A “fundamental theorem” is a statement that creates the associated domain of knowledge.
In sustainment, the fundamental theorem is: “An effective sustainment organization will always find ways to affordably detect threats to the system in time to correct them before the mission is impacted.”
As with all fundamental theorems, the words above have precise meanings. This section explores these meanings. We start with definitions of the words and then explore the implications of the statement.
All machines, subsystems, people, factories, repair depots, processes, documents, & etc. required to ensure the system can perform its mission. For instance, an SR-71 spy plane requires KC-135Q tankers, JP-7 fuel, crew chiefs, and a large host of other people, machines, and technical orders for it to fly.
Reason for the system. E.g. The B-2 Weapon System, a manned bomber, was created to precisely bomb sufficient numbers of enemy targets despite weather or enemy resistance.
Everything required to ensure the system’s readiness factors stay above the required limits.
“Threats to the system’s ability to meet its mission” are also referred to herein as “sustainment risks”. That is, if an emerging failure mode, a mission change, or routine issues such as poor depot maintenance are allowed to continue, the system will be unable to meet its mission. Threats to the mission caused by factors that sustainment organizations are supposed to deal with are called “sustainment risks” to set them apart from risks to business models, risks to profits, risks to modification programs, etc. It is breath-taking how quickly the sustainment team can misinterpret metrics and start working on low priority or non-sustainment issues or problems. To avoid this pitfall, readiness factors are created and, over time, perfected.
A readiness factor is a general category of a metric that describes a key element of a mission that sustainers must predict in order to maintain. Examples of readiness factors are availability, reliability, and accuracy. Within a readiness factor, one or more precisely defined metrics are established to compare the reliability of the system with its reliability requirements. Perhaps the requirement is for 65% of the fleet to be ready to operate within 2 hours. There might also be a requirement to have 90% of the fleet ready to operate within 24 hours. These kinds of precise definitions allow sustainers to look at actual data to estimate if these requirements are being met today, and will be met in the future.
Perfect readiness factors are not possible. But your organization’s road to perfection is required to ensure your toolbox of readiness factors, and their associated metrics, are capable of doing the other impossible thing — cover all aspects of the mission. Every meeting should be an opportunity to spread the readiness factors vision to the team, and use their brains to refine them.
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 which provides “eight characteristics of a good metric”, slightly altered here to fit the sustainment management model and associated readiness factors approach. A good metric should…
- Support the evaluation of the associated readiness factors
- Show trends in readiness factors
- Simple, understandable, logical, meaningful, and repeatable
- Clearly and precisely defined
- Economical to collect
To repeat, the fundamental theorem of sustainment states: “An effective sustainment organization will always find ways to affordably detect threats to the system in time to correct them before the mission is impacted.”
Threats to Your System’s Future
The success or failure of a system, and thus the success or failure of the organization charged with sustaining the system, is based on whether it successfully achieves its mission. Fortunately, systems can be analyzed to determine those key readiness factors needed to achieve success. For instance, “9 out of 10 of all systems must be available to operate and of those 9, at least half of them must function reliably”. This is one of the metrics associated with the readiness factor of availability.
An astute observer, at one of the various risk meetings, may say: “Reliable and available are certainly important, but I have a risk to accuracy that doesn’t fit into either of those categories.” Great managers recognize at that point that a third readiness factor of accuracy is needed. And the road to the perfect definition and metrics for accuracy begins. Soon, you have a pretty complete list of readiness metrics, each with pretty good definitions.
As time goes on, not only are the readiness factors incrementally perfected, but various ways are concocted to observe and test the system and its pieces to increase assurance that all the systems will work as needed. The same observations and testing tend to drive out and demonstrate emerging failure modes which might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
The threats to your system come from previously unmitigated emerging failure modes as mention earlier, but also changes to the mission and routine maintenance and logistics issues. Your efforts to deal with these threats must be done in time to ensure the mission is not sacrificed. Failure to do so is an existential threat. It can result in the retirement of your system and the dis-banding of your sustainment organization.
Emerging Failure Modes
In theory, the system designer should be able to predict all the potential failures of their new system and build in ways to deal with them. Examples are redundant subsystems for critical operating failures, periodic depot refurbishments for predicted wear, and other similar strategies.
But the reality is that no system has ever been completely predictable. And the more complex systems are less predictable than the simple ones. After the system is fielded, it will sometimes fail in unpredictable ways.
Just as no system remains the same over time, time will also bring with it changes to your system’s mission. If your system does not keep up, it will be replaced. These changes can occur as decision-makers learn more about the mission by implementing your system or via changes in the world that the system operates in. You might be pushed into these changes by impending issues or pulled into them by emerging opportunities. Examples are: Generals realize they can make your system much more accurate and higher accuracy in their current war-plans would be worth the efforts. Customers realize your “shuttle to space” tourism rockets provide more expensive and less entertaining rides than the new competitor. Big data mining reveals a market niche currently untapped that could be exploited with tweaks to your system.
Routine Maintenance and Logistics Issues
These are often the issues that the naïve believe constitute the entirety of sustainment. Certainly, lack of attention to disappearing supply chains and inefficient production can be just as deadly to the mission as the above.
These forces can happen at any time and can occur in a bewildering swirl of events. A sustainment management model that can deal with all these facets would help your team to stay focused on useful tasks in the midst of the chaos of change.