Donald Kenney (
Last Update: Tue Dec 6 19:45:30 2022

NOTE: Unpublished. I don't recall exactly when this was written. The late 1970s I think. Had it been written later, it'd probably have a female narrator and a male gopher/secretary. And my file copy would be a computer printout, not badly hand typed.

I don't think I ever tried to sell this, and frankly, I don't much like it. But it's in the file and perhaps others will like it more than I.

Creative Commons license. Do with it what you will.

"Come in Mr Lewis.

"No, you don't have to stand at attention. Sit down -- anywhere.

"We know you're nervous. I realize that this is an important interview for you. Believe me, it's just as important to us. We're taking it seriously. Relax. Cigarette? Coffee?

"Janie, would you get us two cups of black coffee and ... uh? ... and a cup of tea with sugar?

"Mr Lewis -- May I call you Bill? Bill, I'm sure that you have a pretty good idea what this interview is about. You've had to take a lot of tests these past two weeks --- tests other people here haven't been taking. I'm sure that you, and a lot of other people here, realize that something unusual is going on. And I'm sure that the grapevine is incredibly effective. But I'm also sure that the grapevine distorts things. Let me explain the situation to you.

"As you're probably aware, the way that the military does business has changed dramatically in the past 60 years -- since 1940, say. We've been spending more and more money on developing hardware and less and less on men and materials. If you're curious, you can look at the Bureau of Budget reports __ I'd encourage you to do so. You'll find that we're spending four times as much on weapons system development nowadays as on all other military expenses taken together."

"You probably also know that these development projects often don't go well. Oh, there have been some remarkable successes -- the atomic bomb program in World War II, the nuclear submarine program, the Nicholson force screen, a few others. You're probably aware of the failures -- projects that overrun 500% on cost, come in years late, and never meet specifications even the specs have been downgraded. The projects we spend millions or billions on and eventually just write off. What you're probably not aware of is the number of failures. We don't go out of our way to advertise it.

"And it's getting worse. Back in the '40s, most projects were successes. By the '70s, half of them were wash outs. Today, very few of them are successful and our criteria for success are pretty loose. We don't care about cost. We don't care about schedule. All we want is hardware we can use. We rarely get it. Fortunately, the other major military powers have pretty much the same problems."

"Two years ago, the President organized a task force to look into the situation. It wasn't the first task force to do that, and it may not be the last. But it did seem to work out better than most."

"The task force concluded that we really don't have a good approach to solving complex problems -- problems that are too big for one man to solve. Generally we just stand back and throw money at them in hopes that something good will happen. They cited a lot of problems. Our procurement system is a disaster. We don't have effective incentives for holding to costs and schedules. The government doesn't solve problems in-house very well and we put private contractors in an impossible position. If they underbid, we can't bail them out without Congress landing on us. and they can't make a profit to offset their losses without Congress landing on us and them for robbing the people. But other countries with different economic systems don't do any better than we do. Most of them don't do as well."

"So, they tried analyzing the few projects that did work out. And they found something. It looks like successful projects invariably have a tough-minded, clear thinking, and thoroughly dedicated man at the top. Maybe he's a driver like Rickover. Maybe he's a persuader like Nagura, but he's always there."

"But most of the projects that failed weren't run by weak-minded, vacillating fools. The key, they decided was dedication. Find a brilliant, dedicated man and put him in charge, they said, and you'll be well on your way to success."

"So, they looked into the question of dedication, and the concluded that there wasn't all that much that could be done, Psychological testing has limitations as a selection technique, and, besides, the real problem seems to be a lack of dedicated people, not a failure to put them in charge. They looked into normal incentives -- power, responsibility, money -- and they concluded that none of them would motivate the men we need -- at least not the right way. You can't buy the sort of dedication we need."

"Things looked pretty grim, then someone came up with an idea. You only need a few key dedicated people to put together a project management team. Maybe you can't buy the necessary dedication, but there are other ways of motivating people . . ."

"That's where we come in. We, Tom and I, are part of project Niagara. Project Niagara is going to produce a rocket powered interceptor. One that will operate in the atmosphere or in near space. But, more important, it's an experiment in motivation. The people down in Washington think they have found a workable incentive."

"That's where you come in. We've looked at your records, and they couldn't be better. Your background is superb. I suppose you know that. The psychological test results are fine -- for what that's worth. We'd like to ask you to join the Niagara management team."

"I don't pretend that it will be fun. It'll be four years of grueling, unending, 12 or 14 hour a day, 7 day a week, work. You'll have to deal with charlatans; fools; incompetents; bright people working at cross purpose; and the general sloth of a bureaucracy. You'll be frustrated, exasperated, and driven harder than you've ever been driven in your life. If you don't succeed, If you don't meet schedule, or cost, or if your subsystem doesn't meet specs, there's no reward."

"No, don't say anything now. We'd like you to take a while to think it over. Be sure that whatever you decide is a firm commitment. We'll contact you Wednesday to get your answer."

"Yes, it's been a pleasure meeting you also. Would you be so good as to ask Janie to come in on your way out?"

"Janie, please set up a conference call with Wysonski in Chicago and dig out the Niagara Oboe file. Some more coffee please, and let me know in plenty of time to catch the shuttle to Boston? Thanks, I don't know what we'd do without you."

"what was that Tom? Yes, I think Lewis will join up