University courses promote industry engagement

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

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Strengthening the bond between government and industry, Defense Logistics Agency managers chose 35 employees to participate in the second iteration of the two-week Insights into Industry Management Course at the University of Virginia, Darden School of Business in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The course curriculum provides students with training in current and cutting-edge business practices, helps them recognize business risks and opportunities and anticipate potential changes in private sector businesses.

The October session was added after DLA Acquisition officials received positive feedback from students who attended the inaugural course in May. 

“We can be pretty good at our craft, but we need to understand industry’s perspective to really enhance what we do,” said DLA Acquisition Director Matthew Beebe. “It’s through understanding industry that we can better position ourselves to leverage what we need [them] to do for us.”

DLA Directors and major subordinate commanders nominate eligible civilians at the GS-13, -14 or -15 level who are in current acquisition-coded positions and have achieved proper certification levels. Participants also ideally have strong business, finance or accounting background, as the curriculum and projects depend heavily on these skills.

Quality and quantity

“I thought it was one of the better courses I’ve attended with DLA,” said Robbie Mitchell, a supply systems analyst in DLA Logistics Operations. “All of the instructors and presenters were very knowledgeable – you could tell they were subject matter experts in their particular field.”

Mitchell has been with DLA for 20 years and said the course provided him invaluable information.

“Most courses we attend in DLA are geared toward you understanding DLA better, but this course was the opposite — it was helping you understand our industry partners better,” he said. “The way the financial analysis and accounting was used in this course was a lot different than any other [instruction].”

Kenneth Abrams, planning and industrial readiness division chief with DLA Land and Maritime has been with DLA since 2005. As a retired Navy supply corps officer, he said he tries to remain relevant.

“That requires retooling. There’s a lot of change we’re faced with on a daily basis and that’s a constant, it’s not something you can get away from,” he said. “You’ve got to be fluid and really committed to continuous development both professionally and personally.”

Charmaine Camper, director of expeditionary contracting in DLA Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office, also took the course and said the course should be a regular part of required contracting training.

“We take the CON 360 [class] and it’s good … but this would be more applicable to us and would make us a lot better at our jobs if we understand the mechanics of the financial reports and how to cost things from an industry perspective,” she said.

Camper, who also attended the Eisenhower School, said she expected this course to be similar, but the Insight into Industry course exceeded her expectations.

“It wasn’t an easy class to take because it was a heavy requirement; a lot of reading, a lot of case studies — and there were three books that were issued to us to read ahead of time,” she said.

Mitchell confirmed the course required a lot of reading, but added that it wasn’t a bad thing.

“Because it was so much information, it was hard to internalize it all; to give it some thought and fully digest everything that you were taking in,” he said. “However, when you went to class the next day, [the instructors] really did a thorough job of helping you to understand what it was that you read and discussed in your team meetings.”

Pamela Tull, an integrative supply team chief supervisor with DLA Troop Support confirmed the work schedule was “very rigorous.”

She said whether she was interacting with groups discussing case studies or preparing for projects, it was a constant grind. “It was no cake walk, for sure — you really were engaged 100 percent of the time.”

Industry empathy

Tull said working in a government agency like DLA can resemble a silo type of environment when compared with private industry.

“We really need to broaden our understanding of the business structure or models of our partners and make better decisions in who we partner with and why we partner with them,” she said. “We need to have a holistic approach [and] work more collectively with these vendors who support our industry.”

Tull said getting views on how industry’s business processes might differ from the government’s practices was very helpful.

“When a vendor submits a quote, we’re making an assumption that they’re [trying to] undercut another vendor, and it may not necessarily mean that,” she said. “It’s their strategy because they haven’t done business with the government and that’s a means to get in.”

Camper echoed Tull’s perspective.

“When we start seeing proposals from the companies we’re dealing with, we’ll have insight into their financial stability, which then gives us insight into whether they can perform [the work required] in the contract,” she said. “It helps us understand how contractors may be crafting their proposals.”

Wit and wisdom

The course brought together Darden Business School faculty and guest speakers who greatly impressed students.

Camper spoke about speaker Jared Harris, who co-wrote The Strategist’s Toolkit, a book all students received.

“He was a lot of fun — it wasn’t presentation-based, it was more examining the concepts in his book, in terms of forming a strategy,” she said. Concepts in the book dealt with acquisition analysis and risk analysis, both of which Camper said are particularly helpful for her job.

Guest speaker and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness David Berteau inspired Tull.

“He said we have an opportunity to create value; that we have an obligation to distribute and share,” she said. “It’s about community; looking at relationships and building them — we have so much capability and that value we create is not just ours to keep for ourselves, we have to pay it forward.”

“I thought that was profound — something we need to take a peek at.”

Group exercises

Camper noted that instructors participated in practical exercises. Role-playing as vendors, students realized the myriad factors that go into pricing structures.

“The course gave us that insight into what industry is thinking about — or what elements they’re considering when they’re costing their proposals,” Camper said. “It’s not easy — that was a reality check.”

Other exercises involved students negotiating as a group of individuals with conflicting objectives.

“Each of us had our own agenda in terms of what we were trying to achieve in that negotiation,” Camper said. “They made it into a game, too – that’s why it was fun. For every objective you achieved, you got points.”

Students were required to discuss reading assignments and case studies in groups whose members often changed.

“It was definitely a team effort. We had … to collaborate on and come up with a definitive type of solution or a strategy on how we resolved it,” Tull said. “You could see how it was useful to have a diversified group of people because they had perspectives that made you look at things differently as opposed to just the way you see it in your own supply chain.”

Camper agreed with Tull’s assessment.

“The best part out of the case studies is the group work, because that’s when you really see DLA’s expertise,” she said. “Based on their experience and their own knowledge and training that they’ve had — we’re all able to bring our expertise into the conversation.”

Abrams said the reading assignments were necessary to prepare for informed discussions with fellow classmates.

“The culminating project [uses] all those days of case studies, discussion and analysis that has taken place in a group setting, where we’re learning from each other to build something at the end,” he said.

Lessons learned

“It’s a challenging course … it requires you to contribute to the group work because it’s a conversation — it’s a discussion about the case studies,” Camper said. “If you’re not the type of person who’s willing to participate, it doesn’t do any good for anyone.”

Mitchell said the course material was presented in a way to make government employees think outside the box.

“I know it opened up my eyes and I didn’t hear anyone who gave any type of feedback other than it was really a great course and there were a lot of benefits to it,” he said. “I’ve already told a few people I work with that when it comes around again that they should try and get into it.”

A key takeaway for Abrams was the “decision tree,” a support tool that uses a tree-like model of decisions and their possible consequences.

“In the decision tree, you consider the options [and] potential outcomes,” he said. “You’d be hard pressed to find an absolute perfect decision. You’re going to find a solution that’s best among several others.”

Exploring various outcomes leads to deeper analysis and pursuing the most desirable option, he said. 

Although Abrams has recommend the course to colleagues, he cautions that DLA will only send someone they believe can give them a return on investment.

As Beebe puts it, “This needs to be a quality program. The first thing I did when I attended the closing of the UVA program was congratulate all of them for being selected,” he said.

Regarding potential candidates he noted, “This isn’t just who wants to go, this is somebody who’s viewed to be appropriate from whatever their role is, but also … that they are of the mindset of the talent that we want to cultivate.”

Future opportunities

DLA Acquisition is building on the success of its university programs – with UVA and with the University of North Carolina, to expand into two other pilot programs.

One program, sponsored by DoD’s Human Capital Initiatives, will be a one-for-one talent exchange between the Department of Defense and Industry. “Then there’s our own internal rotation program, where we’re sending folks out to industry,” Beebe said. “Each of those is 6 months.”

Beebe expects to send six individuals out from DLA’s acquisition workforce to industry for the internal program.

“[The military] services have been sending people out to industry for years; we should be doing that too,” he said. “It takes a little time to set up because you have to have an arrangement with these companies, and we’re working off of the arrangements that the services already have rather than crafting our own.” 

Betty Hoapili, chief of acquisition workforce development said her industry initiatives program manager, Bethanie Healey, has been working hard on all these industry focused programs.

“It’s Beth’s initiative and dogged determination that moved these programs forward,” Hoapili said. “We asked the MSCs and J Codes who they’d like us to contact … Beth originally went out to 23 companies.”

The response is overwhelmingly positive, she said.

“As of now, one Troop Support employee is heading to Deloitte in January and about a dozen more companies want to get involved,” Hoapili said.

The other half of the equation is receiving people into DLA from industry.

“We deal with acquisition-sensitive information, so it’s a little more complicated,” Beebe said.  “Fortunately, [Human Capital Initiatives] is piloting the first real exchange for the department.”

Although the programs are currently focused on the acquisition workforce, Beebe said participants need not be restricted to contracting professionals. 

“Our Acquisition workforce is much bigger than contracting,” he said. “There can also be people who are not part of the acquisition workforce who do other things within DLA that could very much benefit from an exchange with industry in some way – an accounting professional, or human resources professional [for example].”

Finding more ways to engage with industry means a more in-depth dialog which Beebe hopes will result in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

“That is what these multiple efforts are trying to achieve,” he said.

Over the next couple of months, calls will go out to DLA leaders across the enterprise to nominate individuals throughout the enterprise for these programs.