a student's perspective LO7426

William J. Hobler, Jr. (bhobler@cpcug.org)
Tue, 14 May 1996 19:58:10 -0400

Replying to LO7385 --

JOHN WARFIELD wrote on Sat, 11 May 1996

===================== Quote ==============================
Henry Alberts did his PhD dissertation on redesign of the US Defense
Acquisition System...

Henry worked with 320 program managers over 5 years and developed the full
description of that system. Then they redesigned it

Now the question comes: is this work going to go down the drain, because
the Pentagon and the Congress doesn't understand it? Or is it going to be
kept updated? And if it is updated, how is going to be seen physically? ....

All the dimensions, all the information needed to manage that behemoth is
available but inaccessible. Now if I can find a few people with money and
imagination who don't know that it can't be done, we would rent one of
those expensive, vacant, huge buildings laying around Washington, D. C.,
and install the products of that work in a pedagogic way, so generals and
senators and ordinary humans can walk through this building and get an
education on how that system works, and why things are done the way they

===================== Unquote =============================

[Host's Note: I debated whether to distribute this msg in which Bill
debates the value of trying to understand the US defense acquisition
system. I am distributing it because I've heard these same arguments about
whether we should try to understand *any* of our complex systems. I
encourage you to read it with an eye for general applicability, not just
about the specific case. ... Rick Karash]

A cynical comment born out of my experience with the US Department of
Defense. Henry Alberts has my deepest sympathy. He studied a system that
grew by topsie for 200 years and during the study it became outdated. His
original research should be written up in the annals of anthropology.

Why should our Congress have to understand the system? Or why should the
Department of Defense want Congress to understand it? Congress will never
have to use the system, so why bother? If Congress did understand the
system they probably would want to micro-manage it to assure that their
pork barrels were filled. Is this cynical? I don't think so, I think it
is merely extrapolating from a long history.

I think the people who have to understand the system are the people who
operate in it. And this understanding has to be at different levels. For
instance the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Acquisitions has to have an
overall knowledge but the Project Manager for a weapons system acquisition
must have a pretty detailed knowledge of contracting. The design engineer
has a different knowledge requirement, etc.....

Is the system going to be kept updated? Yes it will be changed, for both
good and not so good reasons. Will it be kept up-to-date? - categorically
no! The inertia in the department is too great to either implement a
change fast enough or to make changes in time to be up-to-date. What will
happen is that the practitioners will change how they do business in order
to get their work done more easily. The good changes will work their way
up the chain until they get into the official instructions. By then they
will probably be out of date.

How is it to be seen physically? It isn't. I question the need to see it
physically. First, it is not a physical system. Second, thinking and
seeing large complex systems physically is probably not what we want to
do. A physical representation is false for it cannot illustrate all of the
dimensions much less all of the inter-relationships that have to be known.
It gives the viewer a false sense of knowing the system.

What I would much rather have is a group of people from the system and
from all levels of working with the system. These people would build a
model of the system that could draw actual data from the operating system.
Then they would test and learn about the operational system using the
model. By adjusting the model to match the operational system, and by
changing the operational system based on their learning these people would
gain an insight into the whole system that would allow them to make the
best changes. With luck they may even be able to anticipate problems.

Is this type of work possible, well yes anything is possible. Would it be
valuable? I am not sure, but I bet it would make a great bit of doctoral
research. I could see the subtitle now "A dynamic modeling way to learn
complex systems". In fact this seems like so nice a boondoggle that I
volunteer to lead the effort.

Is this related to Learning Organizations? I think so, what is suggested
is a learning laboratory for the enterprise. It is this ability to
experience the dynamic relationships among the components of a system that
accelerates learning the system. In large complex systems this learning
is valuable at all levels of aggregation in the system. The clerk should
know how their actions influence downstream processes and how they are
influenced by upstream processes. Senior management should have a real
feel of the system's response to changing policies.


A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, "We did this ourselves."

Bill Hobler bhobler@cpcug.org

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>