Government customers want speed, quality

Traditional manager meetings in January often provide a
false sense of comfort. Market forecasts and analyses
are presented, often by an outside expert. But few companies
will make the connection between external market forces
and the effect on internal operations.

Companies that fail to make that connection
increasingly will find themselves at a
competitive disadvantage.

Knowing the latest growth forecast and
hearing expert analyses of the market is
important information for an entire organization,
but it is particularly important for the
more internally focused units. Sales organizations,
business developers and program
managers generally have a good sense of the
market and customers. However, technical
and operational units have a more internal
focus and have nowhere near the same exposure
to market and customer conditions.

Two current key market trends ? speed
and accountability ? have direct implications
on internal operations. Each has
emerged as a critical market driver and a
way to set a company apart from the competition.
The challenge is for
internal organizations to recognize
the management challenges
that these trends have created and to
adapt operational processes to meet these
new demands.

Faster execution is the single biggest
change in the market. It is now on the front
burner in the defense/aerospace and information
technology systems and services sectors.
The need for speed is being driven by
programmatic challenges and competitive
realities.

Although "Washington time" still may be
slower than "Silicon Valley time," government
officials expect contractors to operate at a
faster pace and respond and adapt to programmatic
changes more rapidly. However,
speed is not an acceptable trade-off for a drop
in quality. "You want it fast or you want it
good?" is no longer an acceptable response to
new demands on technical, operational and
delivery organizations. Contractors must
adapt current processes to enable speed and
agility, while maintaining discipline and governance
for quality assurance.

The commitment to be an accountable
provider trumps any promise to be a trusted
partner. Accountability is what enables trust
in relationships. Trust is still essential, but
accountability is what distinguishes words
from deeds.

The emphasis on accountability has its
roots in the increased reliance on service-level
agreements. However, accountability
has emerged beyond contractual requirements
to be an effective competitive differentiator.
It raises the bar of commitment for
the company and lowers the bar of risk for
the customer.

Accountability requires a business to know
what is happening along the way, not just at
final delivery. It's having information to
quickly identify unfavorable trends and
aberrations and keep customers informed.
Beyond just having information, it's having
mechanisms and operating practices
to share that information internally.

The business implications of execution
speed and performance accountability
have a direct impact on the daily activities
of internal groups. Recognizing these
implications is the first step toward an
effective operating plan that will attain
current year objectives and maintain a
competitive market position over the long
term.

If you want speed and accountability, use
process improvement initiatives to drive
operational transformation. It's not about
tweaking existing processes to gain speed or
reduce cycle time or implementing new metrics
to improve performance monitoring.

Rather, it's using an understanding and
appreciation of these external market pressures
as catalysts to drive improvements in
performance across internal organizations.
Annual operating plans provide the foundation
for process improvement initiatives that
drive performance.

It's great to know where the market is headed,
but recognizing business implications and
aligning internal operations is even better.

Jim Kane (kane@systemsandsoftware.org) is president
and chief executive officer of the Systems
and Software Consortium Inc.

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