Organizational Challenges During the Air Force PLM Journey
The Air Force PLM journey spans years and has struggled to get traction. The amount of technical data the Air Force receives is incredible, so the need to manage that data differently today is not surprising and long overdue. In pockets, the Air Force has adopted PLM and the desire to move into a digital enterprise is very strong. It is simply not a technology problem challenging the Air Force, it is Air Force problems challenging the Air Force. We are our own worst IT implementation enemy. With a multitude of necessary and sometimes unnecessary set of laws, regulations, policies, overlapping organizational responsibilities, and siloed functional stovepipes, the list of constraints is quite long. These constraints drive multiple efforts (sometimes competing, but usually just a perception of competing), multiple conversations, and multiple decisions. The conversations are leaving out key stakeholders and the decisions are not always in-line with the efforts or conversations. Among other things, the Air Force lives in an acquisition system that breaks the product lifecycle value chain and segregates business processes. Acquiring a weapon system at one location with a specific type of funds and then sustaining the weapon system in one or more different locations with a different type of funds just wreaks havoc on the product lifecycle.
Just to be clear, this is not addressing the struggles with acquiring technical data or data rights, which is a separate dialogue for much smarter people than me. Instead, I am just identifying some interesting challenges that the Air Force has faced in my 5+ years supporting this PLM journey. For example, trying to keep up with the different over-arching IT acquisition instructions has been interesting. I have used four different over-arching sets of instructions thus far. IT acquisition instructions guide the Air Force for how to get from developing requirements through sustainment and disposal of an IT system. Every time the instructions change, there is a “stop and validate” exercise to ensure that we meet the new instructions or stop and start over. This affects implementation methodology, strategy, planning, and eventually execution. On top of that, try budgeting two years out for one- and two-year funding and then undergoing a major change in strategy or getting to start over. Certainly, acquiring an IT system should not be the same as acquiring a multi-billion dollar aircraft or ship.
Another example, this one tied directly to organizational change management (OCM), is gaining strong advocacy from your sponsor. We have struggled with the question of which one? With the constant change in leadership and functional silos, I have seen multiple senior-level sponsors (six in as many years), champions, and leads. Each one has varying understanding of IT and different capabilities. Being able to level-set, make decisions, and move forward in a single presentation is nearly impossible, especially when the decision is by committee.
Bottom line, in AF PLM, we consider the IT the easy part, with data as our toughest struggle and organizational change management a very close second place. We are adopting an industry/commercial methodology and best practices. We have an extensive OCM plan and are working hard to get our communication lines established with our stakeholders. On paper, we understand what it is going to take to be successful.
Brian Bendele is a retired Air Force officer who now works as the contractor support lead for the AF PLM Capability Support Office. Brian spent 18 years working in the acquisition career field with his last four years as the Program Manager for the AF PLM capability. Brian has been working AFPLM since January 2013. Brian and his family currently live in the Dayton, Ohio area. They enjoy camping and boating.
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