AF win propels Robbins-Gioia's program management push

Robbins-Gioia Inc. specialists in program management last month captured a $220 million contract from the Air Force Materiel Command to support Defense Department efforts to manage large-system acquisition development and maintenance projects.

Under the Program Management Support System Support Services program incumbent contractor Robbins-Gioia Alexandria Va. will continue to focus on bringing order to such complex DOD projects as depot maintenance logistics support and systems development.

Organizations supported by this contract include the Air Force Materiel Command Headquarters the five Air Logistics Centers the Joint Logistics Systems Center DOD depots and the Defense Information Services Agency.

Robbins-Gioia has been under contract in this program for 13 years. But during that span the program - along with market demand - has grown extensively. The $220 million contract which runs for one base year and four option years has a ceiling that is double what Robbins-Gioia earned under the previous contract.

The success of this program appears to justify Robbins-Gioia's decade-long campaign promoting the importance of program management. Program management may be hard to define company executives will say but its absence is easy to detect.

"Hardly ever does an IT program fail because of the technology what happens is they are not managed properly " said Tony Baggiano president of Robbins-Gioia.

Since its founding 10 years ago the company has worked on a broad range of programs primarily for federal agencies but also for large government contractors and private corporations. The company surpassed $50 million in revenue in 1996 and aims to reach $100 million by 2000.

Robbins-Gioia's portfolio includes the development of a logistics management system for the Air Force and a delivery order management program for systems integrator Electronic Data Systems Corp. for use on a number of DOD contracts. The company also has managed major organizational changes such as the restructuring of the Agriculture Department and the merging of AT&T and NCR.

Throughout this diverse group of projects Robbins-Gioia has remained tightly focused on its concept of program management.

Program management might also be described as risk management. Whatever the environment customers generally bring in Robbins-Gioia to instill management discipline and processes on a project where that project might otherwise fail.

"In most cases we have to implement processes from scratch " Baggiano said. "They are managing things by the seat of their pants or on the back of an envelope."

In some cases the task requires teaching the customer some basic program management principles and life-cycle management techniques. In others it means developing automated management systems. Typically the work involves dedicating a number of employees to work side by side with that customer for several years until the given project is complete or stable and out of danger.

The Air Force's Warner Robbins Air Logistics Center has employed Robbins-Gioia's services for three years to improve the processes used to maintain the C-130 aircraft. During that time Robbins-Gioia has helped the organization collect data on inventory maintenance scheduling and other "indicator data on the health of the fleet " said Lt. Col. Ken Peters chief of the Readiness Division in the C-130 system program office.

While the center had been collecting data "we did a much poorer job and were unable to collate the data " Peters said. With the new processes Robbins-Gioia has brought to the program the center has been able to anticipate and head off potential supply problems. "At the same time we are facing both downsizing and other constraints [yet] we have been able to keep our head above water by looking to [Robbins-Gioia] " Peters said.

Robbins-Gioia employs about 450 people most of them engineers with an average of 10 years of program management experience. Along with its people Robbins-Gioia also provides automated management tools and basic processes it will teach its customers. People processes and tools - what Robbins-Gioia calls its triad - play a role in every project.

The company's biggest challenge is explaining to potential customers what exactly is meant by program management. The company does not always succeed at this task. For example in 1996 Robbins-Gioia unsuccessfully bid as a prime on a major systems development program the Air Force Global Command and Control System program and unsuccessfully protested the award to Lockheed Martin Corp.

Federal market consultant Robert J. Guerra of Guerra and Associates said awareness of program management is similar to what a Supreme Court justice once said about obscenity: "I don't know what it is but I know it when I see it." Guerra has recommended Robbins-Gioia to a number of government contractors.

Essentially Robbins-Gioia complements an organization's core competencies with essential management skills. Some potential customers resist believing program management is one of their core competencies Guerra said. "It is not very well understood and it is difficult to explain. You don't understand the importance of quality management until threatened with a cure letter. Then it's almost too late."

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