Acquisition Speak – “Reducing Risk” (006)

I periodically get frustrated with the Acquisition Speak language that swirls around my job. It’s as if, when something is repeated often enough, it garners respect as truth. Every once in a while, it’s probably good to re-assess the language we use. I’ve heard others say, “If you can’t summarize what you want to say on the back of a business card, you aren’t ready to talk. If you can’t explain it to a 12-year old, you don’t know what you want to say.” That attitude is whence this opinion paper comes.

I read in the May 3rd edition of an acquisition organization digest that some big program intends to fly with less than a full complement of working subsystems. In particular, Beam Control logic without the attendant laser. This “reduces risk” because otherwise flight test would have been with two unknowns.

Outside the Acquisitions world, “reducing risk” means taking better care of the situation in order to accomplish the same goal. For example, a rock climber buys better pitons. Only in the acquisition world does “reducing risk” mean “we want an easier target”. Reducing risk means we want to do less, probably for the same amount of money in the same amount of time. An analogy would be an archer reducing risk by using larger targets. This is in the realm of being safer by never getting out of bed!

I sense there is no absolute standard. Ability to acquire a fixed goal is no longer a valued contractor capability. Or the government has made it so difficult that anybody is destined to fail. It seems that safely generating metrics is the activity of choice, rewarded much more than accomplishing anything.

And schedules. Enough already! A “high risk” schedule means “I’m pulling wool over your eyes and I know it”. What happened to the engineer who was good, knew what skills were at hand, and could accurately predict how long it would take to do a job?

Place value on, and reward, individuals and companies that can predict the future accurately. By this, I mean an ability to forecast the (cost*time) integral, and then deliver within that claim.

About Brian

Engineer. Aviator. Educator. Scientist.
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