I have often bemoaned the fact that many people fail to see themselves as sustainers. Or that entire organizations who know they must sustain a complex system somehow fail to organize, train, and equip themselves to do so.
One of the telling attributes of the latter is their mission statement. It contains the word “sustainment” or “sustain” and is focused on the hardware. The mark of a good sustainment organization is that their mission statement is the same as their corresponding warfighter or civil systems operators. They do what they do for the mission the system was designed to serve. Their mission is not to be the most efficient sustainer of the system, but part of the team achieving the mission the system was built to meet.
If all this is too abstract, consider the following parable of two sustainment organizations.
In an organization that prides itself as providing sustainment of a system, the engineer dutifully sits at his desk and reviews test plans and test results all day long. He feels good about himself because he knows he gets through more paperwork than any of his less experienced peers. Meanwhile, the technician running the tests feels great because she can quickly move the test assets in and out, faithfully running the tests and logging the results. Risk reviews happen about once per year and include a few of the top managers and engineers in the organization. Efficiencies are important because the organization rarely gets enough funding and short fuse crises are arising all the time.
Meanwhile, in an organization that prides itself as being a partner in the system’s mission, a tech pauses at a battery he had just been testing. Is that a bit of yellow on the outside of the battery? He’s never seen that on any of the batteries that he has tested. He knows because he doesn’t just log test results and take grainy photos of the test assets before and after. He really looks at them. He calls the engineer. He knows her well as she has been out to his facility many times.
“Funny looking? Eh? I’ll be right over!” The engineer is pretty new to the organization, but just last week at the risk review she heard about how important the mission is and how emerging failure modes must be spotted early to protect the mission.
Moments later she is looking at the funny yellow spot which, as it turns out, is right near the actuating piston for the battery. “See here?” She says to the tech. “This yellow stuff seems to have gotten past the seal of the piston. That is very odd. Do you have that hi resolution camera here still? I’ll need a photo.”
In the final test report, there is an entry concerning a possible new failure mode concerning battery actuator seals. And the next test plan she writes includes ways to examine this new failure mode. She is grateful she has the help of a chemist for her analysis.