The B-21’s core design initiative has been to use mature and semi-mature components and subsystems not only to lower risk and to decrease development time and costs, but also to better ensure support for the aircraft over time. Although many look to history to predict the future as to the B-21’s success, there has never been a program that was so tailored to avoid its progenitor’s fate. Even how the program is being ran and by what office is different, as is the fact that its requirements were frozen nearly a decade ago to avoid mission creep and expensive late-change orders. www.thedrive.com, February 12, 2018, USAF’s Controversial New Plan To Retire B-2 And B-1 Bombers Early Is A Good One.
Uh oh. Past history is being ignored? They are doing it “differently” then it had been done in the past? Finally, they have frozen the requirements for a decade now? My gut reaction is I expect another disaster and these differences highlighted here will become the reasons it became a disaster.
Don’t get me wrong, I was constantly being told that I was doing everything wrong usually because I was not doing what had been done in the past. But what had supposedly been done wrong in the past? Classically, for example, the claim was something like … requirements creep. Darn management kept changing the requirements and that was why those past projects went bad! Freeze the requirements and everything would have been fine they then claimed. Do you think that ever worked? Nope, not in my experience.
On one particular project I took considerable criticism for not doing the new cool things another project ahead of us had started to do. If I didn’t produce the same new sexy charts and diagrams and used them to manage my project then we would fail. What happened? We delivered both products at the same time to the same customer. The earlier project delivered late and still had significant issues to wrap up. The customer grilled them for at least an hour. I then stood up and made my introductory remarks. We had delivered on time with much better than normal quality and with no significant issues to resolve. The customer thanked me and asked me if I had anything else I wanted to add. I said no and they said the meeting was over. The entire duration was maybe 10 minutes and nothing but a thank you from the customer.
What was the difference between these two similar projects? First we had based our plan on our recent past performance. We didn’t claim we could do it faster than we had actually done it in the past. Secondly we had as much requirements creep as had the earlier project and as our past projects had. The earlier but now late project was to simply be that quarter’s products for the customer. Ours was to be the next quarter’s products for the customer. The earlier project was doing things “differently” and that was going to allow our company to finally deliver on time. Instead, we did things essentially the same but had learned from our past mistakes. We didn’t take any longer to deliver our project than the earlier project had, except we finally delivered on time and our quality was exceptional.
As a retired Air Force officer I’m rooting for the success of the B-21. But, based upon our past experience and upon how we had routinely ignored past experience and had always said we would do things differently each time and had routinely failed, I’m not optimistic.
When we reach a point where we say it takes us maybe ten years to deploy a new aircraft and we hit our mark each time and boast how we’ve reduced it from say 12 years to 10 years and expect to do the next one in 9 years and then do it, then we’ll have an efficient and unbeatable Air Force in any future conflict.
Are you basing your promises on hard data or are they the same old promises of doing something “different” that have never yet worked out?