Episode 10 – Build a little. Test a little. Learn a lot.

Episode #10
Original Air Date: 05.17.2016

38 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: David Gibson

David Gibson joins the team in the studio to talk about his experience in strategic planning, customer engagement, business development, and being the program manager for the Pentagon’s MRAP, the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected military vehicle.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"The Aegis motto that several of us, including Paul Mann, brought to the program – Paul was the first government program manager – was “Build a Little, Test a Little, Learn a Lot.” You know, and it’s kind of what we would call a “spiral development effort,” where we would find the vehicles that would meet the threshold requirement, but we would not be satisfied. We would continue to develop that vehicle. Which causes its own sets of challenges because now you’ve got multiple variants in the field, and a very hostile field with difficult supply chains to manage, all simultaneously."

- David Gibson

"Shortly after coming online, Secretary Gates read an article in USA Today that talked about the fact that at that point we were already delivering some vehicles to the Marine Corps; and the Marine Corps was reporting that, out of 300 IED events, there were zero fatalities."

- David Gibson

"There was such a culture that built up around the program. We knew the importance of what we were doing. We knew the impact it was having and the lives that were being saved. And so there wasn’t this sense of sandbagging."

- David Gibson

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ANDY CROWE ● BILL YATES ● NICK WALKER ● DAVID GIBSON

NICK WALKER: Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers. It’s a chance for us to get together every couple of weeks and have a conversation about what matters to you as a professional project manager. We’ll cover subjects such as project management certification, doing the job of project management, and get inside the brains of some of the leaders in the industry and hear their stories.

I’m your host, Nick Walker. And with me are our resident experts, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates. They are project managers who mentor other project managers and those working toward that title. Andy and Bill, a lot to look forward to today. Andy, we’ve had some amazing guests lately.

ANDY CROWE: We really have. And I think today’s going to continue that trend, Nick. We’re excited to have Dave Gibson in the studio.

NICK WALKER: Well, let’s get right to our guest. I know we’ve got a lot to cover. David Gibson is the Vice President and Division Manager of McKean Defense Group in Washington, D.C. He guides, mentors, coaches, and develops program managers. His experience includes strategic planning, customer engagement, and business development, and much more. Among other projects, he was the program manager for the Pentagon’s MRAP, M-R-A-P, the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected military vehicle. David, welcome to Manage This.

DAVID GIBSON: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

NICK WALKER: We really are anxious to talk with you about this program that you were involved in. And even though it’s been a while, it’s such an involved program. It was a major part of your life; wasn’t it.

DAVID GIBSON: It was. It was a wonderful seven years. It was a hard seven years. But it was very rewarding, probably the highlight of a career.

NICK WALKER: It’s nice to see that you’ve come out on the other side intact.

DAVID GIBSON: Thank you, thank you.

NICK WALKER: So David, what was your role in this project, your specific portion?

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah, so on a program like this, you know, obviously the government has the lead role; right? And the government, it’s an inherently governmental contract. They’re managing it. But I was on a team that was sort of a staff augmentation. There’s areas we can help; there’s areas where we can’t help. You know, we can’t commit the government to dollars. You know, so while I’m talking about the program today from an overall perspective, my role was on the contractor side, in support of the government’s efforts.

And when I started initially on the program, I was a project officer. I came up through the ranks. I became the deputy program manager and then eventually the program manager. I sat in the program manager, on the contractor side, seat for about five years of the seven. Or actually it was a little bit less than that. It was probably closer to four. And then on the government side, you know, the first government program manager was a gentleman named Paul Mann. Second one was Dave Hansen.

And Dave and I came into the program manager, respective program manager positions about the same time. He was a couple months after I was. Such a rewarding experience to work with Dave. Dave was a huge inspiration to me. And, you know, we’ve continued to keep in touch. We’re off doing our own things now. He’s managing another Marine Corps program. I’m back working with the Navy at McKean Defense. And it’s – but, you know, it’s mutually supportive.

NICK WALKER: Tell us a little bit about how this all started. Give us a little background.

DAVID GIBSON: Okay. So if you remember back in 2006, that timeframe, U.S. forces were in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we would see on the nightly news the Humvees that were being destroyed by IEDs, and the service members that were dying or being disfigured because of it.

BILL YATES: And, Dave, what’s an IED? Just explain that.

DAVID GIBSON: An IED is an improvised explosive device.

BILL YATES: Gotcha.

DAVID GIBSON: You know, they’re made out of many different things. They’re really a poor man’s bomb, mine. So the U.S. forces, we were losing about five people a day. It was about a hundred people a week that were being injured, you know, and that was having its toll, both on our service members and their morale, but also on the U.S., here in the states and in public perception.

So the Marines had become aware of a program or a vehicle that could withstand these blast events. And they started to go down a path to procure them and field them to the Marines. The original requirement was for about 185 vehicles. That quickly grew to 1,185. And then, as the rest of the Department of Defense came online and started becoming interested in the vehicles, it eventually grew to 27,000 vehicles that were delivered in a relatively short time period. This was a huge program, a $48 billion program over seven years.

BILL YATES: Billion with a “B.”

DAVID GIBSON: Billion with a “B.”

BILL YATES: Wow.

DAVID GIBSON: So it was certainly a Herculean effort.

NICK WALKER: Yeah. And where did you come in on the project? Was it already kind of ongoing? Or were you there from the very beginning?

DAVID GIBSON: So, pretty close to the beginning. The Marines were already familiar with the first vehicles that were bought. They were called Cougars. Actually, there were some predecessors to the Cougars called HEVs, H-E-V. They already had 185 vehicles on order, and they had just released and received proposals back from industry for more vehicles and were receiving the first deliveries, like two vehicles from each manufacturer for each variant, and delivering them to Aberdeen Test Center and going into a test program to proving that they can meet what we in the Department of Defense called either a threshold requirement or an objective requirement.

NICK WALKER: Now, we want to talk about this, of course, from a project management perspective; or, maybe even more accurately, a program management perspective. What’s the difference?

DAVID GIBSON: So with a program you’re managing a portfolio. With a project, you know, it’s a discrete thing that’s built into the programs.

ANDY CROWE: You know, something interesting, Dave, when you look at the way a lot of military projects unfold. For instance, the plane on the C-130, just the wing alone may be a program…

DAVID GIBSON: Right.

ANDY CROWE: …within government terminology. Some project managers kind of chafe at that a little bit. We think of a project as being, you know, the overall effort, and a program being a group of projects. So it varies a little bit. The terminology may get a little blurry between the Pentagon world and the world of a lot of people.

DAVID GIBSON: Absolutely. And in this case, you know, there were seven different manufacturers, all with their own variant of vehicles. We had what we called assistant program managers, APMs, who were managing each of those variants. You had other program, well, we would, you know, the outside world called a program manager, managing, you know, the logistics supply chain for it. But in DoD that was all one program. And this program in particular had a kind of an Aegis mentality, which is a Navy program. And the Aegis mentality is you own it all, cradle to grave, every piece of the program. So that’s one of the things that was brought to this program from several of the leaders that came out of Aegis.

BILL YATES: Yeah. Dave, one of the things, there was a motto that came out of Aegis that – and I think it goes, it speaks to the way you guys handled requirements, and it speaks a bit to an Agile approach that you took. Talk about that motto, first of all. What was that?

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah, so the Aegis motto that several of us, including Paul Mann, brought to the program – Paul was the first government program manager – was “Build a Little, Test a Little, Learn a Lot.” You know, and it’s kind of what we would call a “spiral development effort,” where we would find the vehicles that would meet the threshold requirement, but we would not be satisfied. We would continue to develop that vehicle. Which causes its own sets of challenges because now you’ve got multiple variants in the field, and a very hostile field with difficult supply chains to manage, all simultaneously.

BILL YATES: Yeah.

DAVID GIBSON: At one point we had about 50 variants of vehicles, but about 300 subvariants with all the equipment that was on it.

BILL YATES: However, the beauty in this approach is you were able to get vehicles, trucks, in the field, in the theater, very quickly.

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah.

BILL YATES: Especially considering the way DoD projects or programs were run in the past; right?

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah. We had a challenge in the first year to have a hundred, or excuse me, a thousand vehicles in theater by the end of the year, which coming from a DoD program usually takes about seven years.

BILL YATES: Okay.

DAVID GIBSON: So we were pretty quick on our feet on that one. But we had other pieces of the program where we had – we got the requirement, and a hundred days later we were delivering a very complex truck, in this case a wrecker, built around an MRAP chassis that could be used as a wrecker for these heavy vehicles or these other MRAP vehicles.

BILL YATES: Because these vehicles, you’re talking like 50 to 70,000 pounds.

DAVID GIBSON: And up from there.

BILL YATES: Yeah, huge.

ANDY CROWE: So you get a 25-ton vehicle, you’ve got to rapidly deploy it out in the field; and you’ve got a wrecker on top of that, that’s got to be able to go get it.

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah. Because what would happen, what we started to see as the base MRAP vehicles were in theater, you know, they were so survivable, the battlefield commanders would not allow their folks, their troops to go outside of the wire unless they were in a vehicle. So how do you go recover, you know, you need an ambulance that’s an MRAP vehicle. You need a wrecker that’s an MRAP vehicle. It was – and that’s part of the reason our scope grew as fast as it did.

NICK WALKER: So you’ve got a lot of project managers involved in this. I imagine you have a lot of stakeholders, as well, and a short amount of time to do this. Tell us about some of the challenges involved in getting that to fruition.

DAVID GIBSON: Well, from a stakeholder, you know, we were lucky. Shortly after coming online, Secretary Gates read an article in USA Today that talked about the fact that at that point we were already delivering some vehicles to the Marine Corps; and the Marine Corps was reporting that, out of 300 IED events, there were zero fatalities.

And so, you know, he started doing some fact checking, and witnessed some events up at Aberdeen, and threw his support behind the program, and his prestige of his office, and pulled together what became known as the MRAP Task Force, which met every two weeks; and, you know, all the decision-makers in the room that could make a decision on the spot. And not only were they making decisions on the spot, they were reporting what they were doing. And nobody wanted to be that person in the room that was the roadblock, you know, on the Secretary of Defense’s number one priority program. And he gave us that designation that year.

BILL YATES: So with all projects and programs, we’re looking for that champion or that sponsor who can really remove obstacles and pave the way. And I have the impression, through this and the background reading that Secretary Gates was that.

DAVID GIBSON: Absolutely.

BILL YATES: Yeah.

DAVID GIBSON: Absolutely.

BILL YATES: That’s something.

DAVID GIBSON: He, you know, he was very proud of the program. If you pick up Secretary Gates’s book, there’s a whole chapter on the program in his book. And if you ever have the opportunity to go in the Pentagon, there’s portraits of all the Secretaries of Defense, and he’s got MRAP vehicles in his portrait.

BILL YATES: Excellent.

DAVID GIBSON: So, yeah, he was proud of it.

BILL YATES: Is he in front of those MRAPs, or is he behind them?

DAVID GIBSON: He’s in front of them.

BILL YATES: Okay.

ANDY CROWE: Dave, I’ve got a question for you. Just thinking about this from a project perspective, you’ve got, somewhere at the beginning of this, you’ve got a vision that somebody’s laid out. And every sponsor has some vision of how this is going to look at the end. How closely did those two align in the finished product? Because now you’ve got a methodology where you’re saying – and see if I get this right – Build a Little, Test a Little, Learn a Lot. And so that’s a much more Agile philosophy, where you’re not starting out with all the requirements upfront. You’re trying to learn and improve as you go. How did those two line up? How did the original vision of this MRAP end up with the final deliverable?

DAVID GIBSON: Well, I think you have to step back from it a little bit and think about it, you know, in the triple constraints. You know, and in our case, cost wasn’t the primary constraint. We didn’t have an unlimited budget, but we had a pretty open checkbook. From a performance standpoint, survivability was critical. That could not be traded. Other performance requirements could be traded – turning radiuses, air conditioning output, those types of things. And then from a schedule standpoint, schedule was absolutely critical because the sooner you got a vehicle in the theater, the more people would survive; right?

So, you know, when you step back from it and look at it in that perspective and look at the scope, you can’t say that the scope is to deliver a hundred vehicles or a thousand vehicles or 27,000 vehicles because that number is going to change. You can’t say it’s to deliver a vehicle that does “this” because, you know, in this world the enemy gets a vote; you know? They’re going to change tactics. You’re going to have to evolve.

And then you have those things that you learn in the test program that typically in a DoD program would be done years before fielding ever happens, but because of our compressed timeline was done concurrently. And so we rolled out changes. And so a lot of people would say that that was gold plating, or scope creep. We would say no because our mission, our scope was just to save lives.

ANDY CROWE: And it was to factor in what you’re learned. I’ve got a quick question for Bill and Nick. I have one thing in common with Dave here is I got to work on one project in my life that was – it felt like an unlimited budget. It wasn’t, but it was time boxed, and money was no problem. Have you guys ever gotten to experience that?

NICK WALKER: I cannot think of a time, no.

BILL YATES: I have not. I really have not.

ANDY CROWE: It’s a fun time, I’ll say that. It’s a different kind of world. You know, you’re working late hours and all that, but you don’t have any problem getting budget approval, so that’s a fun thing.

BILL YATES: Yeah, that’s nice.

ANDY CROWE: But not on this scale. I’ve not done anything anywhere close to this scale.

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah. At one point we went in for a budget request for 25 billion with a “B.” And Congress looked at us and said, “No, we think you need 30.”

BILL YATES: Oh, wow.

DAVID GIBSON: So, yeah, it was pretty enjoyable.

ANDY CROWE: Okay.

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah.

BILL YATES: That is so different. You know, back on this topic of scope and requirements, there’s this concept, this 80 percent rule that came into play here that is so different for the type of program that you guys were running. And I know there’s some literature on Dr. Etter and the approach that she took with it.

DAVID GIBSON: Mm-hmm.

BILL YATES: And just trying to, as you were working both with contractors and with military leadership, it had to be a challenge for you guys to continue to say no, this is different. This is a spiral approach.

DAVID GIBSON: Mm-hmm.

BILL YATES: Eighty percent is what we’re shooting for because there’s such a great need for speed. We’ve got to get vehicles in the theater. How did that manifest itself over the life of the program, just overcoming that challenge?

ANDY CROWE: And also explain this 80 percent. Eighty percent of what?

BILL YATES: Yeah, yeah.

DAVID GIBSON: So 80 percent of the performance requirements. So typically in a DoD program you have, you know, a huge document that lays out all the requirements for all the performance parameters for a truck, the AC output, how long can the truck run on the run flats, what size blast event the vehicle can survive. We call – we use the terms “threshold requirements” and “objective requirements.” You know, threshold is what thou shall absolutely have; objective is where you’re trying to get.

So in the case of survivability, for example, we call that a “1x.” And I’m not able to talk about what the “x” is, but it’s one times a certain size explosive, and then the objective requirement being a 2x. That grew over time. As we learned more about the vehicles, we were able to get that to 4x and then actually 6x. We learned, you know, the vehicles were survivable at first we thought because they were high up off the ground, they were heavy, and they had a V-shaped hull. And the V-shaped hull would vent…

ANDY CROWE: Deflect, sort of.

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah, exactly. And not just the material, but the fumes, the gases. That is what really destroys vehicles. And we were able to prove through our testing and learning about the vehicles and what they were really doing that the V-hull also provided a stability, a rigidness to the hull. And so that rigidity caused other problems, you know. In a large event, there could be spinal injuries, you know, when the vehicle, after the event, the vehicle comes back to the ground.

So we started working on seats, and how does the seat attach to the side of the vehicle, you know, that holds it on so that you can minimize your spinal injuries. And there were other things in the program. And those were some of those spiral efforts that we learned. You know, we knew in our first round of testing that it was better than a Humvee, that it could survive an event. But we got better over time.

ANDY CROWE: The thing that strikes me about this is you’ve got one focus of survivability and continued usage, you know, being able to deflect a blast or survive a blast or whatever the right terminology is. But that’s not the main purpose of the vehicle. The vehicle has a whole ‘nother military purpose, whether it’s to transport troops or to transport cargo or to perform some mission that you’ve got to factor in, as well. So there’s all these moving parts and variables.

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, and some of the tactics changed because of the vehicles. I’ll use an example. The Brits, you know, our coalition partners, they had a methodology, you know, if they needed to prosecute a suspected terrorist’s house, you know, they would pull up, they would get out of the vehicle, they would bust the door down, they would go inside and do what they needed to do. Once they had these vehicles in their hands, they just ran through the wall and jumped out and started shooting. You know, it really minimized their schedule there.

BILL YATES: Yeah.

ANDY CROWE: A big, mechanized battering ram.

DAVID GIBSON: Exactly.

BILL YATES: Yeah, 50,000 pounds. Okay, we don’t need to knock.

NICK WALKER: Hey, I’ve got to ask you, were there any surprises along the way? Any glitches, or anything unexpected that came up in this project?

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah, there were. There were several surprises and things that we learned. You know, one in particular, we used what we called UCAs, Undefinitized Contract Actions. The normal DoD process is clearly, you know, put a contract in place and buy what you need to buy. Because we were moving so fast, and we were having changes to contracts to incorporate these spiral efforts, or we were increasing the number of vehicles we were buying, we would put – we put a lot of Undefinitized Contract Actions in place. And the Undefinitized Contract Actions allowed us to continue moving. We kind of gave the vendor a rule that was, you know, don’t exceed this, but get going, and we’ll figure out the details later.

The federal acquisition regulations, which is what DoD acquisition policy is built off of, allows that. But they put a cap of 180 days or 50 percent of the value in place. We didn’t meet those at some point, you know, we just kept going. And at some point, much later in the program, we started definitizing those contracts. And by the time we were definitizing them, the vendors actually had actual costs then. We saved, like, $2 billion by not definitizing contracts upfront. So that was pretty unique. The level of stakeholder involvement we had and the effort they put behind this was huge.

BILL YATES: Yeah, Dave, one of the things that just strikes me as very different, and something we can all learn from, too, is you guys took a very different approach right off the bat with we need contractors, we need vendors to submit proposals, and we need vehicles that we can test. And again, get in the field and deploy as rapidly as possible. You guys didn’t just choose one winner, though; right?

DAVID GIBSON: No, we didn’t.

BILL YATES: How many vendors did you choose?

DAVID GIBSON: There were seven vendors that we were using. And they all had their own version. Their trucks were not just built by different guys, they were different trucks.

BILL YATES: Okay. And so they met those threshold requirements. So those were – you could – the Department of Defense could pay for those, could say, okay, we’ll order this number from you, from these seven different vendors, and get those out in the field.

DAVID GIBSON: Absolutely.

BILL YATES: So that’s a different approach. That had to be, again, how did you manage that, given kind of the status quo that you guys were seeing in the military world?

DAVID GIBSON: Well, again, as I said earlier, you know, there were teams that managed each of those major family lines. You know, there was a – Cougar was the name of the vehicles that came out of Force Protection in Charleston, South Carolina. And there was a team that was managing nothing but Cougars. There was a team that was managing the RG-31s and the RG-33s and the MaxxPros and all the other variants. So you had kind of dedicated teams associated with each platform. They all reported up.

There was a very robust communication platform started with the joint program managers, weekly reports that went out to, it seemed like God and country, that kept everybody focused on what the priorities were and where he was driving the overall program. And then each of the APMs had their pieces in there so that, you know, everybody was reporting what was going on. Very well informed. It almost seemed at times, if you walked down the hall of the building that the majority of us were housed in, that you’d be quizzed, and you’d better know what the priorities were. So, you know, that was pretty interesting and a surprise.

I would say also, how many vehicles were gotten rid of at the end of the day? You know, we bought over 27,000 vehicles. And, you know, those vehicles, the ones that survived the war effort or was built, repaired afterwards, you know, there’s a cost associated with maintaining them for their life. And so the services have to decide how many of those they want to keep. Well, so they sent – we ended up only keeping about 17,000. Personally – and, you know, I’m not a government employee, so I understand that decisions had to be made on the government side. But a lot of those wound up in hands of, you know, colleges and universities and local police forces, where they really have no business. They’re huge vehicles. And, you know, it’s – they had to find a home for them, but…

ANDY CROWE: Yeah, not exactly fuel efficient.

DAVID GIBSON: No, not at all, not at all.

ANDY CROWE: Dave, I’ve got a question for you. As you look at this project, and you look back on it, was there one particular tool or technique that really proved to you to be invaluable on the project? And I’ve heard one thing jump out is this whole idea of having the stakeholders come together. Maybe that support from Secretary Gates would be one thing. But you can’t always control that. Looking back on it, with the things that you could control, was there one particular thing that you felt like was really invaluable to making this project go well?

DAVID GIBSON: Well, can I increase that to three?

ANDY CROWE: Sure, sure.

DAVID GIBSON: And I’ll lump those all into communications.

ANDY CROWE: Okay.

DAVID GIBSON: You know, and that was – that’s certainly one of the three. I’d say the other two was credibility. When we said we were going to deliver something, we met our deadlines. And that’s what allowed, you know, Congress to open up their checkbooks. That’s what allowed Secretary Gates to, you know, make sure that we continued to have the support we needed, that allowed the manufacturers to have all those undefinitized contracts, you know, in place, and assurances that they were going to get paid at the end of the day. And it ensured, you know, support of each other on the team. That’s important.

ANDY CROWE: I have a question about that real quickly that I want to press into. When you have this ethic of saying I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do, and that’s really important to me personally, when you have this idea of saying I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do, the tendency would be to sandbag your estimates and say, okay, well, now I’m going to set a date that’s just truly safe. Then you have this other side that, hey, there are people, there are casualties in the field that are happening. How do you manage all of that? You know, you’re wanting to set aggressive dates. You’re wanting to do this. At the same time, you want to be able to deliver what you say.

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah, well, that comes down to the third option, the thing that I was going to say, which is symbolism and culture. You know, there was such a culture that built up around the program. We knew the importance of what we were doing. We knew the impact it was having and the lives that were being saved. And so there wasn’t this sense of sandbagging. In fact, one of the stories throughout the program was, as we brought the M-ATV, which was a slightly smaller vehicle, as we were refocusing on Afghanistan, had a tighter turning radius, we went out and bought those vehicles.

And at that time the deputy program manager on the government side, Dave Hansen, he was challenged to have the first vehicles in theater by Christmas. And he looked to the senior official he was talking to and said, “Well, sir, I think Christmas is in May this year.” And the senior official looked back at Dave and said, “No, it’s still December 25th.” And, you know, it was a challenge, and it was a stretch goal. But we made it. And, you know, it took hard work – and not just on the government side, not just on the contractor side, but also on the manufacturers’ side – to make sure that we maintain that credibility.

BILL YATES: Talk a little bit about how – the impact that that had on people and their lives because, again, you’ve got a mighty goal.

DAVID GIBSON: Mm-hmm.

BILL YATES: You’re trying to save lives. You want to get vehicles in the field, in the theater, as soon as possible. But you can only work so many hours in the day. How did you guys keep people focused?

DAVID GIBSON: We found more hours. Well, actually, one of the favorite sayings on the program, particularly on a Friday, was the best part about Fridays was only two working days till Monday. You did not want to be on a program of this size as the guy that held something up. You pushed through it. That certainly had impacts, you know, to people’s personal lives. Lots of strained marriages because of it. Lots of missed soccer games. I believe most people are coming or have come through those, and that’s great to see. But it was really a pressure cooker. And so, you know, in a pressure cooker environment like that, unfortunately, we learned the lesson a little bit too late. But, you know, it’s important to celebrate the successes and to make sure everybody knew what they were doing.

One of the things that we put in place, it was a survey that we had done that showed, as time had progressed, and we became much less of a personality-driven organization and much more process-oriented, that people were losing the sense of what they were doing because they saw their piece, as opposed to everything. And so we put tools in place so that we had peers recognizing peers and talking about what was done either upstream or downstream of them in the peer recognitions and how that helped continue to move the process along.

ANDY CROWE: That’s outstanding.

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah, it was a good, good team. It really was.

BILL YATES: Yeah, I recall, Dave, I recall one story where the team back here had seen the results of a vehicle after an event. And the vehicle was – I think the tires were blown off. It was in much disarray, we’ll say, and had been dismantled. And everybody was distraught when they saw it. However, the good news was everybody walked away from that.

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah.

BILL YATES: So that, you know, what looked at first like, “Oh, my gosh, we failed,” is “No, no, no, this is a great story.”

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah. That was actually in the basement at Marine Corps Systems Command, and the program manager on the government side at that point was Paul Mann. And Mr. Dillon had come down. He was the senior executive, and he showed the pictures, and everybody sat there, you know, in shock. And when he said, but, no, you don’t get it, they all lived, that was a huge event.

But I would say also, months later, when we did have our first casualty inside of a vehicle, I think that was one of the things that drove us into that spiral mode of we can be better. We can build a better truck. And we looked at everything from raising roof lines, again for spinal injury purposes, head injuries, to putting independent suspension systems on the trucks, and trying to do those things in theater, where you have very strained supply chains and maintenance capabilities. It was a huge challenge, but in the end it was a success.

BILL YATES: Dave, I’ve got one other question. When you look at the support that you have from a sponsor and a champion in Secretary Gates, you think about the – I mean, that could be the linchpin; right? That could have been one of THE keys to success with the program. However, I’m sure there were people that were against the program, as well, for whatever reasons. How did you guys identify opposition, and then how did you deal with those that were opposed to the program?

DAVID GIBSON: Yeah, you know, it really was Secretary Gates that took care of that for us. You know, when the program first stood up, there was certainly detractors and thoughts of wanting to do it the old way and just use what we have, just bolt more on it, use a technology solution like a jammer or a UAV to identify and, as we say, move the boom to left so that the vehicle is not there when the explosion happens.

But Secretary Gates, once he got involved and said, look, this is our priority, Army, Navy, Air Force, these are the trucks you need, it really removed all that opposition. I would say that the opposition, the stronger opposition we got was after the program was over, which was really disappointing to a lot of us. There are a lot of senior leaders that were in the program office that are still kind of looked on jealously, you know, for the success we had. I mean, and, you know, in retrospect, we won a lot of awards. And looking in from the outside, you know, how did you do it, well, you broke the rules. You had a task force that allowed you to get decisions quicker, and we didn’t have that.

Well, okay, not everything can have that, you know. And I think that’s important for us to understand in a project management mentality. You can only have one number one priority. But, you know, I have heard stories of people that are still in the program office and people coming in, infusing it with new people, and them standing up and saying, “You did it wrong.” And, wow, really? I mean, did you live this? Did you see what we had to deal with? Did you see how fast we did this?

BILL YATES: Right.

DAVID GIBSON: This was the largest mobilization of the industrial base since World War II. And that’s something that was critical, too, yeah. You know, Secretary Gates, when he put his efforts behind this, Syd Pope was hugely instrumental in this program early on. He was the Under Secretary for Industrial Base Management. And, I mean, there were phone calls literally to steel manufacturers and tire manufacturers to ensure they had enough production capability to keep up with us; and, when they didn’t, asking them questions. What’s it going to take for you to put a second or third shift on, to bring a new plant on, and get any of those things in place that really enable the success?

BILL YATES: And the success, to me there’s one graphic that you shared with me, Dave, that shows around July to October 2007, a number that goes down significantly as these MRAP vehicles are placed in theater. And to me that is the – that’s the gold standard for this program. That’s the visual that shows, okay, this was successful. We’re saving lives, and we’re making a difference for those troops. So I understand there’s always going to be opposition. But from the folks here in this room with you, we look at this as an amazing program, and there’s so much to be learned from it.

ANDY CROWE: Heroic effort.

BILL YATES: Yeah, it really is.

DAVID GIBSON: Well, thank you. Thank you very much.

NICK WALKER: That really does tell the story. And I invite our listeners to google MRAP, M-R-A-P. And you’ll see photographs of this vehicle. That is one tough puppy, and obviously has achieved its goal of saving lives.

DAVID GIBSON: Thank you.

NICK WALKER: David, thank you so much for being with us today. We have a special gift for you, as we always give our guests. You’ve seen this Manage This coffee mug sitting in front of you. You get to take one home with you. Use it with pride every day.

DAVID GIBSON: I will put it right next to every other, you know, award that’s on my shelf from the program. It means just as much to me that I was able to be here and tell our story because I think it is an important story. Thank you.

NICK WALKER: Absolutely. Thank you so much, David. And Andy and Bill, as always, thanks for sharing your expertise. A special thanks to David for giving us that glimpse into a fascinating side of project management that few of us really get to see.

Well, that’s it for us here on Manage This. We hope you tune back in on June 7th for our next podcast. In the meantime, you can visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of a show, or to contact us. And tweet us, @manage_this, if you have any questions about project management certifications. Or maybe you’d like to be a guest on the show. We’d like to get your perspective, too.

That’s all for this episode. Talk to you soon. In the meantime, keep calm and Manage This.

4 responses to “Episode 10 – Build a little. Test a little. Learn a lot.”

  1. Matthew Newell says:

    This was very excellent. We hear so much about cost being a driving factor, and avoiding gold plating, etc. It was interesting to hear from a perspective where schedule and achieving the goal are the greatest driving factors rather than cost. There were so many people, during the execution of the MRAP program, that denounced it as a waste of money, or a horrendous boondoggle. This gave me a different perspective.

  2. Julien says:

    Great podcast. Very instructive for anyone working in military subcontractor environment.
    I strongly suggest to get the video course that give you extra details and info + 2.5 PDU for minimal fee (59$)

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