Scoping IT Federal Projects – Fear the Russian Winter

December 29, 2018
by Guest Author, Michael Casey, PMP, MPA, ITIL, V3

“Truth is ever to be found in Simplicity, and not in the Multiplicity and Confusion of things.”

– Sir Isaac Newton
Inventor of Calculus[1]

Contents

Grappling with Details in Federal Program Management
Background:
Memo as Foundation Document
Interpretation of Memo “Subject: Mission Critical Business System Identification”

Recommendation
Large Scale Government IT Deployment and the Russian Winter
Change, Simplicity and the “Multiplicity of Confusion”

 

Grappling with Details in Federal Program Management

Background:

I am an experienced IT manager who has been certified and recertified. I’ve worked for leading financial institutions as well as leaders in manufacturing and commercial service industries. For the past ten months I have been working for a defense contractor, supporting a US Armed Service Branch in its attempt to consolidate common IT services for divisions currently using separate installations of Enterprise Resource Management (ERP).

This is an ambitious goal; ERPs, whether SAP or in this case, Oracle, are notoriously difficult implementations characterized by cost and schedule overruns, even in the best of circumstances. What makes matters more difficult is when scope is not clearly defined, and, when assumptions on what may be provided in advance of core development are also not clear.

For this branch, direction was given that goes against a predominate trend – cloud hosting. That is, the three largest ERPs were directed to leverage infrastructure and common IT services to be provided in physical data centers. This entailed physical infrastructure (systems, network and services) not yet built nor vendor software installed, configured and deployed to required levels, also not defined.

As with large private institutions, the branch has a “PMO” – or multiple PMOs – governing the selection and management of programs and projects.

The premise here is that there is a military example when faced with similar challenges from 20th century military history. Currently, there is little opportunity for different divisions to fall back and retool by saying “mistakes were made.” Directions of branch affiliated division organizations have been pursued and one division, in particular, which supports infrastructure, needs to take a position to guide the rest of the loosely branch affiliated program.

Memo as Foundation Document

An Undersecretary’s directive, a memo from Branch leadership, prescribed actions to be taken by application and infrastructure leadership meeting to improve ERP deployment. This action was to identify core “…systems” which must be “operated and maintained” to continue the warfighting mission. The memo identified the Defense Business systems (DBSs) to be supported by systems. The memo sought to establish the “application baseline requirement” to:

  • Validate “… requirement for operations, licenses, maintenance, hosting and sustainment,,,”
  • Request “analysis… aligned to “… CIO… policy” requiring compliance with the common computing baseline.
    • Outcome of analysis should be a “high level set of tasks and associated cost and schedule for migrating these systems to the common

The memo presents features of an infrastructure to “encompass core systems” with branch-wide data… and “information delivery… to our customers”. It includes a sentence in the passive voice entreating, presumably, different leadership groups to “request resources requirements for this analysis”.

Interpretation of Memo “Subject: Mission Critical Business System Identification”

The memo – in and of itself – does not meet the criteria for a foundation document – e.g., Program or Project Scope Statement and / or Charter – as identified by at least one global project management organization[2]. Additionally, extensive studies over several years have indicated that to serve as a viable program or project the obligation exists to trace viability, in all aspects or measures, from definition to user acceptance.[3] In this particular scenario, the “user” is the Military Branch which is, collectively, a division of the Department of Defense created to serve the Chief Executive of the United States, who is directly accountable to the American people[4].

For effective program and / project management, any material change – cost, schedule, quality – to a program / project is subject to governance as agreed to, and delineated with, approved Scope and Charter documents. The latter foundation document is needed to specify how change – comprehensive, not isolated nor tangentially linked – is to be realized. This memo does not portend to do this; it is, more appropriately, a “call to arms,” without identification of the penultimate systems and technical features for fulfilling the goal: ERP for identified Mission Critical Business Systems.

To say that the “Government is different” in defining and managing projects, itself, presents a muddled challenge.  It demands that we somehow accept that the “Government” is not subject to the need to express goals and objectives simply, to establish program baselines and manage change the way almost every other service in American is.  The memo references a CIO directive for example, which is likely not clear to more than a few. Regardless, it is the responsibility in any governance to trace impact of any and all modification to original project or program intent, to maintain accountability to stakeholders.

Specifically, the memo fails to describe the prerequisite infrastructure baseline state. Note italicized words and phrases above which demonstrate that the Undersecretary never intended to describe an end-to-end program or project. Ms. Thomas describes a “DBS infrastructure” in terms of only features or characteristics, leaving it to some other set of Military Branch entities or processes to interpret scope and governance of the overall program. However, she must have presumed that others within the Military Branch would handle that – to understand the need to collectively “plan, estimate, execute and control”[5] – in pursuit of the overall project objective – timely integration with initial ERP ownership, as identified. She had every right to anticipate, that she didn’t have to explicitly express an obvious dependency in support of the warfighting mission – you need to build before you can integrate, migrate or maintain. If a “build” requires technical vetting prior to deployment of an initial baseline then it needs integrated, not independent Scope Management. If vetting requires ongoing reevaluations, then it needs to be collectively evaluated for impact.

If the overall objective of the project is to build common services and infrastructure on a central platform to serve specific ERP owners – especially  while modifications to ERPs, themselves, has been ongoing – the project needs to be part of a collective set of related projects, the “ERP Program[6].”

Recommendation

It is in the best interests of the Military Branch is adopt an integrated program for planning, estimating, executing and controlling ERP deployments for the identified Mission Critical Business Systems, as previously identified by the Undersecretary. The observation, to date, is that this has not been the case. A collective Program Scope Statement and Charter should be the initial deliverables of the program. The “ERP Common Services” project should be collectively viewed as a separate dependency for overall program success. Since time is the one resource that cannot be recaptured in any endeavor, critical path activities to build infrastructure and cybersecurity should continue to the extent explicitly agreed to by managers identified within a Program Charter. An objective should be to deploy[7] the minimum accepted infrastructure, cybersecurity (and common services tools) while establishing the overall ERP Program, comprised of representatives of existing organizations and any others as deemed necessary by Military Branch management.

This would most likely be the simplest and most manageable approach, in the best interests of all concerned.

Large Scale Government IT Deployment and the Russian Winter

In Mein Kampf, and in subsequent speeches and communications within, Hitler demonstrated that he coveted the Eurasian heartland, much of which was part of Russian territories. He felt this land would be needed to support the Reich, once it was established and started to flourish. He also expressed what bordered on respect and admiration for England.

After Germany invaded Poland, and having dismissed prior appeasements and seizing Czechoslovakia, Hitler was confronted with the byproduct of European alliances that brought England into the escalating conflict. Seeing his dream for the Reich being threatened, Hitler signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Stalin in 1939, knowing full well Russia’s lands were what he ultimately coveted. But he had to now be concerned about England, of course, observing Napoleon’s failure to win on two fronts in the previous century.

England was fighting hard in these years, and, since the Allies ultimately won, we of course hear much about their bravery, as well we should.  But it is the strategic and tactical decisions facing Hitler – and what ultimately transpired – that is of interest to any program or project manager –particularly American ones – for the US influenced him greatly, long before Pearl Harbor. It is an example of continuing without a clear scope, a lack of appreciation for completing a core dependency in order to achieve overall success.

The Axis Powers, as we know, were comprised primarily of Germany, Italy and the Empire of Japan.

Historians have pointed out for decades that this alliance was not as strong as the Allies. Even though we have been accused of being “separated by a common language,” Great Britain and the US have obvious similarities in history, culture, government, etc. Germany and Japan, however, were as far apart as… the United States and Japan… in these important concerns, that guide decisions.

Japan was a developing economy in the Pacific. The US, from prior conflicts, with Spain, for example, dominated growth opportunities for Japan, such as the Philippines. Some historians have pointed out that it was this affinity to England, and not Japan, that directed FDR and military thinking during this time.[8] Of note, of course, is that Japanese officials were in Washington discussing options just hours about the December 7, 1941 attack. Was this a decoy, or desperate last ditch attempt to avoid war? Most think it’s the former but the degree to which that may be true is unclear.

How much of this could Hitler know or sense, prior to breaking his agreement with Stalin? Was he powerless in having Japan delay before engaging the US? Why would he make the same mistake Napoleon made? At least Hitler was spared the effects his error and died before witnessing his egregious tactics while Napoleon had the rest of his life in exile to ponder it.

We know what contributed greatly to killing both of their visions: the bitter Russian winter. If nothing else, the Russian winter caused Time and Resource Management variances that crippled France and Germany, respectively, in these 19th and 20th century conflicts   The Russian people and their culture, after an insanely disproportionate sacrifice, were protected by nature as well an enemy’s hubris.

As every American should remember, the Russians, despite their revolution were on the Allied side in WWII.  It is technology, starting in 1945, that underscores why Russia can no longer rely on nature to aid in her protection. It could also help explain her suspicion, motives and tactics with the West… but that’s a topic for another day.

What’s relevant is that, Hitler, in particular, ignored the true dependency and impediment to his vision of global domination with the Reich: Britain. This reality is supported by a balanced view supported by project management. Notably, Scope and Time Management.

With his Non-Aggression Pact signed with Stalin in 1939, Hitler was already engaged with bombing England. However, he didn’t invade. Why not? Did he attack Russia, Operation Barbarossa, because he feared the window shrinking to seize Russian lands? How much did he know of the Japanese impatience with the US? Did he know how imminent their attack was? Considering key dates – December 7, 1941 and June 6, 1944 – Hitler may have had about that amount of time 2.5 years to cripple / conquer / colonize England and spare his vision prior to the most effective European mobilization of the US, “the sleeping giant.[9]

In short, Hitler made a tactical change management decision – attack Russia – that ignored a basic dependency – Britain, and later the US, would exhaust his attention and resources in the West to the detriment of his overall goal.

It’s, of course, incredibly insensitive to discuss losses from the largest conflict in human history to any IT implementation of any kind in any context. I do so, respectfully, to emphasize a project management parallel:

  • If neutralizing England was not in Scope for the Third Reich wasn’t it destined to fail?
  • If deploying a common Infrastructure is not sufficiently in Scope for a large scale ERP Deployment isn’t it destined to fail?

Change, Simplicity and the “Multiplicity of Confusion”

 

Newton is considered to be the father of Calculus, the Mathematics of Change. Differential and integral calculus branches combine to provide “fundamental notions of convergence of infinite sequences and infinite series to a well-defined limit.[10]” While program and project manager’s hope that “sequences” and “series” are not infinite, they can often seem so in trying to define, wrestle with modifications along the way, and ultimately deliver on a project, the “well-defined limit.” Newton – a marked genius from late in the European period known as the Enlightenment – was, by most accounts, a pious and direct man. Ironically, for this analogy of course, he was English.

Operation Barbarossa represented a decision point for Hitler. His failure to consider a core dependency – neutralizing Britain – underscores that he failed with correctly interpreting “convergence of infinite sequences and infinite series to a well-defined limit.”

And the world is a better place, of course, because of his failure to assess the impact, the “sequence,” of the Russian winter on his fate. As the victors surmise, he was also handicapped by “confusion.”

Newton would likely have counseled him to Simplify, to define clearly what the Axis was collectively trying to do. They would have likely have failed ultimately, anyway. However, Newton’s voice could not be heard to help those Russian and German soldiers – nor the millions of peasants in the plains and city dwellers on the eastern front.  They suffered greatly and paid the ultimate price – perhaps – for one, prosaic reason… an excuse?

Axis leaders, despite being educated men, didn’t speak Newton’s language.

Those who manage large projects with complex variables of time, cost and opportunity have an obligation to continually evauluate Scope – to Simplify – and avoid “confusion”.

Especially when using other people’s money, with or without the consequences of war.

[1] The Mathematical Study of Change

[2] Project Management Institute, Newtown, Pennsylvania

[3] Jiang, J. J., Chen, E., & Klein, G. (2002). The importance of building a foundation for user involvement in information system projects. Project Management Journal, 33(1), 20–26.”

[4] Article II, Constitution of the United States of America.

[5] Core Project Phases as  per the Project Management Institute

[6] “A program is a set of interrelated projects.” Project Management Institute

[7] “Install, configure and customize”

[8] The Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan, Ronald Spector, 1985

[9] Isoroku Yamamoto, Naval Marshall Empire of Japan, Attributed but not affirmed.

[10] Wikipedia

 

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