DLA directors use management theory to write strategic plans, find efficiency

By Colin J. Williams, DLA Historian

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Management theories may not be the first things that come to mind when thinking about DLA; nonetheless, they determined what the agency did and didn’t do for 15 years. From 1986 to 2001, five directors used three theories to synchronize policy, prioritize spending and refine organizational structure. Working management theory into their strategic plans helped the agency save money, improve readiness and accelerate supply transactions.

The first management theory adopted by DLA was Management by Objectives. Derived from Peter F. Drucker’s classic 1952 book “The Practice of Management,” Management by Objectives moved companies away from concentrated pushes to introduce technology, undergo restructuring or change business models. Instead, Management by Objectives focused the workforce on the fundamental purpose of a corporation, usually profit. Army Lt. Gen. Donald M. Babers, the agency’s eighth director, used it to structure the agency’s first strategic plan. Army Lt. Gen. Vincent M. Russo, Babers’s successor, used also it to incorporate changes to the agency’s business model resulting from the Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles P. McCausland, the agency’s 10th director, moved DLA toward Total Quality Management in his 1988 strategic plan. Coined by W. Edwards Deming, Total Quality Management included inspections, personal responsibility and seven management tools for project planning. It also focused employees on continuous process improvement, a practice thought then to be driving Japanese manufacturing success. While Total Quality Management faded in prominence when Japan’s economy stagnated in the 1990s, continuous process improvement methods are still used today.

Navy Vice Adm. Edward M. Straw, the agency’s 11th director, employed Total Quality Management beyond his strategic plan. Straw thought his headquarters inefficient, with too many units reporting to him, staffs confined to silos, and commands pursuing vague and sometimes contradictory goals. He used both Total Quality Management and the mandate for strategic plans in the 1993 Government Procurement and Results Act to consolidate reporting structures and develop concrete goals.

Army Lt. Gen. Henry T. Glisson, the agency’s 13th director, introduced a new management theory to DLA. Announced in the agency’s 1998 strategic plan, the Balanced Scorecard was devised by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton to help companies translate financial focus into long-term strategy. It started as a way to correlate four factors – objectives, measures, targets and initiatives – in four fields: financial, customers, internal, and innovation and learning. Glisson used the Balanced Scorecard, which became a popular tool for regulating operations, to change which items supply centers managed and how DLA Headquarters was structured. DLA’s current organizational structure is largely a result of Balanced Scorecard analysis.

Directors haven’t looked to management theory much in the past two decades. No director since Vice Adm. Keith W. Lippert, the agency’s 14th director, has organized a strategic plan around a theory. One reason may be that no modern-day theory encapsulates the agency’s mission as well as Management by Objectives, Total Quality Management and the Balanced Scorecard. Directors in the middle third of DLA history pursued these theories because they thought they would help the agency find efficiency and adjust to change. They were right.