Computer Systems Engineering

Okon, Walt, Computer Engineering - Insight Report on Research Project,, 02 April 2005

Executive Leadership Development Program








George Washington University

Insight Report on Research Project

March 2005


Dr. Kai Moe

Director of Projects and Training

George Washington University, CED or



Walt Okon

7699 Middle Valley Drive                                

Springfield, Virginia 22153

Mr. Walter Okon


Defense Information Systems Agency

Tel (703) 882-1220




TITLE:       Insight Report;

To reflect upon lessons learned from your Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP) action research project and report insights to the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and George Washington University (GWU).  <>


The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) provided the unique opportunity to learn and develop your individual core career skills.  The Career employee is provided information and encouragement on how they can have a full professional career in the Defense Information Systems Agency organization. 

The DISA personnel office has a mature professional team of human resource managers that have designed and developed organizational processes and education programs that are innovative and comprehensive.  Career education information is made available through multi distribution methods.  The human resource management systems are using the latest technology including on-line Web Sites that provide, e-learning, mentor management, Individual Development Program (IDP) management, and on-line course all designed to made education and development easy, efficient, affordable, and available 24 hours a day; seven days a week. 

Unique Opportunity:

Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP) at George Washington University itself provided a unique opportunity to do expansive research in two core skills (Leadership and Technology) at the same time. 

Core skill; Team Leadership

The first core skill is Team leadership.  Team leadership is the knowledge of team synergy and how to achieve the best out put of team power.  It is widely accepted that teaming can and does has great benefit.  In order to achieve this benefit, the team needs to be lead and focused. The DISA ELDP at George Washington University provided a unique opportunity.  Our team # 11 was composed of four senior GS-15 doing research on a real and complex problem of Department of Defense IT Architecture.  This research effort is rooted in technology and at the same time policy and politics which made the research effort even more difficult.  On top of this base, the team composition consisted of a Senior Architecture Engineer, Senior Computer Network Engineer, Senior Standards Engineer and a Senior Systems Engineer.  This combination of expertise and their leadership styles made for interesting and dynamic team.  Part of the team wanted to focus on research and the other part of the team was solution focused.  This created an interesting problem in itself.  The researched focused member wanted to interview the top Architecture experts in the country in Defense and federal government, industry, and academia.  Once the team started the research process via interviews, it became a focus and the progress of the effort was impeded by the fun and intellectual stimulation in this mode of research.  It was discovered that the top leaders in all disciplines open their doors to us.  The team members who had disciplines in system think were hooked and wanted to continue this process for ever.  The analytical hard work of library and article research was poorly done to the detriment of the effort. 

Core skill; Technology

The second core skill is Technology.  Team technology is the knowledge of technology of, architecture, networking, computers, communications, and systems engineering.  It is systems engineering which is the glue that holds them all together.  Team # 11 had an extortionate amount of technology experience and technical accomplishments.  One member was a PhD, another held three masters, and other others had at least one masters of science degrees.  All were highly successful in this individual career.  It is interesting to note that all were involved in their primary jobs with or affected by the research topic.  All team members were highly motivated and excited about working with colleagues that were truly experts in their own field.  Team #11 took the time to “Storm and Norm” getting full agreement on the research topic.  In the planning stage, there was agreement in the general course of action and the schedule.  Also, there was agreement that the subject of our research was important and significant.  In my opinion, we never did get a SES Sponsor that really believed we could or would produce an improved architecture solution that would be adopted by the DISA or the Department of Defense.  I am sure the other team members do not hold the same opinion.

Because I am responsible for Architecture for the Net-Centric Enterprise Services for the Department of Defense was and am in a position to get the latest information on architecture.  This was helpful.  What was needed and did not happen, was to have an objective team member do comparative analysis.  A junior member was added to the team and given some tasking towards this research.  It was never done. There was no consequence to the failure to do analytical comparative analysis.  This was a team failure.  In turn, this permitted the team to focus on expert interviews as the only real research that was being accomplished.   Again, the team went down the fun path of engaging high profile experts in hours of discussion to little pragmatic results.   

Team Synergy and Team Power

As a result, team synergy and team power were not fully achieved because the research plan was not well established and agreed to by the team.  Not all team members were able to fully participate in accordance with the plan that the team did establish.   This was because of normal work demands.  Although the Agency was and is committed to the program, supervisors of the team members still expected their employee to fully accomplish their primary work.  In many cases, the team members were working 10 to 12 hour days in their normal jobs.  The impact on the project was an inability to devote quality premium time to the research effort.  I was forced to miss project Team meetings and to miss some of the expert interview sessions.

George Washington University Program

The George Washington University program staff did an excellent job of identifying the process to be used in organizing the research teams.  They had a defined process on explaining the formation of the teams and what the teams should do.  Their process of checking and guiding the teams through call in audio meeting was good because it reminded the teams to focus.   What was not done was to do an on site visit to the team meeting location.  This on site visit may have provided an insight into the internal problems and challenges of the teams.  Certainly, it would have in our situation.  However, the George Washington University program should not be expected to do that kind of project team review.  This is really a DISA responsibility.  DISA should have an ELDP external team oversight reviewer that would provide guidance and analysis of the team as it progresses through its research analysis and organization of there project.  The ELDP external team oversight reviewer would provide guidance, direction, and a performance report/grade of the individual and the team as a whole.  This report/grade of the individual would be a requirement for that individual to graduate. 

Sponsor Future ELDP Research Team

As a Sponsor for an ELDP research team, I would take my oversight reviewer role very seriously.  I believe it is essential to provide guidance and direction.  I would attend several of their team meetings as an observer only it see, listen and understand the roles, efforts, thinking, and direction of the individual team members.  Performance report/grade of each individual on the team would be a serious responsibility on my part.  Again, this is a process where future leadership at the SES level for our Agency will come.  The advice and guidance that I would provide would be based on the foundation of professions leadership qualities that are a must for our Agency to our mission in a professional way.

DISA Program

Because there was no ELDP external team oversight reviewer, team #11 struggled along without a definitive responsible leader.  Team #11 used the shared leadership concept which was not effective in this specific project.  Pressures of primary work at DISA, lack of time, lack of perceived value added made to the priority of this effort less than other work effort.  No tangible benefits to accomplish of the project or the program have been evident so far from DISA leadership.  The lack of perceived value did not help to keep the team motivated over the long term of the project.  Team members were forced by the pragmatic realities of their job and their professional credibility to always defer to the value system of their DISA supervisors and how their supervisors are and would evaluate them.  In the past three years, I have never heard of any DISA supervisor or SES speaks of the value of the ELDP outside of an ELDP event.

The DISA ELDP program itself is still very young as a long term educational leadership program by design.  It has never been made clear whether this program is an educational program or a leadership program from which DISA SES would be selected.  This is a major distinction for career leaders. It still remains to be seen if DISA really values the ELDP program.  In order for the Agency to value the member of the ELDP program, the credibility along with technical and professional education and background of those selected must be exceptional.  The program should only be open to GS-14s and GS-15s.  The GS-13s should be in the Future Leader Program.  The minimum requirement for entry should be nothing less than a Master’s Degree.  Basic foundations are important and the creditability of our Agency depends upon it.


1.  The DISA ELDP program must implement tangible benefits to the graduates:

            a. ELDP graduates should be invited to and honored at the DISA Annual Award dinner.

            b. ELDP graduates should be given a Quality Service Increase (QSI) the year they graduate.  <>
            c. ELDP graduates should be given a slot at the OPM FEI course if they have not already completed it if they are GS-15.  <>
            d. ELDP graduates should be giver the first consideration for nomination to one of the National Defense University programs.  <>
2.  Each ELDP research team should have an oversight reviewer that would provide guidance and analysis of the team as it progresses through its research analysis and organization of their project

3.  Supervisors of ELDP member should have a meeting with the Director of MPS once a year to ensure that supervisors are provided with the importance, status and foundation of the program so they are able to benefit back at the office.

4.  Change the eligibility for entry into the program to GS-14s and GS-15s only. 

5.  Change the minimum requirement for entry into ELDP to a Master’s Degree. 

SUMMARY: This paper has reflected reflect upon lessons learned from my Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP) action research project as assigned by the George Washington University (GWU) leadership development program.  It provides insights to the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) program and George Washington University (GWU) development research project.  Insights and recommendations are provided for the purpose of improving the professionalism of our Agency.

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