By Rear Adm. Dean VanderLey, P.E., CEC, M.SAME, USN, and Capt. Chris Via, P.E., USN
The U.S. Navy is renewing its focus on modernizing the shore infrastructure supporting our newest, most critical weapons platforms. Our nation needs and demands that we up our game in this era of Great Power Competition to build and enhance the readiness of our fleet to deter challenges from near-peer competitors China and Russia.
Being more agile and challenging the status quo has become a priority of Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC). Across the enterprise, at NAVFAC Atlantic and NAVFAC Pacific, we are building upon those themes and creating the enduring processes and capabilities to answer a sense of urgency with the structure needed to deliver results.
Utilizing an integrated systems approach, we are driving to ensure that our improvements go beyond just new tools, templates, and training. NAVFAC is keenly focused on producing lasting improvements.
UNIFORMITY THROUGH STRUCTURE
To achieve uniformity and consistency, NAVFAC is institutionalizing support systems and processes, further integrating planning and project development with our design and construction project management, and standardizing our partnering approach with customers and contractors. Our approach means we are focused on improving and aligning work management systems, incorporating more robust assessments throughout the project lifecycle, and aligning training, doctrine, and resourcing. The ultimate goal is ensuring we have enduring, sustainable improvement to partnering and project management.
As we develop construction project delivery systems, NAVFAC is just one piece of a larger puzzle. Our efforts to modernize shore infrastructure involve a number of key partners, all of whom play critical roles. These stakeholders include operational commanders who are the ultimate end users of the facilities, as well as our partners in the A/E/C industry. It is crucial these stakeholders come together, from the field to senior leaders, so NAVFAC is expanding our partnering processes to engage earlier and with a more robust, tiered project governance structure. Our revamped partnering plan clearly spells out roles, responsibilities, and consistency in stakeholder engagement through every phase of project delivery.
While NAVFAC has actively included formal partnering into construction project management since 1991, the focus was primarily on performance after construction contract award. Analytics show nearly 90 percent of time lost to processing contract modifications can be tied to unforeseen conditions, design errors, customer-requested changes, or other changes in scope or criteria. This indicates room for improvement in our governance during requirements development before construction contract award. It also indicates a need for earlier involvement by the project management team to ensure better continuity of our governance throughout a project lifecycle.
Previous efforts at partnering also focused on post-award workshops with the project team. Risk management and issue resolution were often ad-hoc and inconsistent, not leveraging timely and structured senior leader engagement. Elevating issues often took too long, wasting valuable time and resources by allowing problems to fester at the working level. For projects with higher cost and complexity, we are initiating a formalized and consistent structure with tiered governance, including a project leadership team at the field office level and a senior advisory group that generally consists of senior officers and senior civilian and contractor leadership. For our most complex projects, a senior executive review group has been established with flag and general officer membership along with senior executives from government and contract partners.
More than 30 projects are using this more structured approach. While too early to compare with our traditionally managed projects, early observations indicate a significant improvement to stakeholder alignment, risk management, and rapid issue resolution, as well as improved cost and schedule performance. The structure also is being used before contract award on our largest and most complex upcoming projects, where potential changes and mission impacts can be jointly managed during design and acquisition phases. This clearer focus forms tighter alignment between NAVFAC and supported commands on pre-award decisions with the highest opportunity to influence post-award outcomes.
LEVERAGING INNOVATIVE TOOLS
Another significant initiative underway is the implementation of an Electronic Construction Management System (eCMS). This framework aims to standardize our post-award construction management, provide a more consistent and effective interface with our contract partners, enable more timely and structured resolution of issues, and allow data mining that will drive continued process improvements.
In the past, NAVFAC has relied on locally developed ad-hoc systems for construction management needs. The lack of a common construction management system made it difficult to shape and enforce best practices. Moreover, field staff lacked an electronic system that would allow them to effectively manage projects and collaborate with the rest of the project team across the enterprise. Today, NAVFAC Atlantic manages more than 130 projects in eCMS with nearly 3,000 enrolled users. This expansion will continue until we are managing every project above $1 million with the same consistent methods across all our field offices.
NAVFAC also will continue project management improvement by the use of assessments through different phases of the project delivery process. Key Performance Indicators (KPI) have been implemented to assist in tracking performance-to-plan on critical pre- and post-award milestones. Use of those KPIs in the pre-award stage has already delivered significant improvements in construction award timeliness—both in holding to schedule and awarding military construction projects in budget year.
Opportunities for further development include more predictive assessments to identify issues before schedule gates are missed. More defined KPIs that better evaluate the quality of planning and design deliverables are the goal.
Overall, NAVFAC continues to seek a better understanding of project development readiness, design deliverable quality, construction readiness, and overall product health.
The alignment of tools, systems, and doctrine is critical to delivering long-term performance improvement. Both fleet and combatant commanders are driving a sense of urgency to deliver infrastructure that assures mission readiness. That sense of urgency must be matched with a project delivery structure that supports and sustains performance.
Together, governance models, senior leader engagement, partnering practices, assessments, and work management systems will drive improvements that are becoming a lasting part of our organizational DNA—all focused on delivering the infrastructure our warfighters need to win in this era of Great Power Competition and advancing NAVFAC’s vision to be the trusted facilities and expeditionary experts enabling overwhelming Fleet and Marine Corps lethality.
Rear Adm. Dean VanderLey, P.E., CEC, M.SAME, USN, is Commander, and Capt. Chris Via, P.E., USN, is Deputy Commander for Operations, NAVFAC Atlantic. They can be reached at email@example.com; and firstname.lastname@example.org.
[This article first published in the May-June 2021 issue of The Military Engineer.]