Problems cross boundaries and so must solutions.
The most important challenge for performance networks that
aim to deliver better results is designing the structure that
coordinates across traditional agency boundaries. Not only must
this structure be clearly defined, but it also must account for the
integration of a broad range of cross-government activities.
Specifically, the multi-agency structure must do the following:
Align shared vision, purpose, concepts,
principles, goals, and resources across partner agencies and
with external stakeholders.
Integrate planning on multiple levels.
Sort hugely complex problems into problem-solving
chunks and develop solution sets to solve these problems.
Build cross boundary teams accountable for
Coordinate and communicate from cradle to grave,
that is, from concept development to implementation and
Leverage lessons learned and best
Build a visible system for tracking
Schedule cross-boundary teams to report progress
to multiagency leadership.
Encourage the network to adapt to changing
Allow for expanding the network to include
Like the overarching performance network, the cross-boundary
structure has the characteristics of a dynamic system, including
flexibility, adaptability, growth, and the continual emergence of
new forms and functions.
Structure describes how different agencies and organizations can
work together and coordinate activities to achieve shared goals.
The cross-boundary structure needs to coordinate solutions for a
complex set of problems, so the structure itself must be clearly
defined. The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is
an example of a clearly defined structure that enables multiple
departments, agencies, organizations, industries, and
public-private partnerships to coordinate activities at many levels
of detail so our national airspace system can accommodate new
technologies, increase airspace capacity, improve the passenger
experience, and decrease aviations environmental impact while
safely and securely delivering air navigation services. If a
structure that delivers such a complex set of products and services
can be defined, then it seems reasonable that any social problem,
no matter how daunting, can be addressed.
Summer 2000 featured perfect conditions for gridlock in the sky.
Flying had become an increasingly popular way to travel, and the
airlines had marketed aggressively to vacationing families and
business travelers. Airports were already crowded when unusual and
frequent patterns of bad weather hit aviation especially hard.
Delays and canceled flights became almost daily events. The public
complained loudly, congressional hearings were scheduled, and the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was about to experience
unfriendly fire from an aroused media.
As summer flying season drew to a close, Monte Belger, FAA acting
deputy administrator, convened meetings of executives from across
the agency, including air traffic, system operations,
certification, and systems engineering. They focused on how to
increase airspace capacity so more planes could fly on time. The
agency executives divided the complex set of capacity and
congestion problems into four areas: arrivals and departures, en
route congestion, en route severe weather, and airport weather. By
late February 2001, the group had named its project the Operational
Evolution Plan (OEP). The OEP executive team had already started
talking to stakeholders about flight delays, cancellations,
airspace capacity, and congestion.
Its not that capacity had been ignored. Like eliminating hunger or
defining a comprehensive energy policy, this issue engendered
frequent discussion for many years on what should be done. This
time was differentthe OEP executives drafted a comprehensive plan
that would serve as a stake in the ground for the entire aviation
community. The plan would include input from the airlines,
airports, manufacturers, general cargo carriers, general aviation,
and associations representing pilots, business aircraft, and the
flying public. The Department of Defense, NASA, and union
representatives were added to the executive team.
Eight Structural Elements
The OEP was the FAAs ten-year plan for building capacity to keep
pace with the increasing public demand for air transportation. The
eight structural elements that helped the OEP succeed have carried
forward as examples of what works:
The intent was not a perfect, inflexible plan, but a ten-year,
rolling plan, with each year moving the plan and commitments
forward one year.
An updated version was released annually.
The commitments made in the OEP genuinely represented the decisions
and timelines of the FAA and the consensus of the aviation
community. With visible executive-level support, the OEP became a
trusted document. The aviation community participated in
twice-yearly industry days to receive briefings and provide input
to current initiatives.
The four problem areas were divided into specific solution sets
(such as build more runways, reconfigure airspace, and improve
weather forecasting tools). Solution sets were added, modified, or
completed and removed over time.
For each solution set, the OEP executive team assigned a senior FAA
manager as the single, accountable point of delivery to build a
cross-agency team that would deliver the solution set. These
cross-boundary team leaders are now called solution set leaders.
Solution sets included clear goals, specific products, a summary of
key activities, decision trees, risk assessments, cost benefit
analyses, and clear timelines. This comprehensive information was
posted on a public Web site so aviation stakeholders could read and
understand FAA commitments over a ten-year horizon and then manage
their industries and interests accordingly.
Solution set leaders reported back progress to the OEP executive
team regularly (the ultimate in face-to-face accountability, where
project leaders present and defend their teams progress to the very
top agency leadership).
Clear metrics tracked the success of the solution sets.
Clearing U.S. Airspace
On September 11, 2001, Monte Belger approved the command center
order to clear the entire U.S. airspace of arriving, departing, and
en route airplanes. In his congressional testimony, he stated the
"The order from the Command Center to immediately land all aircraft
was transmitted at 9:45 a.m. By 12:16 p.m., less than four hours
after the first attack, and less than three hours after the order
was given, U.S. airspace was empty of all aircraft except military
and essential emergency traffic. A total of 4,546 aircraft were
safely landed under unprecendented stressful conditions and all
international inbound flights were diverted from U.S. airspace."
On that day and during the days that followed, the channels of
communication and coordination across the aviation community were
more open and focused than ever before. Most FAA executives were
reassigned to urgent security tasks, so the OEP support staff
published the technically detailed December 2001 update. More than
a year passed before the OEP executive team met again. When
restarted, the OEP took up where it had left off. The factors that
contributed to early accomplishments laid the foundation for the
The legacy of the original OEP was in large part the eight
structural elements of the overarching effort: rolling plan, annual
updates, genuine commitments, problem chunks addressed by solution
sets, accountable team leaders, comprehensive and transparent
information, regular report-backs, and relevant performance
Perhaps the most important characteristic of the OEP structure was
its adaptability. As needed, it changed to meet new demands and
technologiesfor example, adapting to new security procedures and
unexpected economic constraints and gradually including promising
research and emerging technologies. By 2006, the four OEP chunks
had been reorganized and an outer ring added for safety and policy
In summer 2008, the OEP was greatly expanded to focus on monitoring
all FAA commitments to the legislatively mandated, multi-agency
NextGen, which was intended to coordinate and deliver new
technologies, policies, procedures, training, and outcomes for
future air transportation and air traffic control.
NextGen is about as complex a transformation as can be imagined. In
December 2003, Congress passed legislation that required the
Departments of Transportation, Defense, Commerce, and Homeland
Security, along with the FAA, NASA, and the White House Office of
Science and Technology Policy, to develop the NextGen vision and an
overarching enterprise architecture for reaching that vision. This
cross-government effort includes new technologies, procedures,
policies, budgets, and cross-government structures, where multiple
agencies have specific roles and responsibilities.
Today, the characteristics of the original OEP structure remain as
the foundation of the NextGen structure:
NextGen divides issues into problem domains
and specific solution sets.
Short-, mid-, and long-term plans serve as a
rolling road map.
Results are published and posted annually.
Commitments genuinely represent decisions
Commitments also reflect the consensus of
the aviation community.
The executive team assigns senior managers to
act as solution set leaders.
Solution sets have clear goals, specific
products, and well-defined milestones. Transparency is
importantall this information is posted on a public Web site.
Solution set leaders regularly report back to
Next-Gen executives; feedback is continuous.
Lessons on cross-government coordination and the realities of
complex transformation have been brought forward into a more
differentiated structure. The structural characteristics of this
performance network must now clearly accommodate both the external,
multi-agency and internal, agency-wide management structures.
Figure 1 shows the external NextGen structure. The senior policy
committee, representing the seven partner agencies and offices,
provides overall guidance and can solve cross-government conflicts.
The multiagency working groups, with government and industry
cochairs, focus on technical integration and represent the aviation
Figure 2 shows the NextGen structure internal to the FAA. The FAAs
senior vice president for NextGen and operations planning is
responsible for delivering the FAAs commitments to the multi-agency
plan. The FAA can be considered the lead agency for NextGen. The
NextGen management board, which replaced the OEP executive team and
is still chaired by the FAA deputy administrator, looks across the
agency with the authority to force timely resolution of emerging
NextGen implementation issues.
The structure of the NextGen performance network combines the
multi-agency, cross-boundary external organization and the FAAs
internal, multi-office organization to deliver programs, products,
and services. The NextGen Web site, www.faa.gov/nextgen, details
the programs, timetable, and road maps.
Observations on Structure
Structure describes a framework that different agencies may adopt
to coordinate activities and timelines in the service of
cross-boundary goals and initiatives. The structure reflects a
rolling plan, annual updates, genuine commitments, problem chunks
divided into solution sets, accountable team leaders, comprehensive
and transparent information, regular report-backs, and relevant
performance measures. The network maintains an evolutionary quality
to meet new demands. In this way, the structure becomes a system of
governance that crosses agency boundaries, delivers results, and
exhibits the qualities of flexibility, creativity, learning, and
Within this context, personal leadership matters. As the acting FAA
deputy administrator, Monte Belger ran the OEP executive meetings
from early 2000 until September 11, 2001. Young team leaders and
even seasoned agency managers were at the top of their game when
they reported back to Belger and the OEP executive team. A network
environment does not preclude personal leadership. The most
effective performance networks have singular, able leadership that
generates trust and support.
Whatever the content, the self-correcting mechanisms of network
structures are the communication channels that connect agencies,
levels of management, stakeholders, community groups, and customers
inside and outside agency boundaries. Continuous dialogue and team
feedback strengthen network learning. With dialogue and feedback,
the embedded levels of partnerships communicate and coordinate
better; when they share proven practices, results soar. Learning
jumps the boundaries of space and time. And effective crossboundary
structures provide the context, so our most pressing problems can
be solved by leaders, teams, and partnerships who know their jobs.