How the Marine Corps Matched Spending to Performance

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Managers for the Marine Corps Headquarters Command, Control, Communication and Computers (C4) office weren't sure they were getting the most out of the money they were spending on contractors. The group, which oversees IT for the Marine Corps, needed a performance measurement system, recounts Col. Ronald Zich. In 2006, C4 adopted Earned Value Management (EVM), a project management methodology that maps spending to performance.

A lack of visibility into tasks and projects left C4 leaders wondering how their money was being spent. Action officers—those in charge of projects—weren't always able to see how their projects fit into the bigger picture. And they didn't always have detailed performance data for these projects, which include IT policies and strategic planning documents. "It was a level of effort environment where we weren't held to anything firm. It was more like whatever came down was the priority at the moment," says Alan Lemburg, the EVM project leader.

[ To read more on this topic, see How an Earned Valued Management System Helped the Marine Corps Save ]

The team chose EVM after conducting research along with its primary vendor, Booz Allen Hamilton. Before EVM, an action officer would assign work to a contractor without knowing if he was the best person for the job or what the outcome would be, says Lemburg. Now the action officer defines the time, work, staff and products needed up front, so the entire team can be sure the project is needed and the end results will be of the best quality. Planning ahead in an objective way allows C4 to ensure each project makes the best use of funds and that it fits into the overall strategy. "Every year we look at what work we need done that is going to fit into our longer-range strategies," says Zich, the executive assistant to the C4 commander.

A year after implementing EVM, Zich and his team measured the improvements. Before, contractors were dedicated to specific projects only 30 percent of the time; otherwise, they were often pulled from assigned tasks to other projects in an ad hoc way. By 2007, dedicated project assignments rose to 63 percent and then to 92 percent currently.

Project time lines have decreased from several months to less than one month, which means contractors are available to work on more projects, Zich says. And with detailed accounts of the work performed, its cost and timeliness, action officers can easily shift resources when needed.

When changing the workflow of an entire organization, the main challenge becomes getting everyone used to the change, says Lemburg. For action offers that were used to making daily assignments, "convincing [them] that their work needed to be measured to prove that the money being spent is resulting in a product was difficult," he says.

Never Stop Improving

Even though the project has been fully rolled out, the team still makes adjustments to better use the EVM system, says Col. Ronald Zich. They are working on defining the best ratio of planned to ad hoc assignments, taking into account flexibility to respond to unforeseen needs. Organizations typically target a rate of 85 percent for dedicated assignments, compared to C4's 92 percent.

All or Nothing

An EVM initiative must be led from the top down or it won't succeed, says Zich. At C4, all the division leaders, high ranking officers and executive leaders could see the benefits EVM would bring and jumped on board, so the implementation went well. "If you have resistance from any of your leaders, it just doesn't work," he says.

This story, "How the Marine Corps Matched Spending to Performance" was originally published by CIO.

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