Best Practices

DOD Training Can Do More to Help Weapon System Programs Implement Best Practices Gao ID: NSIAD-99-206 August 16, 1999

The Pentagon plans to boost its annual procurement investment to about $60 billion by fiscal year 2001. The military has high expectations for this investment: that new weapons will be better, yet less expensive, than their predecessors and will be developed in half of the time. Essential to getting these kinds of results will be the adaptation of best commercial practices that have enabled leading private-sector firms to develop new products faster, cheaper, and better. The Defense Department (DOD) has begun several acquisition reform initiatives based on commercial practices to help foster these outcomes. Their success depends greatly on the extent to which program offices apply the practices to individual weapon system acquisitions. Training provided to the program offices both creates a culture that is receptive to new practices and provides the knowledge needed to implement them in the workplace. This report evaluates the role that DOD training is playing in implementing best practices in weapon system programs. GAO discusses (1) the contribution DOD training makes to program offices' ability to apply best practices, (2) the different methods used by DOD and leading commercial firms in training on best practices, and (3) the strategic approaches that underlie DOD's and leading commercial firms' training methods for best practices.

GAO noted that: (1) DOD's standard training did not make a major contribution to the leading program offices' ability to implement best practices; (2) in evaluating their key sources of knowledge, none of the key officials from programs at the forefront of implementing best practices ranked standard DOD training first, with many ranking it last; (3) DOD training either did not reach the right people when it was needed or did not reach them at all; (4) when training on best practices was received, it did not contain the depth or practical insights program office people needed to implement the practices; (5) it was primarily through their own efforts--learning on the job, finding external training, or developing their own training program--that they attained the knowledge needed to apply best practices; (6) success depended on their having the foresight to see what was needed, the ingenuity to find good sources of knowledge, and the resources needed to attain that knowledge; (7) leading commercial firms and DOD use different training methods to implement key practices; (8) commercial firms use targeted, hands-on methods to ensure that program offices are trained on key practices; (9) their training organizations conduct front-end analyses to determine the programs' training requirements and involve the program offices in designing the training; (10) training is customized to meet the specific needs of those implementing the practice; (11) company officials believe the targeted method results in more useful training, which helps to improve outcomes of the final product; (12) DOD relies primarily on its standard training, including classroom courses, videos, internet-based training, satellite broadcasts, and roadshows, to inform staff on best practices; (13) these methods were designed for functional training, such as for engineers, and for increasing the awareness of new practices; (14) the intensive training methods leading commercial firms employ on new practices are the result of a strategic, institutionally driven approach to implementation; (15) these firms commit their resources and attention to a few well-defined practices and make a significant front-end investment in the training to be provided to the workforce; (16) DOD has promulgated as many as 40 acquisition management initiatives in the past few years without communicating their relative priority to trainers or implementers; and (17) while DOD commits significant resources to training, it does not make a uniform front-end investment to ensure that program offices will succeed with the new practices.


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