project management when lives are at stake
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Joint Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicle Program (JMVP) Program Office (JPO MRAP) executed a project to rapidly develop, acquire, and field the MRAP family of vehicles. Starting with an urgent warfighting requirement in October 2006, the project rapidly took form and ultimately fielded 28,671 vehicles by December 2012. Using competitive prototyping; astute industrial base analyses and management; as well as flexible, creative and accelerated fielding and sustainment; the JMVP achieved extraordinary acquisition results. While meeting demanding statutory requirements, the JPO simultaneously budgeted, contracted, tested, produced, integrated, fielded and sustained the highly-survivable MRAP truck fleet. Concurrently, in response to warfighter feedback and evolving threats, the JPO embarked on major upgrades to vehicle protection, load capacity and mobility. This accelerated acquisition project saved thousands of lives and made an exponential contribution to combat effectiveness during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and small arms fire quickly rose to become the leading cause of death for U.S. military personnel and their coalition partners in both Iraq and Afghanistan. As IED related casualties grew, so did the urgency of providing improved protection against these attacks. MRAP vehicles are armored vehicles that use design features which enable their occupants to survive such attacks. In October 2006, JPO MRAP was formed and charged with rapidly procuring MRAP vehicles in response to the urgent need to counteract the mine and IED threat. In May 2007, the JPO's project to procure these trucks became the number-one acquisition priority in the DoD, when direction was issued by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. It faced overwhelming challenges, as it sought options to implement extremely accelerated fielding plans with a speed not seen since World War II.
The project's objective, at its core, was deceptively simple – deliver survivable, mission-capable MRAP vehicles to U.S. and coalition partner warfighters as soon as possible. To achieve that objective, the project needed to mobilize the industrial base to produce and deliver vehicles that met the evolving requirements and thus saved lives. Production ultimately numbered in the tens of thousands and was done on the most ambitious of schedules, because meeting those demanding schedules with capable vehicles meant more lives would be saved. The scope of this effort impacted raw material sources, suppliers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), project managers, contracts and procurement personnel, technical and engineering expertise, business and financial management application, maintenance and logistics efforts, and political will on a scale not seen since World War II.
Because this project was directly tied to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the total number of vehicles required could not be finalized for several years after project initiation. The first formal U.S. Government requirement, in October 2006, was for 1,185 vehicles. As project planning and production started, the vehicle requirement continued to grow at an exponential rate. By the time fielding of all vehicles was completed in December 2012, the final requirement was 28,671 vehicles, including 931 vehicles purchased by coalition partners; the U.S. Government budget alone for this project exceeded $48 billion.
The project sponsor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, quickly outlined the extent to which he was prepared to field these crucial, life-saving vehicles. In May 2007, he announced plans to use the full power of his office to clear whatever legal and financial roadblocks might impede rapid delivery of the new armored vehicles to Iraq. Extreme urgency shaped the project's strategy, which in turn influenced its organization and approach to doing business, and set the stage for fast tracking on an unprecedented scale in the DoD. Three overriding goals drove the project: fielding survivable, mission-capable vehicles; delivering them as rapidly as possible; and fully leveraging the industrial base to support the first two objectives. In response to these goals, the JPO decided to plan for and manage all aspects of the process simultaneously, including contracting, testing, integration, transportation to theater, and in-theater fielding and support, thus leveraging fast tracking to the maximum extent possible. The JPO's execution strategy (after using small, sole source contracts to start the flow of vehicles to warfighters) focused on the use of potentially large Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts to any manufacturer who could provide test vehicles capable of meeting the survivability and automotive threshold parameters established by warfighting requirements. Of the nine vendors providing test vehicles, five were successful in meeting survivability and automotive requirements and were given IDIQ production contracts. An additional vendor was subsequently added through a full and open competition for a lighter MRAP vehicle. These six vendors produced seven different models of vehicles that evolved into more than 50 different variants by the time the project was complete.
The vehicles produced by the JMVP are credited with averting tens of thousands of injuries and deaths of U.S and coalition partner warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without these MRAP trucks, the results achieved by U.S. operations during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might have been very different. In addition, the JPO's innovative contracting strategy and unique project management approach to meeting the Defense Department's acquisition requirements will undoubtedly have long term impacts on Defense acquisition. The lessons learned in successful project management generated by the JPO in fielding these life-saving vehicles will live on well after the trucks have been retired from service. It truly was a remarkable achievement.
While there are many DoD programs that have far more product complexity, few, if any, approach the extraordinary management complexity faced by the JPO MRAP team in fielding these critical vehicles over the last six years. That complexity directly rises from nine key drivers. Most significant DoD programs face complexity arising from combinations of two or three of these drivers. It is unlikely that any other DoD program since World War II has faced all of these challenges simultaneously.
Challenge #1 - Enemy Threat. The first and foremost complication was the challenging, evolving threat from the enemy, which directly drove vehicle requirements. In warfighter parlance, “the enemy gets a vote.” That was certainly true in the combat environment of both Iraq and Afghanistan. The very different terrain prevalent in each country placed varying demands on the automotive capabilities of the vehicles, while the enemy's weapons and tactics of choice similarly presented different challenges to a vehicle's survivability. These disparate challenges forced warfighters into different requirement decisions as they searched for vehicles optimized to meet their needs, while maintaining required survivability. These changing requirements made the management of engineering, test and evaluation, and logistic resources unbelievably complex as requirement priorities ebbed and flowed with the war.
Challenge #2 - Price of Failure. Seldom is military equipment developed, produced, fielded and employed with such speed that all associated with producing the equipment can see in a very short time (in some cases, mere months from requirement to fielding) the success or failure of their efforts. Every time it was learned that a non-MRAP vehicle was attacked and a warfighter died, it was with the lamentable knowledge that had an MRAP vehicle been produced more quickly, the warfighter might have lived. Or conversely, if an MRAP vehicle was attacked and the warfighter was killed or injured, there was immediate and detailed analysis to see if the vehicle was working as designed and to understand how such casualties could be minimized in the future. The pressure that resulted from seeing in real time on the evening television news whether the product of your work was working as designed, or not, was of an extraordinary intensity to the project team and their sponsors.
Challenge #3 - Aggressive Timeline. The unrelenting pressure to field as many vehicles as quickly as possible – since the fielding rate had a direct and crucial impact on saving lives on the battlefield – meant an unceasing search for accelerated schedules. From the day of vehicle inception to the day it was delivered, every aspect of project scheduling was examined and challenged, literally on a daily basis, to find ways to reduce response time and accelerate vehicle fielding. Every time a schedule was drafted, it was immediately revised to find ways to reduce each step by hours, days, weeks or months. The final result was a successful end-to-end fielding time that would have initially been judged impossible, based on any previous accomplishments for similar vehicles.
Challenge # 4 - Production Volume. While the required number of vehicles started small, no sooner had those numbers been established, processed and plans made to respond, than those same requirements increased, and kept on increasing. A requirement number that started with a few hundred vehicles would ultimately see the project team fielding 28,671 vehicles. But it was not just the sheer numbers of vehicles that drove complexity, it was that those numbers could not be met in the required time by one or two or even three manufacturers. The required production volumes would ultimately drive the project to execute contracts with six different manufacturers, producing seven distinct models in three major size categories that would ultimately result in more than 50 distinct variants being produced during the production runs. Those volumes required the project to develop innovative and intricate acquisition strategies to achieve the necessary fielding rates and at the same time, the extremely large number of variants generated logistic challenges which were exponentially greater than those faced by almost any other ordinary acquisition program.
Challenge #5 - Industrial Base Implications. As the project began to produce large numbers of MRAP vehicles, the project team and manufacturers, now working together in an innovative government/industry partnership arrangement, immediately faced highly challenging supply chain issues. These issues were exacerbated by the unique nature of the vehicles and multiple variants. The demands on the international industrial base for a number of critical vehicle components exceeded manufacturing capacity – including steel, axles, and tires. This meant very carefully managing the output of all impacted supply sources as they struggled to meet the ever-increasing demand from the project.
Challenge #6 - Joint Organizational Structure. Because MRAP vehicles were not required by just a single U.S. military service, but ultimately all of them, a decision was made early that the program would be headed by a JPO project team. This JPO would respond to all U.S. DoD service requirements on behalf of each service. Such a joint organization is normally established in a very formal and lengthy process, as each service is required to supply the personnel necessary. However, due to the fielding speed required from the outset, time was not available to establish such a structure. Instead personnel were received from a “coalition of the willing” involving each of the services. The organization was built around personnel that were provided, rather than the normal process of establishing personnel requirements first and then staffing to them. While seemingly a small problem, the reality was that the majority of the personnel on the project team did not, in fact, work for the Joint Program Manager (JPM), who was responsible for neither their pay nor their performance evaluations. The challenging result was a U.S. Governmental organization managed by informal agreements and persuasion, rather than a typical management hierarchy.
Challenge #7 - Diverse DoD Stakeholders. While it is easy to make the case that the key stakeholder was the warfighter, the picture is more complex. Warfighters were drawn from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations Command, as well as coalition partners, each of which had different tactics, roles, and training styles – resulting in disparate views on fundamental requirements for the vehicles. There are often differences of opinion even within a particular service, going up the chain of command from the warfighter in the truck to those senior leaders who ultimately conveyed requirements to the project team. The leadership within the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), and the Congress had unique opinions on how best to address warfighting requirements. This resulted in a group of DoD stakeholders who often had difficulty in agreeing on basic vehicle requirements.
Challenge #8 - Unprecedented Visibility. Given the size of the U.S. military establishment and the money invested in it by taxpayers, it is not uncommon for major programs to become media discussion topics. But the MRAP vehicle effort is again unique when it comes to its level of media exposure. Even prior to the establishment of the team, heated arguments had been taking place about both the necessity and feasibility of fielding such vehicles; the project team was born under a media microscope. When the Secretary of Defense formally declared the MRAP project to be the “number one acquisition effort in the Department,” the optics on the microscope increased by orders of magnitude. Once people realized that these vehicles could really save lives, everything associated with them became of interest. While the press coverage was generally very positive, its sheer volume required significant management time at the most senior levels of the project and JPO, and when that coverage did occasionally become negative due to the inevitable small problems that arise in equipment on the battlefield, the demands placed on management were extremely time consuming.
Challenge #9 - Large Budget. The dollars in a project budget, in and of themselves, don't make a project complex. But as the number of those dollars rises, additional management requirements rise for acquisition planning, contracting, accountability, reporting, auditing, and generally ensuring that the taxpayer's dollars are being properly spent. The project's initial budget across the five years of the planned defense plan was far less than a billion dollars. By the end of fielding in 2012, expanded demand from the warfighter had driven it to more than $48 billion. At its peak, it was the largest single project in the DoD. The management attention required to properly steward that level of spending cannot be understated and multiplied the challenges associated with every one of the other key drivers of the project's complexity.
The MRAP Team
The MRAP Vehicle project team is uniquely characterized by its size, its world-wide dispersion, and its stake-holder driven complexity. Because of its joint structure, thereby drawing on all of the U.S. military services, and its close government/industry partnership, team members came from a variety of sources outside a normal defense acquisition program office construct.
The core team, composed of about one-third government acquisition professionals and two-thirds support contractors, was structured around Assistant Program Managers (APMs) responsible for each major model of MRAP vehicle and aligned with the OEMs responsible for producing each vehicle variant, wherever they might be located (both nationally and internationally). Additionally, the vehicle APMs and their staffs received matrix support from a variety of functional teams representing acquisition support disciplines, including engineering, logistics, test and evaluations, production and quality, budget and finance, contracts, safety, and others. This large global team, 4,000 plus personnel at its peak, was staffed heavily by U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army military, civilians, and contractors. It also included a dedicated staff supporting acquisition efforts on behalf of its allied military partners.
Virtually integrated with the team were representatives from each service's acquisition staff; theater representatives assigned by the JPO to support the forward deployed warfighters in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan; and U.S. Transportation Command organizations responsible for getting MRAP vehicles from the Continental United States (CONUS) into the Theater of Operations, whether by airlift or sealift. Other key members of the extended team were provided by the Defense Contracts Management Agency (DCMA), which oversaw all contract execution at the OEM facilities, and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) which brought vital skills in rapidly institutionalizing the complex spare parts management infrastructure required to keep the multitude of MRAP vehicle variants operating in a strenuous combat environment. Lastly, far-flung military bases from a variety of services, with their specialized skills in engineering, testing, logistics, and integration were crucial in ensuring the vehicles met warfighting requirements and were produced in the required quantities with much needed government furnished equipment (GFE) properly integrated for combat use.
The JPO was organized in 2006 and immediately initiated the U. S. military joint services project to quickly procure MRAP vehicles. However, its status as a joint organization was never codified by the United States government. Rather, it was staffed by the services based on a guidance memo from OSD. The ad hoc nature of the JPO meant that the support of key stakeholders was critical in accomplishing the MRAP project's mission. From the start, the project team aggressively identified and analyzed stakeholders. Because MRAP was a high visibility project, the list was numerous and diverse. In addition, because lives were in jeopardy, all stakeholders had an emotional connection to the project. While this helped motivate and unite all affected by the project, it also contributed to the intensity of reactions and resulting challenge of managing stakeholders.
Project funding was provided by the U.S. Congress. The Secretary of Defense, in partnership with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided the impetus to start and maintain the necessary project funding in the face of stiff challenges to its priority. In addition, the Secretary of Defense directed that personnel resources be dedicated to the project. The primary and most crucial up-line U.S. DoD stakeholder – Combatant Commander, U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) – represented all United States operating forces in Iraq and Afghanistan including the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that would use the vehicles. In addition, Congress was a key and powerful stakeholder. They were keenly interested in the project and held frequent and in depth meetings with the JPO's MRAP project team; a level of oversight and scrutiny unprecedented for a U.S. defense acquisition program. Additional important stakeholders included senior officials in OSD and the Department of the Navy; Military Service Secretaries, their staffs and general officers; and the Commander of the Marine Corps Systems Command. There were many challenges in managing up-line stakeholders, particularly because there were vast differences of opinion regarding how many and what type of MRAPs vehicles were needed, when they were needed, and their desired configuration. The project team proactively established relationships with these organizations, reasoning that its credibility in managing its agreements and delivering results would be critical to ongoing support from the stakeholders.
The processes and techniques employed to manage up-line stakeholders were central to the project team's success strategy and were aggressively employed. The ten most critical U.S. government stakeholders formed an unprecedented OSD task force to ensure the project's momentum. The task force held monthly progress meetings that were used to make decisions on streamlining normal acquisition procedures in order to accelerate the schedule of this project. In order to make these task force meetings as productive as possible, the team proactively met with each stakeholder in advance, providing pre-briefings on all agenda topics. It methodically communicated project plans, status, issues and progress to not only the task force, but all stakeholders as well. Communication tactics included frequent meetings with decision makers and Congress, weekly Joint Program Manager reports, monthly information papers, quarterly Program Management Reviews, and the full range of reports required for large U.S. defense programs. Since the project was regularly making trades in non-essential areas and accepting risks with mitigation, it was very important to ensure that the entire community (Congress, vendors, supporters, users, etc.) understood the strategy, the trades, the risks and the mitigation plan, had the opportunity to participate in development of the plan, and supported the plan. This open flow of information built confidence in the project's management, and also provided a solid foundation for decisions by keeping decision makers aware of the project's plans and progress. This allowed the team to obtain decisions much more quickly than is typical for major United States government acquisition projects, as all decision makers and their staffs were involved in framing the decisions, and the options had been vetted throughout the project community prior to the formal decision. The MRAP project team was successful in gaining a reputation for honesty and high performance which ultimately ensured the backing and funding to execute the project.
Internal stakeholders included over 300 military and government civilians and over 3,500 support contractors on the project team, each critical to ensuring the ultimate success of this effort. Managing a joint project from a single service's acquisition arm was very challenging, as formal reporting chains did not cover the full range of this enterprise. This meant collaboration and consensus, rather than command and control, were often required. To facilitate effective leadership in this environment, the project team focused on building a cohesive team environment, including the use of regular town hall meetings, to ensure both upward and downward communication on all topics.
Vehicle suppliers were another critical group of stakeholders. OEMs had suppliers in virtually every U.S. state and many foreign countries. The JPO contracted with 6 different OEMs and in many cases the survival of those companies depended on the success of their performance on this project. These companies frequently chose to perform at risk with no contract in place, to not only develop new capabilities (e.g., suspension upgrade) but also produce and deliver trucks. This was not a small commitment. At one point it was estimated that a single manufacturer was working at risk for $750,000,000 worth of vehicles and related efforts that were not yet on contract. Manufacturers took these risks because they determined it was the right thing to do for both their company and warfighters. In addition, the project team worked aggressively to establish trust with all stakeholders by open and honest communication and by honoring all agreements made. Without this trust and commitment to the mission from these manufacturers, the schedule could not have been met, which would have eroded support from all stakeholders and ultimately cost warfighter lives.
Lastly, U.S. and coalition partner warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan were a powerful stakeholder force that influenced the project in numerous ways. Program growth can be directly attributed to warfighters; the initial requirement for vehicles grew when theater commanders, seeing the success of the vehicles in being survivable and saving lives, would not send their troops out without them. Informal mechanisms for warfighter input included weekly teleconferences from theater, input from workers preparing vehicles for delivery to theater, leadership visits to theater to collect feedback and informal feedback from combatant commands. In addition, the JPO regularly received emails from individual warfighters.
From project inception, risk was a major priority and decision factor. To document and track the unique MRAP risks, a risk register was created. This tool evolved from a hastily devised, interim solution for a critical management issue, to a sophisticated, web-based joint service database used across the project to identify, document, track, and report risk and its mitigation. Risk increased due to the use of multiple vehicle OEMs and government agencies to provide solutions across multiple services. The MRAP project responded by awarding both sole source and IDIQ contracts for limited Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) quantities that were tested primarily for survivability prior to delivery to theater. The rapid acquisition and fielding strategy reduced a typically multi-year evolution to only six months from project initiation in October 2006 to first fielding in April 2007.
Expeditious and multi-pronged delivery alone imparted risks to the program that demanded immediate attention – namely impact to the DoD supply chain, uncertain performance, product support, and initial capability limitations. User-identified urgent needs to address life-threatening risks were documented and prioritized by the MRAP project. The evolving risk register documented the risks mitigated through spiral-development of vehicle improvements and capability insertions, an approach that accepted the risks inherent with evolving a product both during and after fielding but that allowed the project team to further mitigate the risk to life based on the evolving IED threat. The vehicle and capability evolution approach enabled the project to immediately address risks and opportunities identified by users, such as improved protection from IEDs both to the underbody and sides of the vehicle. The “small-batch” LRIP approach facilitated immediate response to survivability risks such as rollover and emergency egress (i.e., the ability of personnel to exit the vehicle) which began to emerge from combat experience. These risks were effectively mitigated through leveraging the enterprise resources made available by the joint-service partnership unique to the MRAP project. The project's approach to risk included mitigation through product improvements; avoidance through capability insertions and vehicle upgrades; and, transference through Firm-Fixed Price and other contracting strategies.
Prior to initial production, an industrial base risk was identified relevant to the U.S. and international markets: components required to manufacture and support MRAP vehicles might not be available in the quantities required quickly enough. In particular, the current manufacturing capacity and availability of required types of steel, axles, tires, and transparent armor were highlighted as threats to project success. To mitigate these risks, the project team worked with officials within DoD and Congress to obtain a “DX” rating, which gave the project team first priority status for any required materials. This rating applied to the vehicle OEMs and their entire supply chain. Effectively, if needed materials, raw or finished, were available, the project team and consequently all suppliers had first right to the material. This enabled the project team to increase manufacturing capacity by advocating for, and in many cases receiving authorization to provide the necessary resources to increase supplier production capacity. After vehicle production stabilized, risks were further mitigated by enlisting the vehicle OEMs to provide immediate supply support and sustainment after delivery. Risks that could not be mitigated, transferred, or avoided were able to be accepted because of the robust testing and product improvement plans that had been initiated with the vehicle OEMs and government design activities.
Early recognition of the importance of risk inspired development of the MRAP Risk Management Plan in 2007. This plan required each product manager to document and track risk as a major element of the acquisition strategy. Risks were identified through the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) process, incident reports from theater, and vigilant project management. As risks emerged, analysis was conducted to determine the likelihood and consequence of each risk coming to fruition and the most effective means of risk mitigation, avoidance or transfer. Mitigation plans included timelines for resolution and cross-functional impact of acceptance of the residual risks. Each product manager reported the status of high- and medium-level risks each month to the project manager; high priority risks were reported weekly. Through this strategy, risk was constantly highlighted and remained in the forefront of project execution. A Risk Review Board and Integrated Product Team were formed and empowered to address risk from all MRAP platforms and assess impacts across the project. Enterprise-level risk assessments and mitigation plans were maintained and reported to up-line stakeholders, including the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Research, Development, and Acquisition (ASN RD&A), the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), and, ultimately, the U.S. Congress.
Two key elements significantly mitigated risk and reduced the project schedule: 1) the robust risk management process implemented by the MRAP project team and 2) the philosophy that continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection. These two elements expedited delivery of vehicles and capability insertions by use of the LRIP contract awards which procured large quantities of vehicles in small batches. This created configuration flexibility with the OEMs, and enabled immediate changes to the vehicle to respond to identified risks. The continuous improvement philosophy also led to increased performance by enlisting multi-service DoD activities to rapidly develop and deploy capability insertions and performance upgrades to meet the demands of an ever-changing combat environment. Insightful and appropriate tailoring of DoD processes enabled vehicle and capability fielding rapid enough to meet combat threats and with enough discipline to avoid imparting undue risk exposure to the user. The key advantage to the team's adaptive approach to risk management was an immediate reduction in loss of life. Because of the commitment to risk reduction, more than 65 high-level risks were identified since project inception; as of December 2012, only six remained, and all were mitigated to acceptable levels through the MRAP risk management process.
To avoid lengthy research and development time, the project team was established to field vehicles designed with commercially available technology. The procurement of huge quantities of vehicles at rates not seen in DoD since World War II began quickly. Manufacturers of vehicles and parts extended across most U.S. states and several foreign companies, including some which had previously only produced commercial equipment. The team accepted the risks inherent in vehicle fielding prior to full testing, based upon the prototype survivability test results. At the time of program office establishment in October 2006, the only active domestic producer of mine resistant vehicles with MRAP or near-MRAP capabilities was Force Protection Industries, Inc. (FPII). FPII was producing approximately 25 of these vehicles per month. General Dynamics Land Systems of Canada was producing approximately 50 vehicles per month with near-MRAP capability at a BAE-OMC facility in South Africa. Other vendors had produced armored trucks with some mine resistant qualities, but active production of MRAP vehicles in the world was nowhere near the anticipated requirement of 4,000 vehicles in a year. The production challenges included system, component, and materiel limitations. Many of the anticipated designs used common components (e.g., axles, tires, steel) with substantial lead time and limited production capacity – a major industrial base challenge.
The project team's incremental development and fielding strategy grew from the need to procure vehicles quickly. The pre-MRAP vehicle program production base capacity was bought out immediately upon project initiation as a bridge capability while more manufacturers and more capable vehicles were brought on line. The second increment consisted of vehicles that could, through testing, demonstrate the ability to meet essential survivability and mission performance requirements. All manufacturers were given production orders, usually up to their production capacity, for these first generation MRAP vehicles if their vehicles passed initial testing. In order to build a broad and international industrial base, the decision was made to not down select to a single manufacturer. This resulted in production orders to multiple manufacturers, and created incentive for manufacturers to meet test requirements quickly and to expand their production capacity. Some manufacturers were able to meet the vehicle technical requirements but were not able to keep up with production demand; slow manufacturing capability ultimately led to elimination as a vendor. Performance improvements were added incrementally after completion of the initial objectives to deliver vehicles to theater. The improvement schedule was driven by the ongoing fielding schedule; if improvements could not be designed, tested, and produced in time to support the fielding schedule, they were delayed until the next procurement.
Because of the importance of rapid fielding in meeting project scope, the project team did not wait for completion of the full range of sequential testing before fielding vehicles, which would have taken added time and cost lives. The compromise was to conduct phased testing balanced by small, incremental production awards to multiple manufacturers. The initial phase of testing was designed to ensure that vehicles met core survivability requirements, and had no major automotive issues. Initial production orders were based on the results of these tests and the project office's evaluation of manufacturer production risk. Ordering a relatively small numbers of vehicles reduced risk, as testing continued as these vehicles were produced. If further testing showed that the vehicles were not survivable and the problems could not be resolved prior to fielding, the vehicles would not be fielded. The subsequent production orders were timed to coincide with completion of subsequent phases of testing. The additional testing provided more assurance of performance (less risk), and supported larger procurements. As a result, the project was able to rapidly ramp up production, initiate fielding within months, and still manage risk.
The MRAP team's execution strategy, after initially awarding small sole source contracts for test vehicles, was the use of potentially large IDIQ contracts. IDIQ contracts had the benefit of allowing flexibility in the number of vehicles ordered, and thus orders could be tailored based on the most current vehicle test results. Of the nine vendors initially providing test vehicles, five were successful in meeting survivability and automotive requirements and were given IDIQ contracts for production. An additional vendor was subsequently awarded an IDIQ contract through a full and open competition for a lighter MRAP vehicle. These six vendors eventually produced seven different models of vehicles that evolved into more than 50 different variants by the time the project was complete. Leveraging the flexibility of IDIQ contracts and the rapid award of production orders to multiple manufacturers, generated the exceptionally quick ramp-up of production lines while minimizing the risk of phased vehicle testing.
The procurement strategy was to remove the risk of manufacturer failure by awarding multiple contracts, and making clear to vendors that there would be multiple, parallel awards to all contractors that met requirements. This strategy was developed to reduce risk to both the project and vendors; the reduction in risk to vendors encouraged the broadest possible capable industry base. In addition, rather than rejecting vehicles that failed to meet requirements initially, manufacturers were given the opportunity to go through a test-analyze-fix-test process or to propose alternative approaches to correct issues as long as they could do so quickly enough to be competitive for the next award. As a result, some of the vehicles that initially appeared to be poor performers eventually became mainstays of the MRAP vehicle fleet. This was essentially a competitive prototyping approach, but it was applied, at least initially, to increase the pool of vehicles and broaden the production base. This greatly reduced risk, since problems with one manufacturer could be compensated via orders to or accelerated production from another manufacturer. Thus, issues with a single manufacturer did not result in major project delays. An added benefit of this approach was that the project team maintained a range of vehicles to choose from throughout the initial project production period. This was an important component to the success of this project because the threat, the environment where the vehicles were being used, and the user's needs changed substantially over the life of the project. If the project had not had a wide range of vehicle designs available, it would have taken much longer to respond to these changes.
Early in the MRAP project, schedule drove every decision and constant change was the rule. While building to an ultimate inventory of 28,671 vehicles consisting of over 50 variants, the JPO MRAP project team could not rely on many tried and true change management methods due to perceived rigidity and bureaucratic practices inhibiting schedule achievement. The team, rather than try to control any and all change at its level, accepted the fluid environment and implemented flexible change management processes and decisions. The project team consciously accepted that configuration management and control would have less certainty and planned for this eventuality. The team envisioned the project environment would evolve over time and processes could be changed and updated to reflect a more stable, less schedule driven world. The MRAP team did not try to apply changes immediately to all vehicles in the constantly expanding fleet. By managing vehicle production and deliveries in batches and applying the most recent set of approved changes to only the lots coming off the production lines, the team was able to continue delivery. Although this approach resulted in multiple variants of each manufacturer's platform, it ensured end users a steady flow of acceptably equipped and configured vehicles to meet their needs. The JPO well understood that “perfect was the enemy of good enough,” and delivering multiple variants that would cause configuration and change management issues downstream was a consciously accepted risk.
Project Lessons Learned and their Integration
- Multiple manufacturers can be used to successfully mitigate production risk. Very urgent requirements often have a high degree of uncertainty which will surface as initial systems are fielded. The team intentionally did not down select to one manufacturer, which increased competition and reduced production risk. The result was on-time delivery of all 28,671 vehicles.
- Because the enemy gets a vote, procurement flexibility to adapt to a changing threat is critical. The JPO initially awarded contracts for multiple variants of vehicles from multiple manufacturers using flexible IDIQ contracts in order to increase competition and procure large quantities of vehicles as quickly as possible. As the enemy threat changed, this procurement strategy had the additional advantage of providing a large selection of vehicle variants to choose from; when the enemy threat changed, the project team was able to select survivable vehicles from this pool. This was critical to the ultimate success of the project, in that the scope of providing life-saving vehicles could be successfully met even as the enemy threat changed.
- Focus on a small number of key requirements. The project team did not accept other than minor risk to core objectives; risks to survivability, mission capability or fielding speed were not acceptable and were successfully avoided. Risks were accepted in other requirements to maintain schedule.
- Phased testing can be used in conjunction with incremental fielding of small batches to limit risk while accelerating the fielding process. After initial successful tests for vehicle survivability and mission capability, vehicle fielding started prior to completion of other automotive testing. This allowed greatly accelerated fielding, in addition to progressively more capable systems, while limiting risk within each increment.
- Accept incremental, “good enough” progress. The JPO's incremental development and fielding strategy grew from the need to provide vehicles quickly. The pre-MRAP vehicle production base was bought out to provide vehicles with increased survivability while testing and procurement of MRAP vehicles began. All performance improvements were added incrementally, and then only when adding them did not affect the vehicle fielding schedule. As a result, improvements were introduced without interfering with the project scope of providing life-saving vehicles as quickly as possible.
- Plan for product CM and sustainment logistics even if it cannot be an initial priority. A diverse product mix can facilitate large production numbers, but it does it at the expense of CM, logistic support complexity and life cycle logistics support. The team accepted this risk, deciding that when production was not in jeopardy, attention would be would be devoted to these areas.
- Project-specific Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) became necessary over time. The project team started out necessarily ad hoc, as a small organization, using the parent command's SOPs. It was not until the project grew in size and complexity that project-specific SOPs were developed and instituted, codifying and communicating the lessons learned during the project.
- Aggressive timelines are executable, but only when up-line stakeholders understand the plan and risks. The importance of stakeholder management to the project cannot be overstated. Senior leadership stakeholders were informed in detail of the risks associated with the schedule in regular meetings and reports. Very proactive and transparent up-line stakeholder management resulted in timely decisions and support of the project and team.
- Fill staffing gaps with contractors. Due to the required project speed, assignment of government personnel to the project lagged behind workforce requirements. Using staffing lessons learned from DoD project management, experienced contractors were used to quickly fill staffing gaps and supplied approximately 75% of program office personnel (and a much higher percentage working directly with vehicles), successfully performing tasks that were not inherently governmental.
- The more diverse the senior stakeholders, the more communications are required to keep all stakeholders aligned with project priorities. Because all up-line stakeholders were not homogenous and in fact represented numerous DoD interests, alignment and agreement on priorities was frequently hard-won. Wide dissemination of program information from the beginning set expectations and avoided surprises. Frequent reviews with leaders and stakeholders made decision reviews incremental and anticlimactic, and greatly increased decision speed. In an uncertain environment, prompt incremental decisions regarding the most important objectives supported immediate implementation. The extra time spent in these working relationships allowed opportunities to create consensus and resulted in quick decisions and support.
- When the work directly impacts loss of life, the pressure on the team is tremendous and must be mitigated. The impact of this project was clear and motivating; lives could be saved by the team's efforts to deliver these vehicles. However, the pressure was equally strong, as lives could be lost if the team failed to perform. After the initial extraordinarily fast-paced first years, leadership was able to devote attention to the internal team. The focus on recognizing, developing and supporting the workforce resulted in reductions in stress, inefficiencies and turnover as documented in assessments.
- In a non-traditional project office structure, consensus is as critical as command and control. The project team was organized in 2006 to quickly procure MRAP vehicles, but its status as a joint organization was never officially codified by the U.S. government. This meant that formal reporting chains did not cover the full range of the enterprise. Collaboration and consensus were required to a much greater degree when managing the personnel resources and command decisions of the office, and MRAP leaders adjusted their leadership styles to successful lead the project.
- A large project is more visible and has more media management requirements to ensure an accurate picture of the project is painted. While all programs must ensure full communication with interested stakeholders, the interest in the MRAP program resulted in extensive and sometimes inaccurate media reports. The project team responded by ensuring that the media had one responsive point of contact handling all requests and that all information provided was reviewed and consistent.
Summary and Outcomes Achieved
The fielding pressures and challenges meant the project had to use every project management technique at its disposal to shorten the fielding timeline. DoD Acquisition Life Cycle phases which are normally executed in serial were executed in parallel; in other words, the project was fast tracked. In fact, if one compared the normal DoD acquisition process in a flow chart to the process utilized by the MRAP project team, it would appear that the project team laid the normal DoD acquisition process on its side. The large number of activities fast tracked was only possible due to the risk process the MRAP team employed, and the strong project management knowledge and experience of the government and contractor team established to manage the project. In addition to fast tracking as much of the schedule as possible, many other tasks were crashed.
Two approaches to project crashing were employed: the assembly of a coalition of the willing and the use of novel contracting approaches. First, the project team assembled a coalition of the willing that spanned numerous DoD activities such as the Marine Corps Systems Command, the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command, the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Center Charleston, the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Contracts Management Agency, several Army Depots and Navy Warfare Centers, along with the team's principal government support contractor URS and their numerous subcontractors, and in-theater contractor SAIC. This coalition approach dramatically increased the project team's ability to complete the required activities expeditiously. At the project's peak, there were well over four thousand project team members. Second, the project team employed a contracting approach that procured seven different vehicle platforms from six different OEMs. This approach allowed the project team to further crash the project by leveraging each manufacturer's production capacity and disparate supply chains. The project team's contracting approach also reduced the risk of a single producer adversely impacting the project's scope or schedule.
The project team's approach to budget management relied upon two techniques, LRIP quantity buying and an internal project budget approach. Fully integrated vehicles represented the largest project expenditure and therefore procurement decisions were managed in close coordination with the project sponsor, who approved each LRIP order. LRIP orders ranged in size and were formulated to allow the project team to both maintain the industrial capacity and meet current end user requirements. This approach had three additional effects: it facilitated management of cash flow; it maintained competition between OEMs during the entire project as they vied for production orders, further reducing overall project costs; and it ensured that upgrades to the vehicles could be introduced during production runs, which allowed the project team to stay ahead of emerging threats on the battlefield.
The project team was able to mobilize the industrial base to field over 1,000 vehicles in less than 16 months from the first JUONS in October 2006, 5,000 vehicles in less than 19 months and over 28,000 vehicles by project completion in December 2012. No fielding deadlines were missed, in a production effort personally characterized by the Secretary of Defense as being unprecedented in the DoD since World War II. Literally thousands of lives were saved and many more were saved from serious injury by these unique vehicles, demonstrating what could be achieved by a well-orchestrated, well-funded, well-led government/industry partnership in support of key national priorities. After seeing the results of the project team's early efforts, the U.S. Congress, traditionally one of the most skeptical funding sources in the world, ensured through unprecedented actions that specially ear-marked funding was available to execute the project's mission; this is possibly the greatest testament available that the JPO's MRAP project team delivered everything that was asked of it … and more.
© 2013 Hansen, Dean, Gibson, Flinder
Originally published as part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings - New Orleans, Louisiana