Project Management Institute

A study of dashed hopes

defense project documentation

Executive Suite


Bud Baker is an assistant professor of management at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, where he also directs Wright State's MBA concentration in project management. Previously, he was a career officer in the United States Air Force, where he served in various operational and staff assignments. His last Air Force assignment was with the B-2 Stealth Bomber program, where he held positions as the B-2 production program manager, chief of program integration, and executive officer to the Program Director.

Dr. Baker earned his Ph.D. in management at the Peter F. Drucker Center of the Claremont Graduate School, near Los Angeles.

Editors Note: The following represents the viewpoint of the author, a former Air Force program manager. While we believe it to be a fair and reasonable assessment, we also want it clear that it represents the author's opinion, and not an official position of the Project Management Institute or PMNETwork. This article was blind reviewed by two referees.

Let's start this article with alittle quiz. Don't worry if you're not an expert of project documentation, or on the often arcane aspects of documentation in the Department of Defense (DOD). You will do just fine…

The task before you is to identify the sources of three diverse quotes, all pertaining to project control and documentation. They are not in anyway theoretical. Each represents the values and beliefs of its particular organization. Two are from tremendously successful businesses, both of which make extensive use of project management. The third represents the product of the most recent (and most extensive) effort to streamline Department of Defense management. Let's see if you can tell which of the three came from DOD.

  • A. “There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly” [5].
  • B. “You can drown in data in even the simplest business these days. The trick is to get the four or five measures that really make a difference and to concentrate on them every day or at least every week…” [6, p. 100].
  • C. “When a report has been submitted in accordance with paragraphs 3.b. or 3.c., above, showing an increase of 15 percent or more in the program acquisition unit cost, current procurement unit cost, or cost of a major contract and the Program Manager has reasonable cause to believe that an additional increase of 5 percent or more since the most recent report submitted under paragraphs 3.c. or 3.e. has occurred in the program acquisition unit cost, current procurement unit cost, or cost of a major contract, the Program Manager will again immediately submit a report… containing the same unit cost information as required in the quarterly reports; …This requirement reverts back to 15 percent at the beginning of each fiscal year for the program acquisition unit and current procurement unit cost only” [2, p.18-4].

If you guessed that “C” represented the new and improved documentation policy of our Department of Defense, then you guessed correctly (The other two, by the way are from a pair of pretty successful enterprises: the first is from Lockheed's “Skunk Works, “proud builders of such aerospace wonders as the U-2, SR-71, and the F-117 “Stealth Fighter,” among others. The second is from Dave's Way, the recent autobiography of Dave Thomas, founder of the “Wendy's” hamburger chain.)

… Why? Why does an organization build documentation policies that would almost appear to defy comprehension, much less implementation ?

The obvious question arises: Why? Why does an organization build documentation policies that would almost appear to defy comprehension, much less implementation? The above DOD quote is by no means an isolated example. Rather, defense project documentation continues to be a virtual quagmire, totally resistant to the best efforts at self-reform. A look at some recent history might provide some useful perspective.


It is axiomatic that any report on defense reform have as one of its themes the need to slash documentation requirements, thus presumably increasing acquisition efficiency. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney made the same points in his 1989 “Defense Management Report to the President,” when he wrote:

(T)he system is encumbered by overly de tailed, confusing and sometimes contradictory laws, regulations, directives, instructions, policy memorandum, and other guidance. Little room now remains for individual judgement and creativity of the sort on which the most successful industrial management increasingly relies to achieve higher levels of productivity and lower costs. Much of this stifling burden is a consequence of legislature enactments, and urgently requires attention by Congress. Much also has been administratively imposed and requires prompt corrective action by DOD [1, p.11].

That last sentence—so reminiscent of Walt Kelley's famous Pogo comic strip-is crucial: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” To meet the challenge, Secretary Cheney chartered a task force to conduct a DOD-wide review of acquisition documentation, to be completed by 1990 [1, p.11].

It was not until 1991 that the defense acquisition community got to see the final results of the task force's streamlining review. New versions of the documents governing the acquisition business-DODD 5000.1, DODI 5000.2, and DOD 5000.2-M, all dated February 1991—began reaching the field shortly thereafter. Keep in mind that expectations were not terribly high: DOD veterans have seen these reform cycles before, and are acutely aware of the “fad” nature of most of these initiatives. But this most recent “improvement” left even the most jaded field acquisition people aghast: there appeared to be no net reduction whatsoever in overall documentation requirements. In fact, the only discernible difference was the fact that a number of the various regulations governing documentation had been consolidated. But the reports themselves had not; they were virtually identical to the “pre-reform” requirements. See Table 1 for a partial list of the documentation requirements for a major DOD weapon system.


It is important to remember that the primary rationale for project documentation is to support managerial decision-making, not just the support of the organization's historical archive. And it is also important to remember that the best control systems are minimalist in nature. Peter Drucker noted that thought in his Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices:

The less effort to gain control, the better the control design. The fewer controls needed, the more efficient they will be. Indeed, adding more controls does not give better control. All it does is create confusion…The capacity of the computer to spew out huge masses of data does not make for better controls. On the contrary, what qives control is first the question, “What is the smallest number of reports and statistics needed to understand a phenomenon and to be able to anticipate it?”… Trivia should never be measured. One has control by controlling a few developments which can have significant impact on performance and results. One loses control by trying to control the infinity of events which are marginal to performance and results [3, p.499].

The same philosophy holds true in the project environment. In Dynamic Project Management, Kezsbom, Schilling and Edward discuss project documentation and control:


…turf battles that have engulfed the Test and Evaluation world have found their way into the TEMP, and with a vengeance….

…the effectiveness of a project control system is not increased by using a computerized reporting program that generates huge amounts of statistical information. Nor are unread reports improved sheerly by their weight or volume. It is important to determine the minimum information requirements needed to analyze project situations ‥ Trivia should never be measured [4, p.143].


Clearly the long Defense Department quote which appeared at the start of this paper is an extreme example of bureaucratic dissembling at its worst. And the long litany of reports which appear in Table 1 is not conclusive, since it is impossible to tell if each of those reports represents a 300-page dissertation (sometimes) or a one page summary (never). So let's take a look at a few typical examples.

Table 1. Just Some of the Regular” Reports Required for a Major Acquisition Program

Mission Need Statement

Operational Requirements Document

System Threat Assessment Report

Integrated Program Summary (which contains 16 reports/annexes)

Manpower Estimate Report

Test and Evaluation Master Plan

Cost and Operational Effectiveness Analysis

Low Rate Initial Production Report

Live Fire Test and Evaluation Report

Acquisition Program Baseline

Program Office and independent Cost Estimates

Beyond Low Rate initial Production Report

Defense Acquisition Executive Summary (with eight separate reports)

Selected Acquisition Report

Unit Cost Report

Program Deviation Report

Cost Management Report

Multiyear Procurement Contract Certification

Fixed Price Type Contract Certification

Acquisition Executive Monthly Report

‘Some of these are milestone-related. so they're prepared (and revised) at each decision point. Others are periodic, often quarterly, sometimes monthly.

Probably the report most bogged down in bureaucracy, the Test and Evaluation Master Plan template, is designed to lay out, in detail, the entire test and evaluation program for a project. But turf battles that have engulfed the Test and Evaluation world have found their way into the TEMP and with a vengeance. Even the authorizing DOD directive is symptomatic of the fractured lines of authority and responsibility: the foreword has two imprimaturs, not the customary one. The first belongs to the Acting Undersecretary of Defense, and is qualified in this manner: “For all matters in this Manual except operational test and evaluation.” The second signature, that of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, has a complementary notation: “For all matters in this Manual relating to operational test and evaluation” [2, p.ii].

Now if that sounds to you like the opening of a bureaucratic nightmare, you're correct. Much of the TEMP contains the same information already included in myriad other reports: system descriptions, mission description, summary of performance thresholds, and the like. The redundancy of reporting really reaches critical mass in the TEMP's rules on submitting reports: each program must submit not one, but 15 draft copies of the TEMP (sometimes hundreds of pages long) 45 days prior to a decision milestone, and then resubmit 15 more copies of the “final draft” 35 days later! Regular updates must then follow, of course [2, p.7-3].

The TEMP is not alone in imposing dubious documentation requirements on the acquisition program manager. At least a half dozen reports require detailed cost data, often identical, at other times reformatted and resliced in a different manner for a particular Washington constituency. The Cost and Operational Effectiveness Analysis is almost entirely repetitive of other reports, yet requires 14 pages of detailed instruction. The Selected Acquisition Report is even more detailed and comprehensive: 12 pages of general directions, with 29 pages of specific instructions, and 15 more pages of examples [2, pp. 8-1,17-11.

…panels focus on the same thing: streamlining the process. But it is clear now that that's the wrong target…


Just as it is true that any and all defense acquisition reform cites the need to slash documentation, it's equally certain that a year or two later, after the spotlight has moved onto other areas, there will be no net reduction in reporting requirements. And there may even be-as with this “reform”—a net increase.

The reason for such repeated failures is clear: all these task forces, commissions, and “blue ribbon” panels focus on the same thing: streamlining the process. But it is clear now that that's the wrong target: Instead, DOD needs to take aim at the people, the vast numbers of people, involved in the defense acquisition process. Drucker noted the essential problem in 1973:

One examle is today's defense establishment of a major power such as that of the United States. It was right in the late forties to unify the American armed service's…But the resulting monster is so big that it defies control [3, p.673].

Defense Secretary Cheney was mom specific, and made it clear that the situation was no better nearly two decades later:

Approximately 580,000 civilian and military personnel in DOD spend all or a substantial part of their workday in the acquisition field [1, p.12].

This does not count, of course, the 535 “assistant program managers” on Capitol Hill, nor does it take into account their burgeoning legions of staff members.

What happens as this “acquisition army” of more than half a million tries to bring its expertise to bear on the process? The answer is clear: they find that they cannot do their job unless they are in the reporting loop. And the way to do that, of course, is to require ever-increasing numbers of reports.

Parkinson's law—”Work expands to fill the time available”—applies here. And it stands to reason that work also expands in relation to the number of people available as well. It is here that the recommendations of the Cheney report get the cart before the horse: streamline documentation, it says, and we can then reduce the size of the acquisition bureaucracy. But as this most recent failure makes clear, the presently-sized bureaucracy is incapable of making these reductions: no one wants to see their report, their information source, their job on the chopping block.


And so it continues. Government project managers-and the taxpayers footing the bill-have received absolutely no relief from increasingly burdensome documentation requirements, despite the lofty goals of Secretary Cheney's Defense Management Report to the President. Worse, no improvement is on the horizon. The prospect of wholesale Pentagon staff streamlining remains remote, even in these times of declining defense budgets. And with fewer and fewer acquisitions under way, it follows that the 580,000-member acquisition staff will be spending more and more time on those few programs that survive. The result—more micromanagement, fueled by more “microdocumentation”—is fully predictable, and probably equally inescapable.


1. Cheney Secretary of Defense Dick. July 1989. Defense Management Report to the President.

2. Department of Defense Manual 5000.2-M, Defense Acquisition Management Documentation and Reports.

3. Drucker, Peter F. 1973. Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. New York: Harper and Row. February 1991.

4. Kezsbom, D.S; Schilling, D.L; Edward, K.A. 1989. Dynamic Project Management. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

5. Lockheed Corporation. Basic Operating Rules of the Lockheed Skunk Works. Undated handout from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

6. Thomas, R. David. 1991. Dave's Way. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

AUGUST 1992 pm network



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