By Chuck Paone, 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
/ Published October 15, 2010
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. --
Electronic Systems Center Commander Lt. Gen. Ted Bowlds, who is preparing to retire, offered some insights from his three years in command of ESC and his 35 years of acquisition experience to a local industry group Oct. 14, 2010.
Speaking to the Hanscom Representatives Association at the Minuteman Club, the general cited several acquisition "ground truths," which he predicted would hold regardless of what changes in the future.
"Smaller, more manageable requirements are the way to go," the general said, noting the cost and schedule growth risks associated with larger and more loosely defined requirements. He also noted the need for "requirements stability,' showing data that documented the extra cost and time added by frequent requirements changes.
He emphasized the need to focus on technology maturation, too, saying program managers need to make sure it's really going to be ready before relying on it. If it's not ready, the program will suffer obvious cost and schedule impacts.
Realistic -- neither optimistic nor overly pessimistic -- cost estimating is another clear key to success, he said. "If it costs a buck, make sure you estimate a buck," he said.
Finally, clear communication, across the spectrum of all stakeholders, is imperative for program success. This is particularly true when there's bad news, he said.
"If there's a problem, make sure you let everyone know about it right away," the general said.
He also stressed, as he frequently has, that acquisition is a "contact sport," one that's "not for the timid." It can be an unforgiving business, too, he added, but one where talented people do important things, often without much credit.
In fact, he said, that while defense leaders talk a lot about revamping the acquisition workforce, he's always been impressed by its quality.
"The real issue is that you have to let talented people do what they do best," he said.
Ever-increasing amounts of oversight and rules and processes, however well-intentioned, sometimes hinder the kinds of innovation that could help reduce the time and cost needed to deliver weapons systems, he noted.
He also spoke of other continuing roadblocks, such as the cumbersome certification and accreditation process required for all software.
"If it takes a month to develop the software and six months to certify it, that's a problem," the general said.
General Bowlds spoke candidly about what he's tried to achieve during his tenure at ESC and about the evolution of the center, in general. He showed charts depicting the multiple leadership changes and the transformation of the center out of wings, groups and squadrons and into the current mutli-PEO construct.
He also said that ESC had made considerable progress on many of his initiatives, including "a back-to-basics, compliance-focus," and efforts to "recruit, develop, retain and reward" the workforce. On both, he listed some considerable successes.
On other initiatives, such as taking a "venture capital approach," to parts of the portfolio, he noted that "there are some good examples of success," but that the center hasn't yet institutionalized those successes. He also noted that they're easier to accomplish on smaller efforts.
Likewise with other major initiatives, including use of "evolutionary and revolutionary information capabilities," he noted that while such solutions are not yet fully entrenched, the number of clear successes -- including the Senior Leader Dashboard and the Integrated Strategic Planning and Analysis tool - have become more frequent and apparent.