Disrupting Acquisition Blog

Take the (Acquisition) Fast Lane

by | Jan 8, 2020 | Accelerate

If you’ve ever driven on a highway, you know there are really three driving styles you can use to get to your destination. 

The first is the way that most people choose, that of “Going with the Flow.”  This is not a bad way to drive.  For one, it’s probably the safest way.  If you’re not making any sudden moves or going fast, there’s less of a chance of getting in an accident. 

The second way to drive is the “accelerate to decelerate” style.  You’ve likely seen this before where a driver passes you but then pull backs into the lane with the normal flow.  I’ll admit this is often my style because I want to speed for a bit but then think twice about getting pulled over and roll back into the safe lane.  I like to think this isn’t a bad way to go either.  You get to experience that burst of speed and make some forward progress while hopefully escaping the consequences of an expensive speeding ticket.

The final way to drive is a style that you’ve likely uttered obscenities about before.  You’re driving at what you think is a decent clip and out of nowhere a speed demon flashes by you like there’s a five-alarm fire.  Some might question what could cause a person to take such risks like that.  They are surely going to get into an accident. 

In the defense acquisition world, we have these same three driving styles available to us.  The “Go with the Flow” approach is to operate safely within the embracing arms of the bureaucracy, never pushing, never questioning, never rushing.  Maybe you like to stomp the gas pedal every now and then (you’ll tailor one document or push for a slightly faster approval for one review).  You get that rush for a minute but then you see your O-6’s disapproving look or observe your team’s ambivalence and you roll back into the safe lane.  

Or you have the option of being the speed demon, the maverick, the rebel, the trouble-maker, the rules violator.  This path can be more challenging.  There’s a lot of speed bumps (reviews, pushback, resistance, disapproval) and people (bureaucrats, status quo types) will pull out in front of you to slow you down.  There’s likely to be close calls too, you might push too hard and senior people will complain.  Your car might get dinged in the process (you might be labeled as not being a team player).  You will probably encounter some obstructions (a new approval process or a new document to be drafted), and you’ll be tempted to slow down.  BUT DON’T!

Just as ambulances and fire trucks often speed to transport the injured or conduct a rescue, the acquisition system needs to do the same like never before.  This is the time where going fast is worth the risk of sliding off the road or causing an accident because not making it to our destination (ensuring battlefield success) is a much worse outcome.   

The acquisition highway we’re on isn’t for joy riding.  It’s the highway that either ends in a world order dominated by authoritarian adversaries or one where personal freedom is secured, and strong alliances based on free trade and commerce abound.

Thus, it is imperative for every acquisition professional to TAKE THE ACQUISTION FAST LANE because doing so will be the difference between delivering innovative capabilities to users in 2022 versus 2027.  It’s the difference between a great power conflict in the South China Sea or Eastern Europe ending with a definitive US/Allied victory or with a destabilizing stalemate (or unimaginably a loss).

Therefore, I exhort all acquisition professionals to adopt this mind set and explore every opportunity to push out into the FAST LANE.

PMs—are you tailoring your program milestones, documentation and processes to the needs of the program and not to the desires of the functionals in your organization?  Are you exercising every bit of your authority to deliver faster?  Are you requesting delegation of authority at every opportunity? Are you pushing back against non-valued added roadblocks?  Are you imparting your team with a sense of urgency?

Contracting Officers—are you constantly exploring new ways of working with industry to deliver capability faster while also meeting competition mandates?  Are you willing to push out of your (and your leadership’s) comfort zone with new innovative approaches? 

Chief Engineers—are you focused on tackling the program risks in the quickest way possible?  Are you willing to push back against your functional leadership when they keep asking for more analysis and documentation that you know isn’t adding value?  Are you devising new and creative ways to more quickly develop and test capability so it can be delivered to the field?  Are you imparting your more junior engineers with a sense of urgency?

Product Support Managers—are you ensuring that sustainment planning is not delaying the delivery of critical capability?  Are you planning sustainment around a process that enables quick insertion of new capabilities?

The acquisition system needs your help! It needs you to TAKE THE ACQUISTION FAST LANE!  It won’t be easy, it won’t be fun in the moment, but it will pay off!  Because there’s one thing about speeding:  Once you get past the pack (of status quo), the road opens up and the possibilities are endless.

I look forward to hearing examples of how you are taking or have taken the FAST LANE. 

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Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed here are those of the authors only and do not represent the positions of the MITRE Corporation or its sponsors.

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