One of the biggest determinants of success is knowing when to ask for help.
In January, the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) deputy program executive officer approached Jeffrey Tkach about an opportunity. As the Department Chair for Logistics and Technology at the DAU Midwest campus in Kettering, Ohio, Tkach was well positioned to help. The opportunity, or challenge, as some might alternatively call it, entailed conducting a root-cause analysis for contractual issues with the Joint Flow and Analysis System for Transportation (JFAST) program. The real kicker was in the $10.8 million riding on a contract with a stop order and only three months to get to the root of the issue.
Fortunately, there was no better person for the job: Tkach and his team recently used the program as a case study in ACQ 265 - Mission-Oriented Services Acquisition. He expressed his eagerness to continue to support the customer and dive deeper into the challenge at hand.
“It was a good experience,” Tkach said. “We learned a lot as well. Being able to stay current and look at some of [DAU’s] programs … is always a valuable experience.”
Part of the journey entailed reviewing program documentation and facilitating interviews with key program personnel and the prime contractor. Afterward, Tkach, along with Lt. Col. Julie Knechtel and Lt. Col. Henry Garay, grouped their findings and consolidated them into categories.
“The two main root causes of the issues we discovered were in the areas of requirements management and the implementation of Agile software development,” Tkach said.
Agile software development, which focuses on responding to change and fostering evolution through collaboration, was something Tkach admitted he and his team were new to implementing in contracts. The team reached out to other DAU faculty who had specific expertise with different software pathways to decide how to move forward.
“Since a lot of recommendations had to do with Agile software development, it would have been helpful to have had an Agile subject matter expert on board earlier,” he said. “We would’ve loved to be able to tap into more of DAU’s Agile software development.”
Identifying experienced sources wasn’t the only obstacle the team would face.
“COVID-19 slowed us down a bit as we had to shift priorities to developing [Virtual Instructor-Led Training] versions of classes to maintain the FY20 schedule,” Tkach said.
Resources and time, about four weeks, became tied up as the team shifted their attention to ensure DAU’s classes remained operational. Later, as they resumed their work with USTRANSCOM, various technical difficulties arose from having to work remotely. Making the switch to full-time telework was, to put mildly, a steep learning curve. Video briefings proved tricky to access due to the USTRANSCOM servers, limiting the teams’ interactions with one another to email and phone.
Despite the issues they faced, the team managed to stay on target with their initial May deadline. Accounting for the time they lost during DAU’s virtual transition, Tkach revealed they were able to fulfill the customer request within just two months, a success made largely possible by the customer’s willingness to cooperate and provide access to information.
Looking back, Tkach stated that, from a process perspective, mapping out a plan-of-action early, such as figuring out who to interview and what to discuss, was a major factor in ensuring everything ran smoothly. Meanwhile, from a technical perspective, making the adjustment to telework was turned out to be a more positive experience than he expected.
“We were able to do everything virtually,” Tkach said. “Even though all participants were teleworking it did not hinder progress or the ability to get the requested documentation we needed. Once the dust settled [from the initial effects of COVID-19], we decided to start doing some periodic conversations with the customer to keep them on track.”
Tkach also advised those embarking on similar projects to “identify the expertise you need early on” as a means of saving time down the line.
“This is going to hopefully allow them to be better prepared to do the follow on for JFAST,” Tkach said, speaking on how he believes USTRANSCOM will benefit from the gathered data. “It will also allow them to be better prepared to do a lot of other efforts we have that are similar to software development.”
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