Archives - July, 2015

What Separates “Good” Program Management Support From “Exceptional” Program Management Support Part 1: A Focus on Return on Investment

July 14, 2015

A survey of businesses that conduct Program Management (PM) support suggests that “close relationships” and “responsiveness” are common characteristics of their service to their customer. As my mentor used to say, “Everybody’s baby is beautiful, everybody’s dog can hunt, and all their consultants are the best.” So, then, how can a company differentiate itself from its competitors and distinguish itself in the eyes of the customer? At JHNA, we believe three things set us apart: our constant focus on return on investment to the customer; our reachback to a large network of subject matter experts; and our insight into changes in our customers’ operating environments. Today’s post addresses return on investment, or ROI.

ROI dominates discussions in the business world, but it is not a term often used in the government. The time horizon for many issues, particularly in the defense world, is so long and the problems so broad that it is often hard to know when or how to quantify results. But JHNA believes it is imperative that customers see a return on investment for the money they spend – whether it’s on programs, consultants, or contractors. Our focus on ROI ensures that we approach problems differently than other companies.

The first difference is that we flexibly accommodate the variable needs of our customers. When the workload is steady and predictable, the government can make an acceptable ROI by engaging a traditional SETA contractor. The competition to provide this long-term, FTE-based support is fierce and drives down the cost of the support. Yet when the workload fluctuates or is unpredictable, the government will see more ROI by engaging a contractor with the capacity to provide short-term consulting expertise. AT JHNA, we believe the government shouldn’t have to keep contractors “on retainer” to assist with pop-up or non-constant requirements. Not only does the government pay for excess capacity, it runs the risk of retaining the wrong-type of expertise (measured in skills or experience). We work closely with our customers to identify their long-term, mid-term, short-term, and emerging requirements and then propose solutions that meet those needs with exactly the right people at exactly the right time. And because we only bid on jobs where we can provide “experts,” the customer has no transition cost. We believe the greatest ROI is when our supporting consultants get in when needed, quickly assess the problem, fix it, and get out. It keeps costs low for the government and allows us to deliver high impact expertise that keeps our customers coming back.

A corollary to this is that by fully understanding the nature of a problem and helping to define and bound it, we can prevent mission creep. Our expertise in capability assessment and requirements analysis helps customers understand the needs of the warfighter as well as the operational metrics and tactical behaviors of the system. We examine the need from all angles and draw up detailed requirements documents. Then, as a program is developed to meet these needs, we constantly compare the program to the original requirements and ask: will this program deliver the capabilities the warfighter needs? If emerging threats change the scope of the problem, we keep the requirements documents up to date and responsive to the warfighter. Through rigorous and systematic evaluation of a program’s progress against its original requirements, JHNA prevents mission creep, which keeps costs down and programs on track.

Another way we deliver solid return on investment is by serving as the interface between warfighters and engineers. Too often, engineers do not take the time and expense to fully understand the needs of the warfighter and therefore may provide a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist or that solves one problem only to create another one. The various engineering communities have their own languages, focus on different goals, and can often talk past each other. JHNA has a foot in both worlds and can “translate” warfighter needs into engineering tasks. For example, we recently evaluated options for improving survivability of cargo helicopters. One option was to increase speed by reducing weight / armor. Our analysts knew immediately that while faster flight could, in theory, improve survivability during transit, it put the aircraft at greater risk during its most vulnerable times: takeoff and landing. By immediately identifying this issue, we kept the program office from wasting time and effort pursuing a solution that overlooked a serious concern for the warfighter.

JHNA’s corporate culture emphasizes the importance of providing customers a return on investment—not only do we provide a great return on the money our customers spend on us, but we also help the customer focus on generating ROI in other areas of their program.

Stay tuned for some thoughts on the role of reachback in exceptional PM support.