This is the final article in a series of articles about complex system sustainment.
We started in article 1 with a very short history of complex systems, system sustainment, and a discussion of how the ICBM team used these concepts to keep Minuteman ICBMs meeting their mission for over half a century.
Article 2 provided an overview of this management model and some definitions. Article 3 explained how your risk management system is different from any other risk management system in a sustainment organization. Article 4 explained the need for on-going observation of your entire system to ensure affordable and effective assessment of emerging failure modes. Article 5 addressed execution of risk mitigation fixes to your system and the previous article explained why and how you need to institute a unique methodology into your repair depots to ensure emerging failure modes are discovered.
This article covers the 3 “enablers” that management must pay close attention to when executing sustainment of a complex system. These enablers are: People, Process, and Data.
People in a sustainment organization must be courageous leaders no matter their position in the organizational chart. When they see something odd, they pursue it and advertise it. They are not discouraged by skeptics or timid managers.
Processes are created, religiously followed, and improved. Degradation trends can cover decades, so lack of process means lack of consistency and an inability to discern weak patterns.
Data comes in tetrabytes in today’s complex systems. It must be captured, organized, and exploited by skilled assessors using powerful tools while using consistent processes.
People, processes, and data form a decades-long dance of creation, improvement, and complexity. Just as in spiral software development, tools start out simple but meet a pressing need. As knowledge and skills grow, the processes and tools grow with them. People and their skills are treasured. Managers generally say “yes” to tool improvement. Processes, not people, are reviewed, criticized, and refined.
Conversely, managers who stop this process at any point are doing damage to their ability to observe, and thus sustain, their system. Be careful when refusing tool upgrades, data preservation, or training. Make very sure that any process change suggested by your people is vetted quickly and the change is made, absent any obvious problems. This cannot take longer than 2 weeks and should be completed much sooner – ideally within 3 days. Quell fears by reminding people that mistakes can be found and corrected just as fast.
These are not easy rules to follow in the heat of the moment. Servant leadership, active listening, and an innate desire to step outside your box every day are habits that help.