Naval Captain Speaks on GBS Joint Program
July 30, 1999
Captain Joseph M. Delpino, program manager for the Global Broadcast Service (GBS) ACAT-ID Program — a joint operation among the U.S. military forces — recently gave a presentation to SDM students. The presentation, "GBS Joint Program: Information for the Warfighter." focused on the obstacles faced and successes won by the GBS program. It also related these experiences to SDM core competencies.
Delpino graduated with distinction with a BS in naval architecture from the U.S. Naval Academy, and also holds an MEA from George Washington and an MS in aeronautical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. He has received many service medals, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Joint Service Commendation Medal.
First, Delpino introduced his audience to the GBS program, which was initiated in 1996 to create a worldwide satellite architecture for communications among the armed forces. According to Delpino, the bandwidth for communications to those in the field was abysmal. For example, without the new system, it could take as much as 22.5 hours for a submarine to receive an image. Delpino explained, one senator wanted to know why his grandmother, checking her e-mail, could get one thousand times what US soldiers and sailors could receive in the Persian Gulf. The GBS charter was created to develop a system architecture that allowed fast, completely functional broadcast transmissions in just three years with minimal costs.
Delpino centered his presentation around the GBS program’s growing pains, the solutions to its problems, and how these solutions apply to the SDM experience. He explained that he reviewed the list of SDM core competencies (big picture perspective; customer-oriented product development; system architecture knowledge; expertise with organizations, teams, and leadership; global perspective background in modeling, optimization, and decision theory; program control; management of risk and uncertainty; business and technical planning; integration and interrelationships) and he could use some — or all — of each of those concepts.
He led his listeners chronologically through GSB’s history, illustrating with the SDM concepts. The first phase — establishing the foundation — began without a clear-cut budget. Delpino had to plan a course with minimal authority and even less money. It turned out that the project, when defined in a true end-to-end context, was underfunded by more than $100 million. Delpino said that the key principle that helped him through this was knowing how to "set the vector." Said Delpino: "What I did was understand what the vector was by identifying the problem areas in the budget and the proper leverage points within the department of defense. This resulted in funding for all five budget shortfalls."
With the planning in place, GBS was set for phase two: aggressive execution. "This required people to refocus and re-engineer," Delpino said. He therefore had to do some quick work to make sure that people viewed GBS for what it was — an information tool, not a communications tool — and to ensure that it made it through the red tape of government processing in record time.
"Part of moving quickly involves understanding where you do have leverage,"? he explained. For example, although Norfolk, Virginia, was a planned uplink site, the location interfered with a historical landmark, and the state government turned down the request. In most cases, overturning this decision would take months. Delpino contacted the right people — including the Atlantic Commander in Chief who had stated their willingness to make GBS a priority — and got the decision reversed in one week. Delpino warned the audience that, "The road to success is not smooth." With such quick movement, the infrastructure was rapidly established, and reaction to industry was difficult. Just under a year into the project, he realized that there were problems: contractors hadn’t met expectations; security accreditation was delayed; the testing requirements for the government were too inflexible and time-consuming; and user expectations had been poorly defined. According to Delpino, "We were pushing too many envelopes too fast."
In phase three, Delpino initiated a mid-course correction. With so many problems, he had to ask himself if the vector had been set in the correct direction and with the correct magnitude (speed), or whether some fundamental process changed. With the help of acquisition executives, they revised the program. Because they were able to be adaptable, the team achieved its schedule, stayed within 5% of budget, and still met the requirements originally stated for the project.
"The Department of Defense told me that they’d never seen a program perform so badly so early on. I told them that was because they’d never seen data so early on," said Delpino. The bottom line, he concluded, was that the project objectives were achieved — and in half the time — because the program adapted to and remained consistent with the real world.
Delpino closed with a bit of overarching advice for the SDM students: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has!"