Best Practices:

DOD Training Can Do More to Help Weapon System Programs Implement Best Practices

NSIAD-99-206: Published: Aug 16, 1999. Publicly Released: Aug 16, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the role the Department of Defense (DOD) training is playing in implementing best practices in weapon system programs, focusing on the: (1) contribution DOD training makes to program offices' ability to apply best practices; (2) different methods used by DOD and leading commercial firms in training on best practices; and (3) strategic approaches that underlie DOD's and leading commercial firms' training methods for best practices.

GAO noted that: (1) DOD's standard training did not make a major contribution to the leading program offices' ability to implement best practices; (2) in evaluating their key sources of knowledge, none of the key officials from programs at the forefront of implementing best practices ranked standard DOD training first, with many ranking it last; (3) DOD training either did not reach the right people when it was needed or did not reach them at all; (4) when training on best practices was received, it did not contain the depth or practical insights program office people needed to implement the practices; (5) it was primarily through their own efforts--learning on the job, finding external training, or developing their own training program--that they attained the knowledge needed to apply best practices; (6) success depended on their having the foresight to see what was needed, the ingenuity to find good sources of knowledge, and the resources needed to attain that knowledge; (7) leading commercial firms and DOD use different training methods to implement key practices; (8) commercial firms use targeted, hands-on methods to ensure that program offices are trained on key practices; (9) their training organizations conduct front-end analyses to determine the programs' training requirements and involve the program offices in designing the training; (10) training is customized to meet the specific needs of those implementing the practice; (11) company officials believe the targeted method results in more useful training, which helps to improve outcomes of the final product; (12) DOD relies primarily on its standard training, including classroom courses, videos, internet-based training, satellite broadcasts, and roadshows, to inform staff on best practices; (13) these methods were designed for functional training, such as for engineers, and for increasing the awareness of new practices; (14) the intensive training methods leading commercial firms employ on new practices are the result of a strategic, institutionally driven approach to implementation; (15) these firms commit their resources and attention to a few well-defined practices and make a significant front-end investment in the training to be provided to the workforce; (16) DOD has promulgated as many as 40 acquisition management initiatives in the past few years without communicating their relative priority to trainers or implementers; and (17) while DOD commits significant resources to training, it does not make a uniform front-end investment to ensure that program offices will succeed with the new practices.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. The USD (AT&L) recently established a Change Management Center to serve as a tool to more actively inform and assist program offices with new initiatives. The Acquisition Reform Communication Center would be more fully utilized for identifying experts and lessons learned. A special DAU study team completed a reengineering study that focused on improving the DAU structure. DAU acknowledged that the key to future performance of the Acquisition Workforce is the availability of knowledge management and performance support tools and as a result has reorganized and adopted a mission approach to make the training more useful and knowledge of acquisition issues more accessible to the acquisition workforce. Knowledge management has resulted in the development of various communities of practices including one on Program Management Community of Practice which provides support to the program manager and the program office team. The communities of practices showcase functional content, best practices, and lessons learned for the Acquisition Workforce. To facilitate access to acquisition management issues, DAU has created a web-based Acquisition Support Center that provides a central access point for valuable acquisition knowledge, resources, contacts and tools. It supports DAU students and faculty in formal education and training requirements, and supports the entire Acquisition, Technology and Logistics workforce (government and industry) in job execution, career progression and continuous learning.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should make the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology responsible for taking steps to institutionalize the methods for tailoring training on key initiatives that have been shown to be successful by leading program offices and commercial firms. This involves having proactive organizations and the tools to inform, prepare, and assist program offices to implement the initiatives most applicable to their programs. This approach should include helping the program managers determine the best methods for making initial and sustaining resource investments in training the program office staff. This help could consist of providing advice, assisting in the identification of experts in the needed areas, and culling lessons learned from other programs that have implemented the initiative.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. The USD (AT&L) recently established a Change Management Center to serve as a tool to more actively inform and assist program offices with new initiatives. It remains for the Defense Acquisition University to more fully embrace a "change agent" role in assisting program offices adopt new initiatives. This may be addressed in the new Strategic Plan. Update as of September 2001: A special DAU study team completed a reengineering study that focused on improving the DAU structure. While DAU is expanding its efforts to expand its consulting and performance support, it still appears to be a passive role dependent upon the program offices to solicit assistance versus DAU being proactive in its assistance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should make the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology responsible for taking steps to institutionalize the methods for tailoring training on key initiatives that have been shown to be successful by leading program offices and commercial firms. This involves having proactive organizations and the tools to inform, prepare, and assist program offices to implement the initiatives most applicable to their programs. This approach should include developing an approach, in conjunction with the program managers, to create a culture--and necessary incentives--within the program office to make it receptive for adopting the initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. The USD (AT&L) recently established a Change Management Center to serve as a tool to more actively inform and assist program offices with new initiatives. It remains for the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) to more fully embrace a "change agent" role in assisting program offices in tailoring their training needs. This may be addressed in the new Strategic Plan. Update as of September 2001: A special DAU study team completed a reengineering study that focused on improving the DAU organizational structure. DAU has established a corporate commitment as one of its key missions, to provide assistance to acquisition users in support of their various missions which includes designing a targeted training program unique to the specific user.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should make the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology responsible for taking steps to institutionalize the methods for tailoring training on key initiatives that have been shown to be successful by leading program offices and commercial firms. This involves having proactive organizations and the tools to inform, prepare, and assist program offices to implement the initiatives most applicable to their programs. This approach should include working with individual program managers to tailor the initiatives to their programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. Defense Acquisition University (DAU) is currently utilizing more web-based training for dissemination of new initiatives. DAU will accelerate its "Targeted Training" concept to be defined in the DAU Strategic Plan. Update as of September 2001: A special DAU study team completed a reengineering study that focused on improving the DAU organizational structure and become more customer focused. DAU is working to provide updated, business-oriented, core and targeted training.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should make the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology responsible for taking steps to institutionalize the methods for tailoring training on key initiatives that have been shown to be successful by leading program offices and commercial firms. This involves having proactive organizations and the tools to inform, prepare, and assist program offices to implement the initiatives most applicable to their programs. This approach should include making new program managers aware of the initiatives that could significantly affect the outcomes of their programs and the role the managers play in having their staffs trained to implement those initiatives. This could be done through existing program managers' courses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. The "Commercial Business Environment: Accelerating Change Through Enterprise Teaming" report has as one of its purposes to incorporate cross-functional teaming across the Defense business enterprise to accelerate organizational goals and manage change. Update as of September 2001: A special DAU study team completed a reengineering study that focused on improving the DAU organizational structure. To accomplish its mission, DAU is to establish a teaming environment that identifies key organizations and players. In addition, the Acquisition 2005 Task Force issued its final report "Shaping the Civilian Acquisition Workforce of the Future" which includes strategic career development initiatives. These and associated efforts demonstrate that DOD has addressed identifying key people and organizations in a strategy for training its workforce.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should develop a strategy for delivering targeted training on selected new practices to program offices to ensure the practices will be implemented. This strategy should identify the key organizations and people that are critical to the program offices' ability to implement best practices, including those not defined as part of the acquisition workforce and contractors, as the potential audience of targeted training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendation and noted that it had already begun restructuring the Defense Acquisition University. The USD (AT&L) approved the recommendations of the Commercial Business Environment Plan by Memorandum dated November 23, 1999. Implementation of Strategic Plan to be issued. Update as of September 2001: A special DAU study team completed a reengineering study that focused on improving the DAU organizational structure. DAU is to become more customer focused and change from strictly certification training to more performance support. These and other action demonstrate that DOD has developed a strategy to have DAU play a more proactive role and provide more targeted training.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should develop a strategy for delivering targeted training on selected new practices to program offices to ensure the practices will be implemented. This strategy should decide whether the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) is to play a more traditional role, as called for by the DAU Transition Plan, or a more proactive role, as called for by the Commercial Business Environment Plan and clearly communicate to DAU and other providers of DOD training their responsibilities in supporting a targeted approach to training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. DOD issued in October 1999 "The Commercial Business Environment: Accelarating Change Through Enterprise Teaming" which was a general strategy for changing DOD's approach and characteristics of training.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should develop a strategy for delivering targeted training on selected new practices to program offices to ensure the practices will be implemented. This strategy should identify those initiatives most worthy of a targeted training investment by screening the numerous initiatives to separate those for which a general awareness is sufficient from those that warrant a targeted approach. Those to be targeted should be relatively few in number at any given point in time. The process of setting priorities would be of a continuing nature and would benefit from the input of program office members.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. DOD's goal is to build a continuum of integrated training and education experiences that will support the common content needs of the acquisition workforce and the specific needs of the program management offices. The training faculty will continue to develop new and innovative approaches to presenting materials, case studies and practical exercises. DAU's new Strategic Plan is supposed to incorporating the above goals. Update as of September 2001: A special DAU study team completed a reengineering study that focused on improving the DAU organizational structure. The goal is to build a continuum of integrated training and education experiences that will support the common content needs of the acquisition workforce and the specific needs of the program management career field. The training faculty will continue to develop new and innovative approaches to presenting materials and case studies.

    Recommendation: To introduce and reinforce new practices, the Secretary of Defense should require the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology more effectively use existing training vehicles to: (1) incorporate new practices more quickly; (2) better reflect the changing role of program managers; (3) ensure that instructors' knowledge keeps pace with the latest practices; and (4) provide more case study material that gives implementation examples for a variety of situations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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