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What does Investment Review do for Me?

It’s hard to imagine that a federal bureaucratic paperwork drill can actually be helpful to people dedicated to getting things done quickly, but that’s what I’m about to tell you. It’s sort of like medicine – it doesn’t taste good on the way down, but it sure makes you feel better in the long run.

Investment review, as I had set it up in the Military Health System, involved four phases:

1. The organization seeking obligation authority would have to prepare some documentation about whatever it was they were seeking obligation authority for. They submitted that paperwork through my office.
2. My office went through the documents with subject matter experts in business cases, security, privacy, budget, enterprise architecture, and strategic planning. This process took about 40 days from start to finish and was engineered to serve as due diligence (an interesting point of fact is that most of that 40 days was spent chasing people down to collect accurate and complete paperwork – once we got a complete investment package, it took about 3 hours to review).
3. My office then either sent the package back or sent it forward to the OSD level Investment Review Board (IRB) with leadership and Pre-Certification Authority signatures. The IRB reviewed the packages we submitted for about 30 days (most of this time was spent nudging people).
4. The IRB carried the finished package in the form of a recommendation to the Defense Business Systems Management Committee (established by 10USC186).

Seems like a long process, right? This was 71 days – usually considered the most inconvenient 7 days possible – just before the money was spent. So what’s the advantage?

Well, in addition to some of the more obvious benefits such as:

* lot of eyes on new investments
* a consistent approach to due diligence
* filtering out of poorly conceived or low value added expenditures
* bringing “after thoughts” like privacy and security into the main stream
* documenting the investments

There are not-so-obvious advantages:The concept of seeking a permit to do something is nothing new. Want to build a house? you’ll need a stack of them. The permitting and inspection process ensures that whatever you build meets safety codes, doesn’t cause disruption to the neighborhood around your new house, and ideally enhances the value of the community for everyone.

People complain about the permitting process, but imagine what your neighborhood would look like without it.

Investment review is very similar to a permitting and inspection process. When someone wants to build something they seek a permit. The folks issuing the permit have a long list of things that every new project must comply with (DoD uses the phrase “Enterprise Architecture Compliance”). They check the project against the list of things the project needs to comply with, and there you have it… a better, stronger, safer investment in the community.

As with housing and safety codes, most compliance issues are the result of learning something the hard way. Someone falls through a floor, a row house fire consumes an entire city block of homes, a water break destroys five floors… These codes and compliance criteria are an expression of lessons learned. They keep us from repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Imagine if everyone who wanted to build a house faked the paperwork, took short cuts with the blue prints, or deliberately try to fool the inspectors. We’d be in big trouble. Wouldn’t you agree?

If we do this right, a higher quality Defense Department is in our future. We will create a learning environment where mistakes that are made in one area of the Department are studied, expressed in a medium that “remembers” them and “recalls” them when it’s time to spent new money – in a system that allows us to apply those lessons learned to every subsequent investment. We won’t get it all done right away, but we will transform one investment review at a time.

To view similar posts to this one, visit my personal blog.

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I agree. People don’t like rules but we wouldn’t work very well without them.

One idea I do have is to make sure the strength of the rule is in proportion to the risk.

For example in a neighborhood:
-You shouldn’t have to go for much of a review to add a small plant in your garden. A slight review for adding a fence. And a bigger review if you want to expand your house and do major construction.

While IRBs do usually have levels based on size of project, I do think in the web 2.0 world they need to find a way to launch really quick small pilots. For example, if the Census or TSA Administrator wanted to launch a blog overnight (which they both did), they should be able to do so quickly since the risk is low.

David Dejewski

Steve, I appreciate your comment and I agree. Balance is important and it’s something we all need to pay attention to. For clarification purposes, the statutory parameters (10USC2222) on the investment review process I describe above is $ 1 million or greater.

I’m inspired by your last paragraph. In the Web 2.0 world, it seems to me, that individual initiatives like blogs, are emerging irrespective of oversight. Few organizations can control the actions of their employees once those employees are off the clock. Technology has made these really quick small pilots a 15 minute, no or low cost affair. My experience is that Web 2.0 enables emerging behaviors. Someone with passion will make the 15 minutes to stand up a blog and write to the thing at 1AM if that’s the only window available.

I guess what I’m saying is that no matter what the old guard does to slow slow or stop the Web 2.0 way of doing business, things like Blogs and Wiki’s are not going to be suppressed for long. The old barriers and control mechanisms have lost their effectiveness. I doubt we will have to worry much about the quick small pilots for long – emergence of Web 2.0 is inevitable.

To me, what’s really poignant about your comment is the idea that organizations need to take a position on where to draw some new lines. The lines were pretty clear under the “old” system. It used to be fairly expensive to reach thousands of people, for example. Resources were controlled and directed by the organization to the “mouth pieces” that were positioned to speak and “allowed” to have an opinion.

In the Web 2.0 world, the entry fee is so small that virtually everyone can grab a microphone and speak their mind. Suddenly, while the Director is standing in front of 300 people delivering some eloquent speech, Sally, who used to be tucked neatly away in a cube of a windowless basement office is clacking away on her keyboard and firing up 20,000 people over the internet – many of them receiving text messages from her on their PDA’s while listening to the Director’s speech.

I think the old “who get’s to speak or launch” line is gone, and I believe perception of the responsibility that we, as organizational leaders, have to people is shifting. We have a responsibility to people like Sally, and we can no longer tuck her away and ignore her. Investment review is no longer an effective way to dictate who get’s influence.

This means that we need to break out our leadership and management 101 books and get back to basics. We need to truly lead the hearts and minds of the people within an organization and not merely use our positions to serve our own interests – burying opposing views in bureaucratic process or withholding funds or obligation authority. We must lead in this new world.