Rewarding the Guilty and Blaming the Innocent

When I was a young, steely-eyed Naval Flight Officer attending the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School with no apparent fear of death, one of the classes I took was in project management.  I have always remembered the day we talked about the phases of any project:

  1. Elation—“This is gonna be fun!”
  2. Concern—“This is turning out to be harder than I thought”
  3. Confusion–“I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing”
  4. Terror–” If I don’t get this done, my career is over!”
  5. Laying Low –“Someone is gonna be blamed for this” (sometimes known as Search for the Guilty)
  6. Relief–“Too bad they blamed Joe…He was the only bright spot on the project.  At least it’s not me.” (Blaming of the innocent)
  7. Dismay–“I can’t believe Fred got promoted as a result of this lousy project.” (Promotion of the uninvolved)

This little parable was triggered by a commercial I heard on the radio this morning.  It was one of those commercials one only hears in DC, always during commute hours.  You know them….It’s always one of the big defense hardware manufacturers extolling the virtues of their system.  It’s especially prevalent right now since the budget is being rolled out.  I don’t know about you, but do you think anyone who is in a position to make a decision really listens to that pablum?  The big boys and girls that matter in the decision chain are all driven to work and are sitting in the back seat of the big black Town Car or Navigator trying to finish up all the paperwork they took home last night, but didn’t get to.  The same thing is true on the Metro. Do you think any of them are riding the Metro?   The closer you get to the Pentagon, the more you see all those very expensive posters about some plane, ship, tank, bomb, missile, …you name it!  I just can’t figure out why they spend all that money on that stuff.  My advice to clients is that if you hear one of those commercials or see one of those posters, the subject  is likely in trouble either within DoD or on the Hill.

So take the example of Boeing advertising the F/A-18 and P-8 aircraft.  Their claim is that they are both being delivered under budget and on-time.  That may or may not be true, but in my opinion they are both among the best managed and best value weapons systems ever delivered to the DoD.  One thing’s for sure, you don’t hear that claim for the JSF.  Remember, that’s the program that is 6 years behind and $163 Billion over budget.  Who was the big winner in the DoD budget for 2015?  The JSF, of course.  And who was the big loser? The F/A-18.  Talk about rewarding the guilty and punishing the innocent!

So my recommendation to Boeing is change the commercial, stressing how much money the F/A-18 costs and how woefully behind schedule it is.  Then people will take note and pour money into the program.  There’s an old saying in my house: “The sick get sicker, and the healthy usually wind up catching whatever it is the sick have and get sick too!”

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