Ask, Don’t Tell; Listen, Don’t Direct: Organizational Alignment

At one of my previous employers, our sister organization in Washington DC was having difficulty defining its program tasking for the next year.

by Dan Harrison

I knew that my Models and Simulation Internal Research and Development (IR&D) laboratory might be able to provide some analysis tools that could help, but what tools and for what analyses?

The tools we were developing—internally, and through our subcontractors—were for several types of radars that were either already deployed or being deployed. So I went to my radars lead engineer and asked. He didn’t have a clue how to help our sister organization. So, I asked if he’d talked to any of his counterparts in Washington DC. He had not, and I suggested he might give them a call. What kind of tools could they make use of? After all, we were developing these tools in part to support the work they might be doing.

He came back to me with a short list, but he did not know how we could support their objectives. So we started walking though the list. At the top of his list, he’d placed the one of most interest to himself. “What do they need to do this,” I asked, “assuming they had the right tools?” We talked a while and finally he’d lain out in broad terms what type of tool or tools they might need for items one though five.

Have we produced, or will we soon have available any tools that might help with some of this? This required him to dig into the engineering, theirs and ours. But we only needed to find something we might be able to help with. After about an hour or two, he was ready to go back to our sister organization with a few questions and some suggestions.

We were able to jointly define most of their projects for the next year. I had succeeded in training my lead radars engineer to think out-of-the-box; we had helped our sister organization define their objectives for the next year; and we had an opportunity to obtain feedback for some of our laboratory’s new products.

We had also succeeded in solving one of my problems. The relationship between my laboratory and this program office in Washington DC—our two organizations together making up the Advanced Programs division—had been tense when I came on board as the new laboratory manager. But we had found a productive way to work together, with joint objectives now for the next year.

Dan Harrison is an SMA Principal Associate in our Technical Management & Engineering Services Practice, and has over 35 years of experience in aerospace engineering.

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Published on April 16, 2020 by

Dick Eassom, CF APMP Fellow