“When you’re developing metrics, you need positive, open communication with customers, suppliers, leadership teams and process experts. To help you get started on the right path, here are eight characteristics of a good metric:
- Meaningful to the customer
- Simple, understandable, logical and repeatable
- Shows a trend
- Clearly defined
- Data that’s economical to collect
- Drives appropriate action
- Tells how organizational goals and objectives are being met through processes and tasks”
I am retired now, but as a systems engineering on intercontinental ballistic missiles, a typical concern of mine (and many others) was to continually look at large amounts of data to draw conclusions on the readiness of the weapon system to meet its mission. The mission of intercontinental ballistic missiles is to deter war through readiness, and if deterrence fails, to take out the enemy’s military capability.
I needed to understand, is the reliability improving or decreasing? Is accuracy remaining adequate? Will the missile still fulfill its mission under the effects of nuclear war? Fundamentally, were the readiness metrics trying to tell me something?
An important corollary question was always: “Is this a real trend, or is there something wrong with the data or how I am looking at it?” Strict systems engineering disciplines and strong leadership made this process very effective. It can work quite well when done correctly.
In my situation, the mission was clear and constantly discussed. Analysts, especially the contractor, were incentivized for honesty, precision, and persistence. I was privileged to work within a metrics system that worked and worked very well.
How do you find the right metric?
The best general definition of metrics I have found has been from the Air War College lesson on “Quality in Daily Operations”, circa June 1995 textbook:
Unfortunately, there are too many examples of top leaders who fail to seek out good metrics that reflect their mission. Rather, they seem to seek out metrics that are simply manageable and meet certain “sub-optimal goals”, such as nice-looking annual reports or quick sound bites.
The classic case of poor use of metrics is “body counts” during the Viet Nam War. The 3 television networks were happy to report numbers of enemy people killed versus numbers of our people killed on a nightly basis (at dinner time). It was an easy metric to show to millions with little chance of misunderstanding. It serviced the government’s desire to show what looked like good news. It seemed to indicate always that victory was just around the corner.
But metrics must be closely coupled to the mission. With the mission in Viet Nam not entirely clear, this was always problematic. Was the goal to stem the tide of Communism? Reunite North and South under a South that was nominally “democratic” and capitalistic? Leave with honor? Do we even know today what the primary mission was back then?
What we got from the Vietnam War metrics was the dull drumbeat of fatalities in a mission that was hard for most nightly news watchers to comprehend. Actually, if the goal was to end the war no matter the consequences, perhaps body count was the perfect metric.
Good leaders look for the real goals and create real metrics. If the mission is unclear from the outset, that road is steeply uphill. But even with a clear goal and good metrics, there is another trap as exemplified by the current VA wait times scandal.
What if you cannot trust your data because you have somehow motivated your middle managers to “fudge” the data?
The best top leaders know how to anticipate the problem of bad data entry and create a system that avoids this, or at least detects it. The top leaders at the VA certainly had previous IG reports to give them strong hints of what was happening. And how could they not be interacting with their ultimate customers, the veterans, for anecdotal data?
So the moral of this story is, whatever you are in charge of, spend the time necessary to create, operate, and update your metrics and your analysis processes. This may even push you to clarify and better publicize your mission, which is always a good thing. Although the payoff is in the long run, it is well worth the time.
When this blog refers to a cold war or the cold war, it has something specific in mind.
The natural state of mankind is war. We hope it remains cold. We stay strong to give it the best chance to stay cold.
That great generational record of human behavior, the Holy Bible, reminds us that our species is capable of limitless cruelty in the hope of gain. More recently, in the last century, we just concluded the bloodiest experiments in socialism across the globe from the USSR to China to Cambodia and countless other countries.
Non-socialist countries are not immune. Countries with the greatest hopes of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” can quickly drive down the path of violence as well.
So if anyone points me to a “scientific” study that seems give us “…hope for the whole human race living in peace if we were only to A, B, or C…” I will not be impressed. I will not be willing to bet against the cruelty of my species.
A peaceful country requires a strong military.
Fortunately, I live in a country ruled by law and generally representative of the people’s will. So advocating a strong US military is a much stronger moral position than, for instance, advocating a strong Russian military, or a strong Iranian military.
All this to say that for us to live the lives we dream of, here in the USA, it is best that we hold a gun to the head of any other countries that may have designs on our assets.
As long as we keep our nation strong economically, politically, and militarily, no other country will start a “hot war” with us, that is, with destruction of property and loss of lives on a grand scale.
If the war is not on a grand scale, it is a cold war. And that is where we find ourselves today, and God-willing, every day.
image found at memecenter.com
As a junior in high school, I had a serious medical issue with a non-cancerous tumor growing in and outside my sinuses. The surgery to remove it took 5 hours and lots of transfused blood. It occurred at the UCLA Medical Center. UCLA did a wonderful job as evidenced by the fact that later the USAF allowed me into pilot training.
We didn’t have much money to begin with, so my Mom was very worried about finances on top of everything else. UCLA deferred most of the cost; due to the rare nature of the tumor I was the perfect teaching prop.
With the cost less in terms of dollars, there was still a certain other cost that could be tallied by the example on one occasion of every doctor-student getting to put their fingers in my mouth. Being a fairly private person, this was not something I was used to. Other minor indignities occurred, but nothing that overrode my gratitude that the burden on my Mother was less.
In the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) after surgery, lots of drugs ensured a comfortable recovery. After a day or two I realized that I couldn’t really have been watching “Wagon Train” the whole time, as ICU did not have any TVs in it.
However, this blog is not about that surgery.
During an associated surgery later, I awoke in my hospital bed with the strong feeling of needing to pee. The drugs must have been equally good, as I really couldn’t remember anything about anything. My main though was finding a bathroom.
After a bit of groggy visual searching, my eyes focused on the door a few feet from the foot of my bed. It appeared to have a toilet in it. Just the thing!!
I sat up and put my legs over the side of the bed while focusing on the bathroom door. As I got up on unsteady feet and made my way over, I felt a tug at my arm. What nonsense!! Someone had tied some plastic tubes to my arm!! Jerks! A swift pull from my other hand and that problem was solved.
While peeing in the bathroom, standing of course, I noticed a pool of blood forming near the toilet. Why, that’s odd, I thought.
Then after awhile I noticed the pool was getting bigger because drops were falling into it. Done peeing by now, I focused my full attention on this strange phenomenon. After another little while I concluded that if I were to follow the drops up, I could see where they were coming from. (These were really good drugs!)
Epiphany! The drops of blood appeared to be coming FROM MY OWN ARM! How interesting!!
After another little while, as the pool of blood on the restroom floor increased, two things occurred to me. One, there was no bathtub in this bathroom; it was a restroom in my room in a hospital. And therefore, two, there were probably people that would be interested in my blood. This was about it. I really didn’t have any other conclusions or thoughts. If someone had asked me my name at this point, it would have take awhile for it to come to mind. OK, one other thing, I realized I was done peeing.
I flushed the toilet and wandered over to the door of my hospital room. It was probably something like two in the morning based on what I pieced together later. Things were quiet. Things were dark. There was an improbably long corridor out my hospital room door with a nurse at the end of it. It was kind of like looking through binoculars the wrong way.
Ah! There is someone who may be interested! I thought.
I waved my bloody arm at her and pointed at it. It turns out she WAS very interested. I think she actually jumped a little.
She must have sprinted down to me. I only knew at the time that she covered that “vast” distance in an amazingly short amount of time. She urged me back into bed, very worried as she told me later, that I might have a piece of the needle roaming around my circulatory system.
After seeing that the tube had separated correctly at the break away point, she was reassured that this might not be a large emergency. She very professionally reattached and redirected the fluid back to my arm.
This, in fact, resulted in a huge amount of pain. The pain overrode the wonderful drugs and suddenly there was complete clarity on why I was there what was was happening — which is probably why I remember all this.
Don’t do drugs kids! Not without your own hospital room and attending nurse!
[Photo from pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/221450506648658869/]
Flying KC-135s was my first assignment after graduating from the Air Force Academy and after general pilot training. I was co-pilot and then aircraft commander.
Born in 1952, my life was very much affected by the years immediately following WWII. This was a time of optimism, a tremendous boom in aerospace, and dreams of a push-button future. My Dad’s B-24 bomber was pretty amazing technology that helped win the War. But post-war, the B-24s were scrap and there were now screaming jet engines, electronic computers getting smaller all the time, and advanced aircraft that could fly to the edge of space itself — the stratosphere.
One of these aircraft was the KC-135 Stratotanker whose operational ceiling was 50,000 feet. Above that, the pilot wears a spacesuit. The first KC-135A rolled off the assembly line in 1956. They remain key assets today. I flew them from 1977 to 1982.
The KC-135 aircraft is a Boeing product and looks a great deal like the Boeing 707, which was its contemporary. Instead of people, it hauled cargo and fuel. So the KC is “C” for cargo and “K” for tanker.
The photo at the top of this blog (I found it at www.u2sr71parches.co.uk/tankers) is a KC-135 refueling probably an A-12, the precursor to the SR-71. From the orange markings on the front aircraft, the KC-135 tanker, this is probably taken during a very early test flight over Groom Lake (associated with the famous Area 51). Early 1960’s, probably. They were creating the SR-71 in that timeframe.
I did fly the tanker at 50,000 feet once. The sky gets dark. The view is fantastic. And fuel mileage is miserly. But your engines are prone to flame out. And if you have any issue with your cabin pressure, you are dead in seconds. Not recommended. A better altitude for most missions is around 35,000 feet to get from one place to another, about 10,000 feet lower for in-flight refueling operations.
The fuel was hauled in the tanker aircraft in 10 tanks. These tanks are located in the wings and in the fuselage, or body of the aircraft. (See aircraft diagram above) So the tanks had names like center wing tank or forward body tank. All but one of the body tanks was below the cargo deck. This may seem very evident to some, but the KC-97 tanker (precursor to the KC-135) had a fuel tank that ran the length of the fuselage suspended above the cargo area. Baggage went below decks like in an airliner. KC-97s started being phased out in 1956 with the first KC-135s off the production line. They were completely phased out around the time I started flying 135’s with the last ones leaving the Salt Lake Air Guard in 1978. KC-97s were propeller aircraft with a couple of add-on jet engines to be able to haul enough fuel to make the in-flight refueling worthwhile. The KC-97 was 82,500 pounds dry and 175,000 pounds fully loaded with fuel. KC-135s, being a 4 engine jet aircraft, had much better performance. The KC-135 weight without fuel was about 110,000 pounds. With a typical fuel load, it was around 300,000 pounds.
There was a special panel in the cockpit just to keep an eye on the 10 fuel tanks and make sure the aircraft center of gravity stayed in a region where the aircraft remained flyable. (See photo above that I copied from the flight manual) Too much weight in the forward or aft of the aircraft and controlled flight was no longer possible. Some tanks had pumps and others had gravity feed. The panel also controlled the off-loading of fuel to the receiver aircraft; allowed for dumping of fuel in an emergency; and, in very odd circumstances, even reverse air refueling to suck fuel from the receiver aircraft to the tanker. With 2/3 of your total weight in fuel that you could off-load in minutes, it beyond important that the fuel tanks were well managed.
In my first assignment, I was specially trained to fly the KC-135Q. The q-model had special modifications to allow it to fulfill the mission of inflight refueling the SR-71.
To understand the Q modifications, you need to know that the SR-71 was the highest flying, fastest manned jet in existence. It’s job was to acquire timely intelligence and do it with such speed that the target country could not shoot it down. It was not designed to be invisible to radar. Stealth technology did not exist yet. So the SR-71 was designed to out-race any threat. It would fly above 50,000 feet and above Mach 3.
This speed meant that it could not burn standard jet fuel. The fuel would ignite under the heat of friction at those speeds. In fact, the modified fuel, designated JP-7, would not ignite except under the most extreme conditions. A chemical called TEB was used to ensure ignition of the SR-71 jet engines. So unlike the KC-135A, the KC-135Q had to keep this fuel separate from its standard fuel. In the a-model, the aircraft is fueled on the ground from the right landing gear wheel well. The q-model had a refueling port in each wheel well, one for JP-4 and one for JP-7. (See the same link mentioned above.)
I try to keep these blog posts bite-sized. There were other modifications unique to the q-model and many other things to say about this mission, but I will discuss them in a later blog.