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Project Management Principles
for Unit Logisticians

In 2004, the Army conducted the first rapid fielding initiative of nearly 20 individual items, such as advanced combat helmets, lightweight global positioning systems, hydration systems, goggles, and boots, for 4,000 Soldiers deployed to Iraq. This was no small feat, given that the first set of equipment made it from factory to foxhole in only 9 days. Subsequent flights sent an additional 4,000 sets to theater every 10 days. This scenario involved daunting logistics tasks, and the parties involved could not have accomplished it without the use of proven project management practices.

One major requirement was for units to communicate their needs through the chain of command and through logistics acquisition channels. The acquisition branch had to find equipment that met the units’ operational needs, hire contractors to provide the equipment, obtain ground and air transportation from the continental United States to Kuwait, and coordinate with the customer to develop a distribution plan for the equipment once it arrived in theater. This rapid fielding effort is an example of logistics-oriented project management at the highest level. However, junior logisticians can use the same project management principles to achieve positive results at the unit level.

Project Management

Project management is the art and science of managing assets (time, personnel, equipment, and money) in order to complete a project in the way that best meets customers’ needs and expectations. Project managers traditionally balance three constraints—time, quality, and cost—to achieve desired results throughout each phase of a project. Logisticians typically view these constraints as being in constant conflict with each other, with customers being able to set requirements for no more than two at one time. As one of the three constraints increases, the other two must also increase in order to maintain a balance. (See the illustration below.) As a result, a project can fail if logisticians place too much emphasis on one or two constraints and do not adjust the other(s) to account for the inevitable friction that accompanies any project.

For example, the rapid fielding initiative described in the opening paragraph allowed the Army to quickly provide Soldiers in theater with quality equipment, but at an exorbitant financial cost. In this case, the customer (the Army) had the ability and willingness to balance the constraints by paying the contractor costs in order to achieve the needed capability. Of course, unit logisticians have a much smaller purview, not to mention a much smaller spending limit; nevertheless, they still can use project management practices to achieve positive solutions. By taking a positive approach and viewing constraints as project success parameters (PSPs), as described by Denis R. Petersen and Daniel W. Anderson in The Art of Project Management: Rethinking Our Current Paradigms, logisticians can more easily use limited assets to achieve project success. Instead of thinking in a triangular paradigm, logisticians can maximize gains by considering five PSPs—time, quality, cost, deliverables, and risk—and taking a circular approach to project management. Petersen and Anderson called this method the Total Scope Model.

Young logisticians often tend to make decisions without fully considering their potential effects on other stakeholders within the organization, including their own team members. As a result, commanders and S–3s (two of their biggest stakeholders) may be inclined to stovepipe logistics or place logistics-related issues low on their priority lists. However, the best way to manage these PSPs is to work with the stakeholders to create partnerships that allow the logistician to guide the processes through to successful completion. Let me illustrate with a couple of personal examples.

Pre-Exercise Coordination

My first assignment as an officer was as a medical platoon leader for an armor unit in the 1st Infantry Division. When I reported for duty in July, the unit was in the middle of training for a February rotation to the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California. Four months after my arrival, the battalion conducted a 5-day field training exercise (FTX) as part of company lanes training. The battalion commander informed me that the line companies would include medical evacuation with a mass casualty exercise as part of their exercise scenarios. So, my platoon loaded up its equipment and headed to the field with the rest of the battalion. I should have realized that something was not right when, just before we departed the motor pool, the S–3 commented that “except for the company medics, the medical platoon usually stays back in garrison while the rest of HHC [headquarters and headquarters company] goes to the field for these things.”

In preparation for the exercise, I had put together an elaborate medical play scenario. We set up the main battalion aid station (BAS) and even sent out the jump BAS so that we could practice casualty collection and patient transfer with the line company medics. However, reality set in at 1800 that night when we discovered that the battalion had all received their hot A-rations for dinner, but the BAS still had not received its logistics package. I had assumed that since the battalion commander had told us to go to the field and incorporate medic play, the first sergeant, S–4, and S–3 would automatically take care of my platoon. My platoon sergeant ended up going back to garrison that evening to scrounge food for the BAS and to make sure that the first sergeant included us in future headcounts.

The rest of the exercise was equally dismal because I had not fully collaborated medical play with the rest of the line companies or even with the line company medics. By the end of day 2, the only casualty play I had to report at the nightly command and staff meeting was a patient with a sprained ankle. The company medics treated the Soldier, and then his first sergeant evacuated him directly from the site of injury to the garrison hospital’s emergency room using his own high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle.

The battalion commander showed up unannounced at the BAS on day 4 of the FTX to find my men and me playing cards and inventorying the class VIII expendables. Fortunately, he was impressed with our innovative training because we were conducting both activities while wearing mission-oriented protective posture level 4 protection (masks, overgarments, overboots, and gloves).

Yes, medical play was definitely dead on arrival at the FTX because I had not taken time to get the other stakeholders to buy in to my plans. That experience taught me the need to evaluate time, quality, cost, deliverables, and risk consistently. By balancing each parameter during the initiating and planning phases of subsequent training events, I forged partnerships between the medical platoon and each stakeholder within the battalion. That enabled my platoon sergeant and other noncommissioned officers to conduct intensive, innovative training during the execution and monitoring phases. This training resulted in the medical platoon receiving many honors during that February NTC rotation and commendable ratings on subsequent inspector general inspections, and the platoon had the most recipients of the expert field medical badge in the division that year.

Hand Receipt Accountability

The second experience comes from my first assignment as a captain. Having just completed the Army Medical Department Medical Materiel Manager Course, I performed a utilization tour at the Army Reserve’s 328th General Hospital (now known as the 328th Combat Support Hospital) in Salt Lake City, Utah. Since its activation in 1947, the unit had been a table of distribution and allowances (TDA) (nonfield) hospital with a wartime mission to backfill Army medical centers. Consequently, unit members had conducted all of their annual training events at Active component fixed healthcare facilities. Because of the unit’s status as a Reserve component TDA organization, it owned very little equipment, which resulted in a small, manageable property book.

About a year before my arrival, the hospital converted to field-unit (table of organization and equipment [TOE]) status, and the Army Medical Materiel Agency fielded it a new Deployable Medical Systems training set. Understandably, the unit’s culture was still not field focused, and as a result, the unit had conducted no cyclic inventories after the initial fielding inventory. Shortly after my arrival and assignment as the full-time S–4 and property book officer (PBO), I realized that most of the primary hand receipt holders were no longer in the unit. However, the hospital sections had maintained continuous access to the equipment after the initial equipment fielding. The unit had lost property accountability, and it was going to be an uphill battle to regain it.

To succeed at the job, I would need to create a partnership with the acting S–3 (who was in the Army Nurse Corps [AN]) and the HHC commander (who was in the Medical Service Corps). Neither of these two key stakeholders had ever dealt with hand receipts at this level or fully appreciated logistics requirements. Both officers were intelligent and had persuasive personalities, and both spoke plainly when expressing their opinion that inventories were “a waste of valuable training time.” The S–3 held considerable sway with the hospital commander (who was in the Medical Corps), the director of nursing services (who was AN), and the executive officer (XO). The nursing services section used most of the equipment and would need to provide most of the primary hand receipt holders. (I mention the stakeholders’ branches because nonlogisticians, especially those brought up in a nonfield environment, do not always develop a full appreciation for property accountability and sometimes view logistics as a necessary evil.) At times like this, the logistics process can be personality driven, and the Total Scope Model is an effective tool to balance constraints and achieve solutions that are acceptable to all parties involved.

As a PBO with 100-percent pecuniary liability, I did not want anyone playing with my toys until they were hand receipted down to the primary hand receipt holder. However, the hospital commander and director of nursing services did not share that view and ordered me to give the sections access to the training equipment sets. That’s when it hit me: I was trying to manage a property accountability project without obtaining complete buy-in from the hospital commander. He was also a key customer. I was neglecting my responsibility to coordinate between him and the other stakeholders in order to accomplish the mission. He was the center of gravity; if I could get him on board, he was in a position to persuade the other stakeholders to cooperate. I did not realize it at the time, but my arguments to the hospital commander and staff aligned with the five PSPs. Fortunately, the XO was also a medical logistician and was willing to advocate my position to the commander and staff. We presented the following explanation to the hospital commander using the PSPs.

Time. With the S–3’s and section leaders’ assistance, we could minimize the impact of conducting an inventory on training time by developing a training schedule that allowed the sections to conduct inventories while training on the equipment. The 100-percent inventories would become familiarization training for the primary hand receipt holders and the users.

Quality. The commander could achieve trained and partially trained mission-essential task list (METL) status faster and more easily without the distractions of a major inventory hanging over his head. By allocating one full drill weekend to conduct the initial primary hand receipt holder inventories and then incorporating cyclic inventories into each drill, he would ultimately have fewer distractions on the rest of the training throughout his command tenure. To minimize the effect on section training, the S–4 would publish the cyclic inventory items on the monthly training schedule. That way, the hand receipt holders would know at what time they needed to present specific items to the PBO each month, and there would be no risk of sections improperly passing items to cover a friend who may have lost a piece of equipment.

Cost. Even though the value of the equipment on the property book was over $16 million, I did not want to appear threatening in my argument, so I chose to focus on two far greater assets: personnel and training. The unit was already experiencing a high loss rate of personnel because of the conversion from a TDA organization to a TOE organization. If the unit lost medical equipment because of improper hand receipt controls, its ability to train and retain quality Soldiers would continue to decline.

Deliverables. The unit members would develop an appreciation for property accountability. This was especially important while the commander worked to convert the unit’s culture to a field mentality. In the end, the commander could have the unit trained on equipment with which the members were familiar. He would also have 100-percent property accountability, possibly without having to endure a painful 15–6 investigation. [A 15–6 investigation is conducted by a disinterested officer to determine pecuniary liability.]

Risk. This constraint was the most difficult for me to present because of rank and personality issues. However, using Army Regulation 735–5, Policies and Procedures for Property Accountability, and a sympathetic XO, I explained the five types of responsibility, their relationship to accountability, and how commanders, leaders, and users can be held pecuniarily liable for failure to maintain accountability. I addressed gross versus simple negligence, and I explained how more than one party could share liability, even if one or more of the liable parties is not a hand receipt holder. I also asked the command and staff to consider the cost to lives should the unit be mobilized and not properly trained on its go-to-war equipment.

Just as my medical platoon excelled over time, the hospital did attain property accountability, thanks to tenacity and a balanced application of the principles discussed in this article.

These are just two of many experiences that have proven to me how logisticians are most capable and best positioned to complete a project, or accomplish a mission, when they take the time to balance the five PSPs (time, quality, cost, deliverables, and risk) as part of their logistics planning considerations. Of course, an occasional box of doughnuts is helpful, too; it’s all part of building partnerships.

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Wakefield is the National Disaster Medical System coordinator for the Baltimore Federal Coordination Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. When he wrote this article, he was serving as an instructor for the Department of Logistics and Resource Operations, Army Command and General Staff College, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Weber State University and a master’s degree in administration and management from Lindenwood University.