The key to improving our development programs lies in our ability to bring technical balance to the management process. High technology weapon development projects represent very challenging engineering and management projects. They are challenging, not because of the budgets involved - a state highway improvement program could easily be more expensive. They are challenging, not because of the schedule requirements - the milestones used to build an office complex are more detailed and more stringent. They are challenging primarily because of the technical risk inherent in the high performance designs required to meet most threats. The challenge follows from the need to stretch existing technology to its limits and to push new technology into designs early. However, when we look at the management techniques that are used today, technical risk is treated superficially, if at all. The focus of most risk analysis methods to date has been on the use of statistical techniques for evaluating financial risks. These methods depend on the accuracy of the probability functions that are assumed, and are generally not valid for unique one-of-a-kind development projects. We depend on sophisticated systems to control, monitor, and advise of performance against the cost and time schedules. We have no method in place to perform these same functions for technical risk inherent in the development of an advanced, highly integrated, complex weapon system.
A technical risk assessment system should provide management at all levels with (1) a disciplined system for early identification of technical uncertainties, (2) a tool for instantaneous assessment of current project status, and (3) early key indicators of potential success or failure.
The system also provides the basis for taking action to control risk and for measuring the effectiveness of that action. Technical problems are highlighted before they become critical and plans are developed to manage project risks. The system could trigger restructuring of test plans, reallocation of system level requirements, or reallocation of program assets. It is even possible that the technical risk assessment system will reveal technical requirements which cannot be met within existing technology and resource limitations. There are three basic steps in the process of developing and applying a technical risk assessment system:
The first step includes the planning aspects of the process, with emphasis on the methods, parameters, procedures, and responsibilities for carrying out the system. Secondly, data are collected and integrated as necessary to identify, track, and assess risks by periodic reporting throughout the course of the project. The final step focuses on risk adjustment through execution of corrective actions aimed at reducing the impact of risks through elimination or monitoring. As illustrated in the associated graph, the technical risk assessment system is somewhat iterative through "feedback loops" to the project requirements and contractor plans.
Does the contractor have a specific technical risk assessment and reporting program?
Are periodic formal reports provided to all levels of management on the technical status, problems, corrective actions, and subsequent project impact?
Have technical risk indicators been generated for design, test, manufacturing, cost, and management?
Does each technical risk indicator have a projection of where it should be during its phase of the project?
Have all top level technical requirements been allocated to the lowest design and test levels for both the prime and subcontractors?