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WORLD-CLASS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: Characteristics for an Army Research, Development, and Engineering Organization Executive Summary The U.S. Army intends to conduct “world-class” research and pursue advances in technology to maintain superiority in land warfare. This report, which was prepared for an Army sponsor, defines the characteristics of a world-class research, development, and engineering (RD&E) organization. BACKGROUND AND APPROACH The Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center (RDEC) is a major element of the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Command, which, in turn, is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. The Natick RDEC vision is to be a world-class RD&E team that provides global customers with the essentials of life. The RDEC is organized into the following five directorates, which reflect the essential elements of its mission: (1) survivability, (2) sustainability, (3) mobility, (4) science and technology, and (5) advanced systems concepts. The technical director of the Natick RDEC requested the assistance of the National Research Council in shaping the RDEC's future role and direction. A committee of the National Research Council (known as the Natick Standing Committee) was asked to (1) define world-class research, development, and engineering; (2) identify the major components of world-class research, development, and engineering; and (3) identify measurable qualitative and quantitative characteristics (and associated metrics) that must be met in order for an Army RDEC
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WORLD-CLASS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: Characteristics for an Army Research, Development, and Engineering Organization to declare itself world-class. The characteristics and metrics will be used later by the committee for an assessment of the Natick RDEC. The committee recognized that the phrase world-class is widely used and has different meanings to different people. Although providing a general definition of world-class is relatively easy, defining the term for a research and development organization, particularly an Army RDEC, is more difficult. The committee attempted to develop a definition that takes into account the Army's mission and the RDEC 's role in fulfilling that mission. Although an Army RD&E organization has unique features (e.g., it exists principally to serve the Army) that distinguish it from academic and industry research and development centers, the committee found that research and development centers that are considered world-class share similar, measurable characteristics. WORLD-CLASS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT To define world-class research and development (R&D), the committee drew on material from general discussions with representatives of industry, academia, and government. The committee also examined relevant literature and four examples of widely respected organizations (i.e., Motorola, Milliken & Company, Intel, and FedEx). The committee determined that a world-class R&D organization is one that is recognized by peers and competitors as among the best in the field on an international scale, at least in several key attributes. The committee observed that world-class R&D organizations maintain performance by creating and sustaining certain critical competitive advantages (e.g., a strategic focus on unique competencies of the organization). These competitive advantages result from excellence in five key attributes, which are often called “ pillars.” The pillars are (1) customer focus, (2) resources and capabilities, (3) strategic vision, (4) value creation, and (5) quality focus. These pillars are founded, in turn, on a demonstrated commitment to achieving world-class performance. The major components of a world-class R&D organization are, therefore, demonstrated commitment, the five pillars, and the competitive advantages. Of these, the committee believes that the base—a demonstrated commitment—is the most important. Without it, aspirations to achieve world-class performance will be doomed.
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WORLD-CLASS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: Characteristics for an Army Research, Development, and Engineering Organization WORLD-CLASS ARMY RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT, AND ENGINEERING The uniqueness of an Army RD&E organization makes it difficult to find similar peer and competitive organizations on which to base performance comparisons. Therefore, a definition of a world-class Army RD&E organization must also recognize the unique aspects of the organization's vision, mission, and strategy. For example, the Natick RDEC mission, which flows from its vision of becoming a world-class organization, is to (1) maximize the soldier 's survivability, sustainability, mobility, combat effectiveness, and quality of life through the research, development, and engineering of items such as rations, clothing, shelters, and airdrop systems; (2) provide the necessary research, development, and engineering to integrate several combat-essential elements (e.g., survivability, sustainability, and mobility) into the soldier system; and (3) perform similar, related functions for other Department of Defense services and federal agencies (e.g., be the center of excellence for food science and technology). The strategy includes developing highly skilled personnel, acquiring quality equipment and facilities, and establishing consistent and stable funding. However, this strategy —and ultimately the vision—are necessarily influenced by the current environment, which includes shrinking budgets and levels of personnel. Taking the factors listed above into account, the committee determined that a world-class Army RD&E organization is one that excels in several key attributes by matching core competencies to its mission, thereby fulfilling the needs of soldiers as well as, or better than, similar organizations anywhere in the world. To achieve and maintain world-class performance, an organization must identify and develop the necessary core competencies. For an Army RD&E organization, these include the ability to move quickly from developing to fielding new, applied technologies. The technological capability must encourage continued development of new, superior products. The committee believes that the pillars of a world-class R&D organization provide the most convenient means of articulating the prominent aspects of world-class performance. The five pillars are also applicable to Army RD&E organizations. The pillars are described below. Customer focus is the ability to identify, anticipate, and respond to customer needs both now and in the future. The focus is on internal customers as well as external customers.
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WORLD-CLASS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: Characteristics for an Army Research, Development, and Engineering Organization Resources and capabilities are the assets and talents with which the organization creates value for the customer. Strategic vision is a mental view of the type of organization that senior-level management would like the enterprise to become. This vision must be communicated indelibly to all personnel and translated into key elements that will make the vision a reality. Value creation is the ability to produce or increase benefits perceived by customers so they feel they are getting more value than they expected or previously received. Quality focus is the ability to continue striving for higher quality. The commitment to quality often results in breakthroughs. CHARACTERISTICS AND METRICS The characteristics of a world-class RD&E organization are derived from the five pillars. The committee judged that 25 characteristics are most relevant to an Army RD&E organization. These characteristics are discussed below according to the pillar under which they fall. Customer Focus Pillar The characteristics of this pillar are customer satisfaction, customer involvement, and market diversification. Both types of customers (e.g., internal product development teams and soldiers external to the RD&E organization) can be surveyed to ascertain how satisfied they are with the technological solutions and products delivered. Customer involvement in setting program objectives and following progress can also be evaluated. Although an Army RDEC must focus on the primary markets it serves, the committee believes that some market diversification is proper for any RD&E organization. Indeed, in the private sector world-class RD&E organizations seek to exploit fully the results of their research and product development. The extent of market diversification by Army RDECs can be determined; but diversification must also be considered carefully because Army RDECs exist primarily to support their Army missions and rely on government funding, which is usually authorized only to satisfy specific needs. Satisfaction, involvement, and the nature of market diversification indicate how well an RDEC is connected with and focused on the long-term and short-term needs of customers.
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WORLD-CLASS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: Characteristics for an Army Research, Development, and Engineering Organization Resources and Capabilities Pillar The characteristics of this pillar are the quality of personnel; facilities and infrastructure; budget; RD&E capabilities, skills, and talents; use of external resources; important technologies; information technology; and organizational climate. Internal and external reviews (e.g., by management of the RD&E organization or by higher headquarters) can be conducted to assess the organization's resources and capabilities. These reviews may include analyses of the core technical programs, evaluations of employee morale and the research climate, and assessments of the ability to reach “make versus buy” decisions. The quality and quantity of the human, physical, and financial resources and core capabilities of the RD&E organization indicate the ability and power to achieve world-class results. A positive organizational climate usually correlates with high productivity. Strategic Vision Pillar The characteristics of this pillar are alignment of vision and mission, anticipatory strategic planning, stakeholder buy-in, and leadership. Internal and external (e.g., peer) reviews can determine if the strategic vision of the RD&E organization and the mission are aligned and whether anticipatory strategic planning is sufficient to develop future Army and joint service products rapidly. To assess stakeholder buy-in, the stakeholders must first be identified. Assessments of strategic vision should include the organizational leadership to ensure that the organization's vision is understood by staff and stakeholders alike. The quality of the strategic vision will give a reading of the enduring capability of the organization to plan and achieve world-class results. Value Creation Pillar The characteristics of this pillar are a proper portfolio, product performance, cycle time and responsiveness, and the value of work in progress. Value creation is often a perception based on a comparison of previous products (or lack thereof) with current products. Reviews of the breadth of effort (i.e., the portfolio) and other characteristics are important for making a meaningful assessment.
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WORLD-CLASS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: Characteristics for an Army Research, Development, and Engineering Organization Reviews can be conducted using both internal and external evaluations. The extent to which the RD&E organization produces outstanding, meaningful results reflects the impact of the organization. Quality Focus Pillar The characteristics of this pillar are the capacity for breakthroughs, continuous improvement, commitment to quality, structured processes, a learning environment, and the quality of research. The capacity for scientific and engineering breakthroughs can be assessed, in part, by reviewing past performance (e.g., how many breakthroughs have already occurred). Continuous improvement and structured processes (i.e., the ability to work in a disciplined and organized fashion) can be assessed by reviewing processes and results. The commitment to quality must be assessed at all levels, from topmost management down. Reviews can determine the ability of the staff and the organization as a whole to learn and use knowledge to achieve outstanding results. Finally, research quality can be assessed by expert review. Measurements of all these characteristics can give an overall assessment of the focus on quality in an Army RD&E organization. Measuring the Characteristics Metrics can be developed to measure various aspects of input, processes, output, and outcomes in the past, present, and future. Using the wrong metrics may limit performance or lead to inappropriate results. For an RD&E organization, the metrics should foster improvement and be related to the vision and mission. With these factors in mind, the committee developed a set of metrics that can be used as part of an assessment of the Natick RDEC. Beyond measuring the extent to which the RDEC exhibits world-class performance, the metrics can also be helpful for self-evaluation or for evaluations of other RD &E organizations by higher-level Army commands. To describe adequately the many facets of RD&E performance, the committee chose metrics with qualitative descriptors for four levels of performance. These levels are poor, adequate, good, and excellent. The committee believes that a predominance of excellent performance is necessary for an organization to be deemed world-class. The
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WORLD-CLASS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: Characteristics for an Army Research, Development, and Engineering Organization committee also considered the concept of best-in-class, which is the level of performance beyond excellent. This level is not included in the metrics because descriptors would apply to unique situations. The 100 metrics (i.e., 25 characteristics, with four metrics each) are tabulated in the body of the report according to the characteristics to which they belong. They are sorted by pillar (e.g., there are 12 metrics for the customer focus pillar, four for each of the three characteristics). Assessment results can be summarized in tables or figures, which include overall assessments for each pillar. It should be noted that the committee has implicitly given equal weight to all five pillars. Under some circumstances, it may be appropriate to assign greater weight to one pillar or another. Other adaptations (e.g., for self-assessment) could also be considered. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Conclusion 1. The phrase “world-class” is widely used to describe products and services. This phrase, however, can reasonably mean different things to different people. Therefore, if the phrase “world-class” is to be useful as a vision, it must be defined, tailored, and characterized in detail. Conclusion 2. A world-class R&D organization is one that is recognized by peers and competitors as among the best in the field on an international scale, at least in several key attributes. Conclusion 3. A world-class Army RD&E organization is one that excels in several key attributes by matching core competencies to its mission, thereby fulfilling the needs of soldiers as well as, or better than, similar organizations anywhere in the world. Conclusion 4. Efforts to reach or maintain world-class performance require the demonstrated commitment of the full chain of command, from topmost management to the lowest level. Conclusion 5. World-class R&D organizations are likely to excel in certain fundamental attributes, which are based on demonstrated commitment. These attributes, often called pillars, are customer focus, resources and capabilities, strategic focus, value creation, and quality focus.
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WORLD-CLASS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: Characteristics for an Army Research, Development, and Engineering Organization Conclusion 6. The five pillars are the basis of 25 characteristics that the committee believes are most relevant to an Army RD&E organization. Conclusion 7. Metrics with qualitative descriptors for four levels of performance (i.e., poor, adequate, good, and excellent) of the 25 characteristics are the preferred means of determining the extent to which an RD &E organization has achieved world-class performance. Conclusion 8. Good or excellent performance for each characteristic, and excellent overall performance for all five pillars, are believed to be necessary for an organization to be judged world-class. Recommendation 1. The concepts, characteristics, and metrics developed in this study should be used to assist the committee to assess the Natick RDEC. Recommendation 2. These concepts, characteristics, and metrics should be considered by the Army or outside reviewers for use in assessing other Army RD&E organizations. Recommendation 3. Army RD&E organizations should consider using these concepts, characteristics, and metrics for self-evaluation. Recommendation 4. The concepts developed in this study should be considered by RD&E organizations in general for making assessments and self-evaluations. Some tailoring of the characteristics and metrics will probably be needed to suit specific organizations, be they inside or outside the Department of Defense. Recommendation 5. The concept of a world-class organization should be used principally as an internal focusing mechanism for achieving excellence rather than as an external mechanism for advertising the virtues of an organization.
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