75 Years After The Greatest Military Project Ever!

doolittle

The Doolittle Raid in my opinion is one of the most daring raids in military history.  The fact that bombers are launched from a ship meant to carry and launch fighters just a fraction of the weight of a B-25 is something that has marveled me since I first started learning about flight.

It has been 75 years to the day (this was written on 18 April) that the mission launched.  The project planning that went into this one mission incorporated all the positives about project management, and leadership.

First, the requirement for the mission was probably pretty plain.  According to one site on the subject, the mission was to “attack a number of [Japanese] cities.”  I am assuming this meant that there was a list of targets for the mission.  (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/doolittle.htm)

From there, the type of aircraft was chosen for its range, size, and ability to withstand anti-aircraft, along with long range navigation and fuel consumption.  The B-25 was the perfect choice at the time, but launching it would require training, which was done with hand-picked pilots and crews.  The time table was set, the planes were procured, the crews were picked, and the targets were chosen.  The one area that was left was getting the planes on the carrier (the Hornet was chosen for the task), and the mission was underway.

The secrecy of the mission must have been difficult, since the mission planners had to ensure that the planes were not on the deck when the carrier departed from port, along with ensuring that the pilots and crews were sequestered.  Fortunately, unlike today, there were no cell phones, or cell phone cameras to document a secret mission.  (And the crews, again I am assuming, were probably sequestered with no communication available to them.)

So, let’s review.

  1. A mission to bomb Japan, basically one of the strongest military forces (if not THE most formidable naval force in the area) was implemented
  2. The mission would take a land-based bomber and launch it off a deck of a Navy Carrier, less than half the length of the normal take off runway for the bomber
  3. The bombers would have a full fuel and armament load and, although they have two engines, still have a challenge getting off the deck
  4. The bombers would have to take off, fly low to avoid Japanese detection, then bomb their targets and get to airfields in China (our friend at the time)

And a few things did go wrong.  The Carrier had to sink a Japanese ship and, fearing the ship reported the sighting, had to launch 150 miles further than anticipated.  Many of the planes crashed for lack of fuel, but targets were bombed.  Most of the crews made it back, including Doolittle’s crew.

The one thing that I need to mention is that Doolittle led the raid.  Here was the project manager taking the lead on his project.  He was not just the planner, he was the doer.  He went in and conducted the bombing raid with his crew.  I cannot overemphasize how important this was in the minds of the other crews.  In order to ensure that he was committed to the mission, Doolittle took an active role in the training and implementation of the mission.  It wasn’t called the Doolittle Raid for nothing!

So, the next time that someone gives you a project, and you think you have it tough, just think that 75 years ago, without computers, cell phones, all the software applications that we have today, and with propeller driven aircraft flying low over water and realizing that there is not enough fuel to make it to friendly territory.

And then go plan your project.  The one thing that you can do that would reflect on Doolittle would be to lead your team; feel their pain when things do not go well, as well as their euphoria when things DO go well.  Your leadership will help your team reach their target and recover successfully.

Thank God for the Doolittle Raiders; may the fallen rest in peace.

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (L.O.V.E.)

http://www.grectech.com

 

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The Job Is not Done Until the Paperwork is Finished!

paperwork

We often look at the cost of a program and see the outward benefits, but fail to see the underlying costs that are associated with said program.  Such is the complexities involved in any new program, especially when it comes to state or federal government programs.

A great example of this is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare.  According to the current data, approximately 20 million people are now on health care that did not have health care in the past (even though there are approximately 6 million that no longer have health care that had it before, giving the NET at 14 million rather than 20 million, but that is another article for another day).  The focus of this article is the associated paperwork that ACA implements as a result of this new program.

Specifically, I would like to mention the 1095-B and 1095-C, Health Care Coverage form and Employer Funded Healthy Care Coverage Form respectively.  Because of various medical coverage, I received a number of these forms and my wife also received a number of these forms.  Now, let’s extrapolate these to the population of people in the US that currently receive these forms.

If the figures are correct that 20 million people get health care coverage, this would mean that there are (at least) 20 million pieces of paper that are generated EACH YEAR to appropriately document that these people have health coverage.  That would mean that there has to be printing devices to print these, mailing costs to mail these, and of course a department to ensure they track the distribution of these forms.

Let’s assume for a moment that it costs 1 dollar to print one of these forms, 30 cents to mail them, and the department in question consists of 20 people each making 50,000 dollars per year.  That would mean that the costs are as follows (per year):

20 million dollars to print

6 million dollars to mail

1 million dollars in salary

TOTAL:  27 million dollars

And this figure does not take into consideration more than the 20 million people who get this form that are currently on health care; in other words the ones that are already on health care coverage.  The costs could be 5 to 10 times what I listed per year.  And this is just for the paperwork!

Now, this is unbelievable low considering the Congressional Budget Office original estimation of the cost of ACA, which was over 700 BILLION DOLLARS for five years between 2014 and 2019 (https://www.cbo.gov/publication/44176).  However, it is important to note the “small” costs that are a part of this that will continue long after the large costs are mitigated (or just maintained as is often the case).

In the meantime, if one takes a look at programs like Social Security, we often do not realize the cost of these types of programs, which approach 1 TRILLION DOLLARS per year in benefits!  It is those types of programs that are associated with TONS of paperwork that, even though they are more digital, does not often decrease the costs of those programs since the maintenance of the documentation for these programs can often lead to additional costs against that program.

How do we correct these paperwork nightmares?  One way might be to introduce legislation that institutes a default choice — that everyone has health care unless proven that they do not.  Of course, I am sure there are other ways to reduce or eliminate these paperwork overflows.  Until then, we will be faced with funding the paper that will be a central part of our lives.

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)

Numeric Hysterics – Ask The Right Questions!

crazy-numbers

 

I have seen so many numbers being thrown around the press lately with little explanation of those numbers.  The numbers are given in headlines or headers that are accompanied by a narrative that incorrectly concludes what those numbers represent or – worse – no narrative that lets the uninformed observer make their own conclusion.  A few examples are necessary in order to further illustrate this very concerning trend.

I was reading in a newspaper that Social Security was receiving a .3 percent increase.  After seeing that, I talked with a few people about the article in different venues, asking them the amount of the increase.  Their response — 3% increase.

I explained that figure was wrong, and that it was in fact POINT 3 % increase.  They looked at me and stated that it was the same.  I explained that a 3% increase meant that for every $1.00 there would be a 3¢ increase.  Again, they said that is the same as POINT 3% increase.  I further explained that a POINT 3% increase meant that for every dollar there would be a .3¢ increase!  In other words, it would take 10 TIMES that increase to make the 3% increase that people think they are getting.  Remember that 3% is the same as saying .03 and .3% increase is the same as same .003.

Well, that is one simple case of incorrect conclusions, but the other one is much more serious.  It entails that percentage of police stops of minorities vs non-minorities in Baltimore County, Maryland.  According to a televised segment, there was a horizontal bar graph that showed that 56% of stops in Baltimore County were made against minorities.  With just a slight explanation, and more editorial comment, the narrator stopped short of explaining in detail where this information originated or what it really meant.

In order to really understand the data, several questions must be asked:

  1.  Where were the stops done (area of the county)?
  2.  Why were the drivers being stopped (warrants, tail lights, speeding)?
  3. What is the percentage of minorities in the area where the officer made the stop?

I list these questions because what the horizontal bar graph presented was just one perspective of the data — the number of stops made and to whom was stopped.  There are questions as to where and why that are not answered by these data.

A more telling data set might have been if the officer gave warnings to non-minorities but not minorities, or if the officer pulled the driver over after they identified the race, but I did not see any of these questions in the bar graph on the screen.  I just saw a graph that (without further description) showed that Baltimore County Police Officers treated minority drivers worse than non-minority drivers.  Without further explanation, or some more specific data, this is not only incorrect, but potentially damaging (guilty before being proved guilty).

There are situations where statistics can help.  A study completed by three researchers partnered at three prestigious universities included jury pools from counties in two states and did a series of statistical testing on these data points.  Their study is both extremely informative and contains a number of developed hypotheses (questions) that were explored and tallied.   I will not go into the conclusion since it is not the conclusion that is important (although well worth the reading of the study), but the lengths to which the students went to study the data, not just present it in its “naked” state.  You can see the study at: http://repository.cmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1349&context=heinzworks

So what do I wish to achieve from this article?  I want to point out two very important points:

  1. STOP presenting data without studying that data for spurious conclusions and indicators
  2. ASK the right questions concerning the data so that there is appreciation of what that data REALLY shows

In this day and age, we are prone to take extreme steps without a real representation of what a graph means and how those numbers affect not just us personally, but what they say about us as a collective.  We need to take each data set and question it to the point of getting to the truth.  Only then can we swerve away from numeric hysterics.

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)

“Moon Shot” For Cancer Cure? Not Possible Unless Requirements are Clear!

picture2I, along with others, listened intently to President Obama and Vice President Biden talk emotionally about a “Moon Shot” for a cure for cancer.  Congress is on board, along with just about every American.  After all, the cause is noble, the life saving potential is clear, so let’s all just move on and get it done – right?

I have been a project manager for decades, mainly in the Federal Government and I can tell you that just the pure definition of “Moon Shot” is a misnomer to this very large (and expensive) venture for which we have embarked.

First, the original moon shot had a time frame.  President Kennedy stated in his State of the Union address very specifically the time frame for landing on the moon – by years end of 1969 (“by the end of the decade”).  Okay, what is the time frame of the Cancer “Moon Shot?”   I see that there is web site that speaks to the Moon Shot 2020 initiative, which so far is split into 3 Phases, the last one implementing new immunotherapy by 2020.  In this instance, at least there is a time frame explicitly stated, so at least something is in relative stone, although the “intermediate” steps to these 3 Phases is still in “fluidity.”  This could be an issue in the future since 2020 is less than 3 years away!

However, even President Obama does not believe that a cure can be completed in that amount of time.  President Obama stated to a group of school kids that “[cancer] probably won’t be cured in my lifetime, but I think it will be cured in yours.” (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/01/joe-biden-cancer-research-moonshot-217854).  This is one of the champions of the “Moon Shot.”  That is not a real confidence builder for me if I was the project manager on this one.

Second, the physical goal of the Cancer “Moon Shot” is a moving target.  The Moon was not unpredictable.  We could calculate the orbit of the Moon and make the adjustments accordingly to plan the landing — even where to put the Lunar Excursion Module.  Cancer is a very unpredictable disease since it adapts to individuals and progresses at times silently until the body reacts.  If the goal is to get an immunotherapy by 2020, how will the disease look then?  With the genome map, will the disease adapt to new environments? Cancer is still a moving target.  The frustrations that exist in this endeavor are those that have existed since we have started this battle and will continue until we can get a step ahead of the cancer.  Maybe the REAL goal is not to provide immunotherapy, but to predict where it will strike and prevent it.  A vaccine might be something that will help, but certainly this is not small pox or polio, although at the time these diseases were as illusive and cunning as cancer is now.

Finally, what is the number one killer of people in the United States?  I keep hearing that it is cancer and that would be false!  The number one killer in the US is the same one that has existed for decades (that’s right – decades) — heart disease.  If you do not believe me, then I refer you to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which publishes a yearly look at deaths from various causes (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_05.pdf*).  We have yet to solve the heart disease problem, although we are making progress in the treatment and prevention of the disease, but all of this comes down to making small steps.

So, let’s review.  The three areas of a project that are vital are cost, time, and quality.  The cost for this project has yet to be specified, since studies could increase in cost as well as the various costs for new research facilities, bureaucracies (like the National Institutes of Health departments that will be developed as a result of this initiative), and other as of yet unspecified costs.  The only time frame I see is for the 3 Phases and the 2020 end date.  It took 10 years (or close to it) to get two humans on the Moon.  It cost billions, and a number of lives in the process.  That was the 1960s!  And the most important thing is that there is a champion like Joe Biden who has taken on the initiative, but even scientists are concerned that his clout will wane after he leaves office (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/01/joe-biden-cancer-research-moonshot-217854).  At this point, although there is a great start to the requirements (the quality end of project management), the actual milestones are few which can lead to some problems in the future when the “lesser” more attainable requirements are avoided for the more “optical” results.

And please remember that this is all a good cause, but the numbers that die from cancer are still less than those that die from heart disease.  I did a little research on age vs disease and the results are below.  From this chart you can see that the death from cancer occurs at younger ages than heart disease.  If the Cancer 2020 effort is focusing on older study patients are they really focusing on that age group that is the proper target?  Just food for thought.

picture1

I wish the study a great deal of good fortune.  Eliminating cancer is something that will undoubtedly help us a nation to build our future with our present population.  And it is easy to cheer on this effort.  Its nobility is something that is indisputable.

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)

 

This Day in History – The Making of a Traitor (or Insider Threat)

stealing-password5Most people know the name of Benedict Arnold.  Traitors are called “Benedict Arnold” as well as those that switch sides in the middle of a battle.  But the name has much more meaning if you take a look at this individual’s battle record during the Revolutionary War.  Let’s start with a small, but important, fort at a place call Ticonderoga.  This fort had strategic importance since it lay on the fragile northeast corner of New York State, close to Vermont and the St Lawrence River.  The British wanted this fort, which was occupied by the Americans.  Benedict Arnold, then a patriot, offered advice to the fort commander to ensure that there be patrols on the hills overlooking the fort, since it was there that a well placed cannon could fire down on the fort, inflicting heavy damage.  The fort commander ignored the advice, stating that there was no way a cannon of that weight could be hauled to a point to fire effectively on the hill.  Benedict Arnold left, and shortly thereafter one of the fort’s lookouts saw the glint of metal on the morning sky.  The British had in fact hauled a cannon to the point where Arnold had warned would be vulnerable.  The fort was surrendered.  Although it was later recaptured by the Americans, it did not have to come to that if the fort commander had listened to Arnold.

Again, in 1777 Arnold advises General Gates to attack the British during the First Battle of Saratoga (anniversary of which is today – 19 September).  Gates ignores the advice until it is almost too late and then implements it with the urging of Arnold.  Although the American’s lose the battle, they inflict heavy casualties on the British (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/arnold-and-gates-argue-at-first-battle-of-saratoga).  That is the final straw for Arnold, who plots to hand over West Point to the British, but whose plot is later foiled.  Arnold switches sides, fights for the British and later dies in London in 1801, a broken man.

The emotions run high when talking about Arnold.  In one instance, there is a statue of a lag with no name attached (http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/9271).  This is supposedly Benedict Arnold’s leg, which was wounded in the Battle of Saratoga (mentioned above).  The leg is considered the “patriotic” part of him and so was given the commemoration.

What do we learn from this that applies to today?  The insider threats can come from any source, even the ones that seem very loyal.  Arnold became a traitor for a number of reasons that are beyond our analysis, but one seems clear – the disregard for his advice and guidance.  Once he felt that his expertise was not heeded, and seeing the results of the inaction, he (in my opinion) felt that the leadership was not worthy of his support.  How many times in your company has a person come up with an idea that was later squashed, leading to that person offering no further ideas and maybe even leaving the company?  If you are a manager, you need to listen to all ideas even if you do not enact them.  With the computer age, and “over access” to information becoming more the rule than the exception, employees have more access to personal and company information.  This could be catastrophic if the insider threat becomes a reality.  It is imperative that we make all employees feel as if they are part of the solution, or they will become part of the problem.

Submarines, Air Assault, and The Swedish Olympic Soccer Team

Sub and Soccer Goal1

Clip Art from Free Sources – Illustration by Chris Greco

Strange title, no?  What if I were to tell you that all three of the subjects in the title are interrelated?  What if I were to tell you that something practiced repeatedly makes you so proficient that you will repeat it in your sleep?

Let’s start with submarines.  There was a movie in the 1950s about a submarine that had to go into battle with very little odds of survival.  The captain, a survivor of a previous battle that resulted in his submarine being sunk by an enemy vessel, had nightmares about the encounter and, being given a new command, had the crew constantly drilling day and night, even timing them.  The crew was becoming almost mutinous because the captain refused to tell them why they were doing this, and the first officer had a hard time keeping the crew in line, even though he was loyal to the captain.  Well, the day came that an enemy vessel was pursuing the submarine and the captain ordered the drill.  The crew, not even thinking, went through the drill and fired torpedoes on time and sunk the enemy vessel.  The drill paid off, and the rest of the movie played on that success.  If you are interested, the movie is called “Run Silent, Run Deep” and has in the cast some of the most famous movie stars of my era including Burt Lancaster (Elmer Gantry), Cary Grant (Gone with the Wind), and Don Rickles (Toy Story, voice).  You can find out more at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052151/.

Now we make a smooth segue from submarines to Air Assault School, run by the US Army (see how I did that?).  I was a student at this school in the early 1990s and can attest that, over 20 years later, I still remember at least two things from that school – tying a Swiss Seat and the “Guide Hand” vs “Brake Hand.”  To lay the groundwork for this portion of the article, a Swiss Seat is a rope that you tie around your waist and between your legs to support you when you are rappelling.  Without a good Swiss Seat, the metal ring connecting you to the lifesaving rappel rope will disconnect and you will fall to your death.  Okay, now that we have that concept straight, on to the article.

We tied Swiss Seats several times a day and had to meet a 60 second time limit.  We worked hard at this and finally the test day came for tying a Swiss Seat and the instructor said we had 90 seconds to tie them.  We looked at him in disbelief.  He just smiled and said “Now doesn’t this seem easy?”

The second thing that was drummed into our heads was the “Guide Hand” and the “Brake Hand” in rappelling.  The guide hand was normally your weak hand that you used to guide yourself down the rope (you do not grip it tightly or you have BAD blisters – take it from someone who did just that).  The brake hand was your strong hand that you used behind you to speed up or slow down or stop.  It is essential so that you do not drop uncontrolled to your death (notice how everything had a life/death ring to it?)

At night, after the class, I would be sleeping and suddenly away in the rappel position with my guide hand and brake hand in the proper position.  I do not do this now, but I can immediately take that rappel position if someone were to yell for me to do that.  I learned tons about Army training from that course.  You were trained not to think about a situation but react the way you were trained.  Fewer mistakes that way.  You don’t want to over think it, otherwise your hesitation could mean a life (maybe yours!).

Now, after that dissertation, we move again smoothly to the Swedish Olympic Soccer Team which recently earned a Silver Medal in the Rio Olympics (http://sports.yahoo.com/news/germany-women-dethrone-usa-in-olympic-soccer-221835506.html).  What they did to their competition to get to the Gold Medal round was very similar to the two examples above.  The Swedish team played defense intensively with their first two opponents and then won on penalty kicks.  It is very evident that they practiced this maneuver, ensuring they would win on the penalty kicks.  They were so assured of this tactic that they played to tie, not to win.  When they played the Germans in the final, they turned to offense since a Swedish defender accidentally sent a ball into her own goal.  Now the Germans had the upper hand and hung on with their own defense to win the game.  Unfortunately, putting so many people on defense has its downside, mainly setting up a “pinball” effect with balls sent into the defense.  Notwithstanding, the Swedish Team won their other matches based on the training that they had received (in my opinion).  That is what training is all about, using tactics that are proven solid and implementing those tactics when the time is right.  The Swedish Team did this and, as a result, earned a Silver Medal.  Again in my opinion, their only hesitation was not using the tactic consistently against the Germans, or maybe the Germans looked at the “films” of the other contests and adjusted their tactics.  Either way, the Swedish Team should not feel bad at all about their accomplishment.  They are the second best in the world.

Learn, Offer, Value, and Educate (LOVE)

 

D-Day: Talk About Project Planning!

As project managers we go about our daily business applying all the things that we have learned about projects as we complete project upon project.  We gather the requirements and, with our project team (if we have one), plan the project through time and task tools and then execute that plan to the (hopeful) closure of the plan.  We may use different methodologies, but the bottom line is that we want to complete the project and ensure it stays within the confines of the schedule and budget.  Well let’s say that you are a project manager and someone comes into your office with the following requirements (http://www.itv.com/news/2014-06-06/d-day-in-numbers-the-remarkable-statistics-behind-the-largest-seaborne-invasion-in-history/):

  1. You must conduct a logistics project that transports 150,000 men composed of 13 countries
  2. You must do this via boat and plane with the boats transporting to a safe distance from the shore and disembarking the individuals on smaller boats to the shore; the planes will carry paratroopers which will jump out of the planes at designated points.  You have 5,000 ships and 11,000 planes for this purpose.
  3. You must ensure that the ships and planes above are maintained and ready for a spontaneous departure that also must be conducted in a very organized fashion.
  4. You must arrive at the different disembarking points at a precise time, following other preparations for this arrival, including planes flying over the arrival points and ships carrying out precise operations.
  5. You must ensure that any obstacles that are blocking the disembarking arrivals are gone and that any resistance to the arriving individuals are at a minimum.
  6.  You are to ensure that the disembarking individuals are well prepared for the event, providing them with the necessary equipment to counter any resistance.
  7. You only have a certain amount of time to get the first wave of disembarking individuals on shore and in place in order to follow-up with other disembarking support equipment.
  8. Most importantly, you must do this secretly, ensuring that the operations are done with confidentiality in mind – which means that most individuals will not know of the impending departure or where they will get to shore.
  9. Oh, and one more thing, you are going to be met with a force of approximately 300,000 trained and armed enemy forces that were behind concrete bunkers and walls still standing even after aerial and naval bombing.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what the military planners were facing when planning the Overlord Invasion (Commonly called D-Day) on June 6, 1944.  Today marks the 72nd anniversary of that event where over 4,000 service members died during the invasion alone.  If you want to see one version of the invasion, watch the first few minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.”  Every time I see those scenes I start to tear up thinking about how these young men (and I do mean young, with many 17, 18, and 19 years old) sacrificed their lives for a higher cause (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normandy_landings).

I guess the thing that I forgot in all this project planning was the option – project failure.  If this project would fail it would embolden the enemy to build more defenses, reallocate their forces and prolong a war that had cost millions of lives up to that point.  This project could not fail, but had to succeed to kick off other sub-projects that would lay the groundwork for our eventual project success — and the end of the war!

The reward for the project success?  Well, there were no bonuses, no additional time off, nothing except maybe a medal, a possible promotion, but for many the reward of knowing that they defeated what was considered to be an enemy full of bravado and resources, and had most of Europe under their fist.

So, today, as with most other days, if you see a veteran please remember that they are part of a larger plan to keep the rest of us safe from others that would take away our way of life.  Also please take a moment to remember those brave men and women that fought in that battle (and others) in that far away place on June 6. 1944 where they went into a place they had never seen before meeting bullets and explosions some for the first time in their young lives.  They had no idea the heroes they would become, but they set the stage for a free Europe and a free world.  Sure, our world is not perfect, but it is more free than it would have been under one dictator.

And as for you project managers out there, once you see the requirements above, will the project you are undertaking put thousands of lives at risk and its possible failure destroy the world as we know it?   I am sure the D-Day planners had many sleepless nights before, during, and after the operation.  This put everything in perspective.  I thank God that the men and women in D-Day were brave.  I also remember people like my father’s friends like Petey, Floyd, and Vini who were in World War II and for some like Petey who was a paratrooper who jumped into danger as the ships were making their way to the enemy shore.  Every year we should honor these heroes.  Every year.

Learn, Offer, Value, and Educate (LOVE)