Rust Belt Lessons for the Defense Department
The rise of an industrial threat has its equivalent in the military.
Last month I toured an industrial site once famous for its manufacturing proficiency. In its heyday, this steel and shipbuilding facility dominated the industrial world. Sparrows Point, in
As I walked the 30 acres of shoreline and between the decaying buildings of the former industrial giant, I wondered how such a successful corporation could have failed. It was evident from the remaining structures and equipment, acquired in the past few years by several different owners and operating at a fraction of former capacity, that no significant capital investment had been made in 30 years. Little deference was paid to the global competition that would later engulf the company. The disruptive innovation by steel minimills that made this site irrelevant is well known. In this case,
While MBA case studies give ample reasons for this failure, few explore the strategic implications. The cause was not just the lower cost of offshore manufacturing, corporate incompetence or the immovable demands by labor. The fact is that while
The barriers to competition not only have fallen, they virtually have disappeared. With borderless trade came the ability to create, produce and field systems faster than affluent merchants of the industrialized West. Speed to market simply means more to them than money does.
And these consequences have direct implications for the defense community. Given current failures in defense acquisition, the high cost of complex systems and the time it takes to field such systems, does
The answers to these questions run deeper than mere process concerns. One of the disturbing messages in The Innovators Dilemma, written by a professor at
All organizations share a common imperative of effective execution to achieve strategic and organizational plans. However, value is created only when a plan is executed well. Systematic and effective execution at every stage of the value creation process is paramount. The pace of change in today’s competitive environment leaves little room for error, and it demands a continual process of reinvention of both the organization and the organization’s products.
But be forewarned: The strategies, organizational design and processes successful today may be the recipe for disaster tomorrow because sustained effective execution is not easily achievable. Without new methods and sustainable processes in place to build an affordable future, the Defense Department could end up as dilapidated as Sparrows Point. John Paul Jones stated more than two centuries ago that “men mean more than guns in the rating of a ship.” In other aspects of defense, the same is no less true. Investing in people means more than processes for sustained effective execution. It is too late for half measures.