Project Management Undone
ROBERT DAY
© 2012 FrontLine Defence (Vol 9, No 4)

A previous FrontLine editorial on Canada’s defence procurement (issue 3, 2012) points out that it should be no surprise to anyone that all defence platforms must, at some point, be replaced. Is it reasonable to expect that accomplishing such an anticipated task should ­actually ­conform to fair and transparent standards?

Whether it is a minor requirement such as flashlights, or Capital Equipment such as ships, armoured vehicles or aircraft, everything has a specific life span. Many also have an economic life span after which it no longer serves its intended ­purpose.

Military equipment is a real and often life-saving investment, and yet, administrative initiatives have created a protracted contracting system that is so complex, convoluted and lengthy that the original project staffs are usually long gone by the time the government procurement agency gets to the final stages of the ­contract.
 
Along with this overly complex project administration process is the little-known fact that many other government departments seek a piece of the Major Crown Projects pie, which quietly and needlessly increases costs along the way.
 
We need to address the ‘real’ needs of the Canadian military – without the benefit of senior government administrators’ or individual MPs’ aspirations.
 
First, we need to accept the fact that not every piece of equipment needs to be designed in Canada or “Canadianized”. Sometimes it is more cost-efficient to quickly procure proven modern equipment that is already deployed and functional.
 
The trust factor with the industrial sector is suffering badly and will continue if we go on with so many large procurements that are still under development. Just look at the problems with the CH148 “Cyclone” – how much lateness and cost over-runs are we expected to put up with? As for the “Industrial Regional Benefits” component, perhaps the establishment of indigenous Repair and Overhaul sources would be most beneficial to all.
 
Many logisticians have suggested a separate defence procurement agency that operates independently and does not get involved with the historical Canadian political desire for contracts that are all things to all people. It’s nice if you can, the odd time, satisfy everyone else’s needs without risking operational capabilities, but it is a rare event. For example, the new Shipbuilding Strategy, judged to be the most equitable and transparent procurement process, could be further enhanced by selecting one of the excellent warship designs already in service with our allies. Canadian shipyards would build them using both foreign and domestic suppliers. At some point during the project, these shipyards could then be called upon to begin research and development for the Navy’s “follow on” ship project. There are several steps that we need to take:
 
First: Canada has an educated workforce, design and manufacturing capabilities, but we do not have the foresight to mobilize these resources fully because we purchase major equipment without technological innovation. So we build equipment within our current capabilities in order to keep Canadian companies afloat. This brings to mind the “Iltis” vehicle which was purchased at $60,000 each from Bombardier, although if bought directly from the German government would have cost around $20,000 per copy). This, and other examples, prove the effects of such counter-productive processes.
 
Of course, supporting Canadian industry is a requirement with many benefits for the general economy, but long-term low interest loans for research and development would likely prove more productive.
 
Second: The complexities of the current Project Management system make it impossible for “laymen” within the government to correctly ascertain important information and details, creating confusion and suspicion. For example, the recent debacle over the project costs of the JSF/F35 was simply a “tempest in a tea cup”. Logisticians describe these problems in determining final costs during development work as “Vapour Estimates” which are only “Rough Order Magnitude” costs.
 
In short, neither the government nor the manufacturer knows the true costs. Hand wringing and accusations simply confuse the issue. Not until the Government issues an RFP will a manufacturer provide definitive figures for government costing.

However, it does go to show that not even the government fully understands its own project management system – and that has to change.
 
Third: Most military and government employees who have been involved with projects will tell you they are often prevented from doing their project jobs due to management overburden where ad hoc reports and requests for information consume much of their workday. Couple these requests with required reporting, and you have a significant number of people drafting reports instead of doing their jobs.
 
It goes to prove the old adage that equilibrium in management is only achieved when you spend 100% of your time reporting on the nothing you are doing. A major review of the government project management system is urgently required.
 
Fourth: The last point I wish to raise is that project progression was severely hampered when Project Management staffing was slashed by roughly 25 percent. Board members felt Project Management Staffing List (PMSL) hours were being wasted.
 
As the briefer defending the PMSL, I predicted that the reduction of personnel would only serve to stall projects to a snail’s pace, which proved to be the case.
 
There needs to be firm guidance from the Government to ensure that, given the consequences of failure, project staffs assigned to both Minor and Major Crown projects be protected from “reductions” intended to save personnel levels elsewhere.
 
As mentioned in a previous FrontLine editorial, this points to a major failure in the government’s ability to identify, select and procure major equipment for the Canadian Military. If there is no change forthcoming, such inaction does not auger well for the future, and once again we will be forced repeat our history of having inadequately trained troops on the eve of war. As George Santayana once wrote: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” That is a maxim that we as Canadians have repeated four times in the last century. Isn’t it time we stopped?

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Robert Day is a military historian and analyst at FrontLine Magazines.
© FrontLine Defence 2012

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