to develop and implement them in a timely fashion, the gains that innovation promises are lost. Given a description of the DoD’s Defense Acquisition System, business managers may recognize qualities that limit its ability to harness innovation and inhibit one of its primary functions—the timely delivery of relevant capabilities to deployed warfighters. Hierarchical approval sequences stovepipe the process of translating unmet demands into new products, prolonging design, development, and delivery. All too frequently, long delays result in the final product becoming outdated or irrelevant by the time it is delivered to its intended users, whose needs continually change. Furthermore, a focus on producing enterprise solutions for disparate programs, rather than on commercial best practices, concentrates resources into massive, one-time investments rather than sustainably distributing costs over time, in increments.

Based on HMS’s industry experience and validated by the U.S. Marine Corps user community, the Rapid Development and Sustainment project created a comparative assessment detailing an organizational structure and business processes that support competitive equipment lifecycle sustainment along a rapid deployment cycle. Like the Marine Corps, HMS is a prominent organization that performs under a well-defined set of environmental and regulatory parameters. To meet the ever-changing needs of the deployed race team, HMS must innovate continually. And in order to support continual innovation, the entire organization orients around one, simple objective:  win the race. Thus, HMS manages its capabilities as a purposeful and adaptive enterprise―the race car, driver, technicians, and support equipment are all integrated together by organizational modules.

Whereas the Marine Corps requires years to respond to end-user requirements, HMS develops responsive technologies before each deployment. At HMS, the operator-to-engineer and technician-to-engineer communication channels are direct and considered essential. Furthermore, HMS processes vast amounts of actionable data into continuous, proactive responses preparing for the ”next race.” The challenge for the Marine Corps is to determine the best way forward to leverage industry’s best practices to provide Marines with the best equipment, adapted along responsive timelines.

This Rapid Development and Sustainment project funded identified an alternative strategy and processes and recommended policy changes that would align DoD processes more closely to industry best practices. The project team developed a strategy document presenting a design for the implementation of Enterprise Ground Equipment Sustainment Innovation Cell (EGESIC) data collection areas that was developed as a proof-of-concept in collaboration with HMS. Establishing a dedicated EGESIC forges a lateral process that provides direct support to the requirements of the organization and its warfighters. Organized with personnel from various commands, agencies, and offices with skill sets ranging across information technology (IT), business process management, and engineering and logistics disciplines, the EGESIS attunes the Marine Corps to the internal and external signals that identify emerging needs and allows it to respond with mission-relevant products. Thus the CTMA Rapid Development and Sustainment project achieved its purpose of presenting the Marine Corps leadership with the roadmap to achieving its potential as an adaptive enterprise―that if it builds it, they will come.

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