Program Management --"an Art, not a Science," says AFMC commander

Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander, Air Force Materiel Command, delivers the
keynote speech to acquisition professionals during day-two of the 2015 Acquisition
Insight Focus Days June 24.  During her presentation, she discussed how acquisition program management is "more of an art than a science."   (Air Force photo by Wesley Farnsworth/Released)

Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander, Air Force Materiel Command, delivers the keynote speech to acquisition professionals during day-two of the 2015 Acquisition Insight Focus Days June 24. During her presentation, she discussed how acquisition program management is "more of an art than a science." (Air Force photo by Wesley Farnsworth/Released)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, Air Force Materiel Command commander, was a keynote speaker at the 2015 Acquisition Insight Focus Days at the Air Force Institute of Technology's Kenney Hall here June 24, 2015.

Organized by the Defense Acquisition University and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, the event brought nearly 1,000 acquisition professionals to AFIT and was broadcasted via live video to 10 other bases.

The event's theme was "Delivering Affordable Warfighting Capabilities."

Pawlikowski focused on program management, including philosophies program managers should embrace as well as ways to improve in the short-term.

"As program managers, you've got to be the expert with the holistic view," the general said.

She compared managing a program to conducting an orchestra, saying program managers need to understand how all the various sections fit into the larger program. She also said managers need to understand the timing of when those sections come into play.

"Schedule is everything," Pawlikowski said. "While you can't sacrifice quality and performance for expediency, if you take too long it becomes too expensive or then, irrelevant."

Despite the importance of precise timing, the general emphasized the need for flexibility and risk management.

"Requirements are going to change, so get over it," she said. "Your number one responsibility as a program manager is to remain flexible. ... Unless you have a very short program, just know that things are going to change.

"Much of our business is managing those changes and managing risk," she continued. "Spending money is not risk management; spending money right is risk management."

Pawlikowski concluded by sharing her appreciation for the complexity of program management.

"Very few people understand our business, so don't expect them to," the general said. "Program management is an art, not a science. You have to pick up some battle scars along the way, but I tell you -- it's a fascinating job."

The Acquisition Insight Focus Days event provides a one-stop opportunity for acquisition professionals to hear from senior leaders on the latest defense acquisition, technology and logistics issues. The event also features training sessions covering current interest topics in defense acquisition and technology requirements.

DAU provides a global learning environment to develop qualified acquisition, requirements and contingency professionals who deliver and sustain effective and affordable warfighting capabilities.