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--George McC 02:40, 11 January 2007 (PST)

Hi Rich,

I'll continue in the top-posting tradition of this page!

Coming from the UK I am looking at a different (although similar) challenge in terms of how to approach acquisition given a new way of determing what the needs are.

Much has been trumpetted about network enabled capability however, as usual, there is little networked about how this might be achieved!

There are too many issues to be discussed for this particular forum, however I would like to highlight just one that has been highlighted while I read one of the other papers and might therefore be more pertinent to the symposium.

If procurement/acquisition is going to be driven by capability needs then there has to be some way of resolving question of where on the scale of general to specific the individual procurements are going to be. At one extreme you procure something to provide a capability, at the other extreme you procure something which does an atomic task that will be used in pursuit of many or all capabilities.

The reality is that you will procure something in between - something that is suitable for contributing to more than one capability, but which is insufficient to provide any. Of course this will result in "who owns what" discussions within the procurement community. I see no signs that this difficulty is being addressed.


Rich, MiLK here again...


You state:

“My experience indicates old paradigms rarely die abruptly but exist in parallel with new paradigms for quite some time.”

I agree.

I do not think that there will be a (n instantaneous) phase transition from TSE to something else either. But that is not the real point, is it? And implying that was my position is a red herring. (“So many of the comments I offer are based on this assumption. If this is wrong then many of your comments may be valid.”)

TSE will continue to be used. It is a valid form of GSE. It works (or can be made to work) in many situations.

But it is also being misapplied right now to a class of problems for which it is ill suited. Only gradually will it be displaced by something else for those cases.

I also agree that your audience is program managers. (“…the questions I pose are an attempt to phrase questions whose answers can help program offices understand that they need to embrace new paradigms …’) You have written to appeal to their sensitivities.

Most program managers are bureaucrats – good bureaucrats. They should not be your audience. You want to address program managers that are not good bureaucrats. You want to address the few risk takers among them. And you (and MITRE) should want to set an example. In any case, this is not (should not be) a symposium for bureaucrats.

Yes, I agree that you personally embrace competition. But you know as well as I do that the government procurement bureaucracy does not embrace it as you do. And so your need to address your presumed audience (program managers) leads to the sort of language in your paper that I selectively highlighted.

And no, I do not think that MITRE is not promoting ESE. It is. But that ESE is simply more of TSE. It continues to embody the notion that there can be centralized control – and that bureaucrats can continue to exercise that central control with the attendant fulfillment of expectations in a known period of time on a fixed budget. As long as that expectation is nurtured, MITRE will continue to delay the exploration of alternatives for solutions to the problems that can be summarized as a ballistic missile defense system, network centric operations, etc.

In order to tackle such problems it is a sine qua non that real and ultimate authority and control must be decentralized – and allowed to compete and cooperate as local decision making dictates. It is still possible, however, to continue to centralize accountability. This is not something that most of today’s bureaucrats have been taught to understand. The centralized point of accountability will be seen to succeed to the extent that it successfully modulates (by indirect means, not directives or even “guidelines”) the real decision making of many localized and autonomous authorities in order to accomplish outcomes beyond the responsibility of any of them individually. That is what the regimen is all about. That is why, for example, prizes are awarded after the fact for outcomes that no one was individually made responsible for in the first place. Receipt of those prizes will change the subsequent behavior of many individuals. And the whole system will learn.




Mike I suspect you are reading more than was intended in the position paper. I don't think there will be a black and white transition from TSE to ESE (though I could be mistaken). My experience indicates old paradigms rarely die abruptly but exist in parallel with new paradigms for quite some time. So many of the comments I offer are based on this assumption. If this is wrong then many of your comments may be valid. If we assume there will be parallel methods employed then the questions I pose are an attempt to phrase questions whose answers can help program offices understand that they need to embrace new paradigms like ESE when appropriate (even though they may not be as mature as traditional methods). I have thoughts on how to address the obstacles but rather than put them in this brief paper, I hoped to stimulate thought and discussion at the symposium across participants. I'd be happy to share my ideas with you at the symposium. As a nit, sometimes you frame an approach to attack the social barriers not just the technical ones. I think you know I am in favor of continuous competition which implies that multiple solutions can be offered for the same function. However, the government is not required to pay for multiple ones (though I think this is often a good strategy). If they provide the right environment, my belief is that industry will often use their own investments to offer duplicative functions presumably with advantages without the need for the government funding each development. This doesn't preclude duplicative funding, but it doesn't require it either. I think this is a better way to frame such an approach early on to get ESE adoption for current acquisition programs. When we meet and discuss ways to overcome the obstacles, you'll see open competition for providing the government alternatives (duplication for the same function) is very much encouraged, but these alternatives can be funded or not depending on the situation. Finally, as you might expect, I disagree with your stark characterization of how MITRE works as I think we have multiple examples of fielding, not just talking about, ESE concepts; nevertheless, I hope the symposium will concentrate more on discussing ESE topics rather than on debating assessments on how someone sees different organizations performing. Rich


Rich, MiLK here...

You state that

"ESE proposes a different set of principles and strategies to adaptively build systems where there is less control, certainty, and understanding of the environment."

You note that

"... the current acquisition culture does not embrace these methods."

You then ask

"Is ESE still too immature to apply to mainstream acquisitions?"

Your response is to offer three consensus "opportunities" for "early application" of ESE: 80/20 products; convergence protocols; continuous competition.


As regards your first premise, are the differences as minor as you suggest (less control, less certainty, etc.) Or are such observations simply a result of trying to characterize a fundamentally different sort of problem in terms appropriate to already familiar problems? If the issues now confronting system engineering are only matters of degree, then why shouldn't it be reasonable to expect that simply "tweaking" traditional system engineering will suffice to get the desired results?


As regards your second premise, the acquisition community certainly does not embrace anything outside of traditional system engineering. Why should it? The acquisition community is a bureacracy. Bureacracies repeat decisions, they do not formulate new decisions. FFRDCs such as MITRE are meant to help fill this void - finding new decisions for bureacracies to use in situations where the old ones don't work.


Your central question is the wrong question to ask. If TSE is not appropriate to a certain class of problems, then continuing to apply TSE to such problems makes no sense whatsoever. Cutting a string yet again and finding the string is still too short does not invite better scissors - except to those who think only in terms of scissors.

Continuing to use TSE because any alternative might be "immature" is like insisting that we continue to use scissors even though we've cut the string twice and it is still too short. If indeed TSE is the equivalent of scissors for a class of problems, then even improving the scissors (what ESE really is) won't make any difference whatsoever - other than to delay the development of a new tool (which must be "immature" at the outset).


You note several of the obstacles to the adoption of something other than TSE by the acquisition community. You avoid confronting these obstacles - you just assume that they might be overcome.

You cite three "opportunities" around which a new consensus might form if these obstacles are somehow overcome - so that ESE can be applied across the DOD. I will focus only on the last one in the interests of brevity.

Your third opportunity is titled "Continuous Competition." In your discussion you observe that "Duplication would not be required..." This is a fundamental misapprehsion of what constitutes competition. Duplication is essential for competition. What you describe is more centralized planning.


The way ahead does not require formulation of any "early" new concensus. That is impossible - even in the face of crisis, recognized or not. What is needed are pockets of effort willing to try new (and initially unproven) methods - in defiance of conventional wisdom. When some of those efforts succeed, other efforts will be inclined to mimic them (as well as to avoid the new methods of other efforts that have failed). What is needed early on are "risk takers" not concensus builders. (The successful ones will be called leaders.) FFRDCs were formed to be just such organizational risk takers. MITRE has become a consensus builder (internally and externally). MITRE has become a bureaucracy. MITRE (and its suggestions) are not the way ahead.