29 May 2009

The Rules Change

I found a great quote in the latest issue of Wired:


“It turns out the rule ‘large and disciplined organizations win’ needs to have a qualification appended: ‘at games that change slowly.’ No one knew til change reached a sufficient speed.” – Paul Graham


Conformity Is Optional

The problem with most powerpoint presentations is that they follow the templates that are forced on all too many organizations. Those templates, by and large, are awful. The result is dense, unreadable collections of charts that fail to communicate effectively.

The good news is that conformity with these templates is optional. 

I promise, if you give a clear, engaging presentation that actually communicates with the audience, nobody will chop your head off for not following the template. 

Check out Presentation Zen (blog or book), or download my Charts Are Cheap presentation for more details on how to do it better.

28 May 2009


I created a little presentation titled Restraint and posted it at Slideshare. It explores the relationship between constraints and creativity, as well as the impact of restraint on operational effectiveness.

Download the file to see the talking points, which are in the Notes view. I'd love to hear what you think, and as always, please feel free to pass it along.

The Comparative Testing Office

You know who does this technology development thing well? The Comparative Testing Office, which is a small office within the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. 

Col Richard Burns, the CTO director, recently wrote an article for Defense AT&L that describes what the CTO does. And what do they do? They deliver effective new technologies to warfighters in less time and with less money (i.e. less bureaucracy) than traditional efforts. 

Specifically, we’re talking between a 7-to-1 and a 9-to-1 cost avoidance. Fielding timelines are between 5 and 7 years faster.

We therefore award the CTO office the coveted Rogue Project Leader Gold Medal for Awesomeness.

27 May 2009


It bugs me when the F-22 Raptor is used as the symbol of American airpower

I think it’s a terrible symbol, and let me tell you why.

John Young, the USD(AT&L), says the thing hasn’t met the majority of its Key Performance Parameters (KPP’s = Very Important Requirements). The developer, Lockheed Martin, denies that assertion, but I'm inclined to believe the customer over the contractor.

It has a 62% mission availability rate and, despite the fact that we’re fighting two wars right now, it hasn’t flown a single combat mission (nobody denies that). The Secretary of Defense said it has no role in the war on terror.

It is something like 6 years behind schedule, and was supposed to cost $6.5B. So far, we've spent $65B. Yes, that's an increase of a factor of 10. In fact, it cost so much that we weren’t able to buy enough of them to really matter (the most conservative assessment says we need somewhere close to 300. We've got 100). 

I guess since we can’t use the F-22 in the current counterinsurgency wars, we decided to use it on posters and logos instead. Surely we can find a better symbol of American airpower. Like, say, a UAV...

26 May 2009

Logo comments?

We're still playing around with the layout, format & overall look of the new RPL blog.

I thought I'd see how the old RPL logo would look on this blog.

Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? Volunteers to create an RPL blog skin?

AT&L Survey

Greetings Rogue Nation!

Do you ever feel like ripping a page out of a magazine and writing all over it, then stuffing it into a mailbox without even putting a stamp on it?

Yeah, me too. All the time.

If you're like me, you'll be very excited to hear that you have an opportunity to do just that! Everyone's favorite defense technology magazine is running a short survey in the May/June 2009 issue. You can rip it right out (it's on page 13) and mail it in - no postage necessary! I can't wait!

Oh, and feel free to mention how much you enjoy your favorite author(s) in the "Are there any other comments you'd like to provide?" section.   

(You're not on the Defense AT&L subscription list? Well, you can download a copy and mail it in your own self - still no postage necessary!).

Things A Briefer Should Never Say

“I know you can’t read this…” [why use it if you know we can't read it?]

“How am I doing on time?” [don't be the only person in the room who isn't keeping track of your time]

“This chart says…” (and then proceed to read the chart) [um, we're all literate]

“As I already explained…” [yeah, we got it the first time]

25 May 2009

What's In A Name?

Any program with the word “Future” in its name is already doomed. 

For example, see the NRO’s (cancelled) Future Imagery Architecture or the Army’s (recently scaled-back) Future Combat Systems

The thing is, if you call something a “Future” system, isn’t that an acknowledgment that it’s not going to go operational anytime soon? Isn’t it a not-so-subtle message that we’re not in much of a hurry (“Oh that? It’s the Future system. You can’t use it yet, ‘cause it’s not the future yet.”). 

And if we ever actually delivered a system with the word Future in the name, um, we’d have to change the name, right?

On the other hand, my experience shows that any program with the word “interim” in the name is likely to be operational very soon… and it’ll probably still be used 10 years from now.

24 May 2009

Weapons Acquisitions Gone Wrong

As you well know, the Rogues have referred to this IEEE Spectrum article before, in some forum or another, because of it's great encapsulation of our critiques. Never-the-less, I think the resurgence of RPL a great opportunity to mention it again here:

and more specifically this sub-article

Thanks again Robert Charette!

22 May 2009

Snapshot: The Big Shot

He’s been in this business for over 40 years. His rank is so high he virtually has a unique status. He heads an organization made up of several hundred people. People speak in hushed tones about the breadth of his influence and experience. He clearly knows How Things Get Done Around Here

His secretarial support crew works in two shifts, because the hours he keeps are so long that it would be unreasonable to expect anyone else to keep up. He is so constantly busy that he habitually bursts into meetings five minutes late – even at meetings that start at 0730. 

He's never so late that he misses anything important, but is generally late enough that everyone notices him. In his arms he carries a huge stack of papers and binders which he sets down loudly on the meeting table. Pointing to the stack, he says “It’s all my meetings today,” with a grin and a gesture that is half shrug, half triumphant fist-pump. This is a busy man. This is a hard working man. This is a man with immense experience, authority and influence.

I see him and think it’s too bad this guy can’t delegate. It’s too bad he can’t manage his time better. And mostly, it’s too bad nobody will hold him accountable for the miserable performance of the organization he has led for the past decades.

[RPL Snapshots are anonymized - and sometimes slightly fictionalized - stories about life in the defense acquisition community]

21 May 2009

Innovative Acquisitions: Reverse Foreign Military Sales

Under the Adversary Program, Navy and Marine pilots train against an aggressor squadron that mimics the tactics of potential adversaries. The Adversary Program flies F-5 aircraft, and it really puts them through the wringer. The planes started getting old and there wasn’t much time or money available to upgrade, modify and/or replace them, so the Adversary Program came up with a pretty clever solution: buy used F-5’s from the Swiss Air Force.

Now, I didn’t know the Swiss even had an Air Force, but it turns out they do, and one of the planes they fly is the F-5. As luck would have it, the Swiss Air Force only flies during office hours on working days. So the Swiss F-5’s, in addition to being immaculately maintained, only had 2500 flight hours per aircraft, as compared with the 7000 flight hours on the American F-5’s. And further adding to our good fortune, the Swiss were looking to downsize their fleet. They wanted to do it soon, so the Navy had to move quickly. And they did

This “reverse Foreign Military Sales” initiative is a great example of the kind of innovative, aggressive, fast-and-cheap decision making that should be the hallmark of the US defense technology community.We therefore award the F-5 Adversary Program office the coveted Rogue Project Leader Gold Medal for Awesomeness.

Read the whole story in the May/June issue of Defense AT&L.

When Good Enough is Good Enough

Fast - implies "This is good enough!"

This idea seems to be lost on the test community (and I'm just saying..). DoD set up independent test agency's to "validate and verify" that a widget works as required. The idea was to prevent the widget makers from fielding widgets that didn't, in fact, work.

Unfortunately, these agencies (or parts thereof) are imbued with an inability to handle ambiguity. Answers aren't given until all ambiguities are ringed out....you don't want to give the widget maker the wrong answers do ya? This is NOT fast. Ironically, once answers are finally given they usually come with a statement, "more testing should be done to exercise the widget." Will enough ever be enough?

20 May 2009

RPL Reloaded

In 2005, some friends and I put together a little webzine called Rogue Project Leader. It was an exciting, exhausting project, and we managed to put out nine and a half issues between July 2005 and June 2006. For a variety of reasons, we put RPL on hiatus after that 9th issue. 

Well, it's 2009 and we're back, baby

We've turned the old webzine into a blog, and we hope you'll check in often. We aim to provide the same "more than slightly subversive" perspective on project leadership as before, but this time it'll be much easier for you, the lucky members of Rogue Nation, to join in the conversation.

So watch this space - add it to your RSS feed - and jump in with comments & questions. 

PS - The original RPL website is history, but you can still stop by Rogue Press to get your very own copy of RPL, Year 1 (PDF is free, print is $9.95).