Original Post Date: Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Last week I gave a webinar which detailed the PRICE perspective on Should Cost & Will Cost Management. The responses I have received have been very positive and also informing. For those of you who could not attend you can view the recorded version of that webinar here.

Below is a brief summation of that presentation and some key takeaways.

The Under Secretary of Defense issued a memo late last year. The thrust of the memo was the current need for greater efficiency and productivity in defense spending. His guidance contained 23 principal actions for improving the efficiency of the department organized into five initiatives: (1) Target Affordability and Control Cost Growth; (2) Incentivize Productivity and Innovation in Industry; (3) Promote Real Competition; (4) Improve Tradecraft in Services Acquisition; and (5) Reduce Non-Productive Processes and Bureaucracy.

One of the principals outlined in the first initiative is the idea of driving productivity growth through Will Cost / Should Cost management. In my view, Should Cost is "the realm of the possible" and Will Cost is "the domain of the probable". Simply put Will Cost is a forecast of a program’s cost …” based upon reasonable extrapolations from historical experience.”[1] Whereas, Should Cost is an analysis of what the program ought to cost given concerted efforts in economy and efficiency by the contractor. “A should cost analysis results in an, …” Approximation of a contract-price, developed by the customer’s accounting, engineering, procurement, and other costing staff.” [2]

Should Cost analysis for DoD was first applied by the US Air Force in the early 1960s. Over time this practice matured to where in 1972 it was declared “A Multimillion-Dollar Savings” in an article written by Major David N. Burt in the Air University Review (September-October 1972). Major Burt describes the evolution of the practice commencing in a thorough discussion of a “new” alternative approach. He goes on to describe a five phase approach spanning one to four or more months consisting of a very large team which includes actual on-site (contractor) investigation of contractor practices and operations. There are issues associated with both of these concepts.
First, a Will Cost estimate is a business as usual view which contains all of the characteristics of both good and bad production and management practices. Estimates based on Will Cost have the effect of perpetuating previous inefficiencies by providing a flawed benchmark. Secondly, a Should Cost analysis as described by Major Burt is both time consuming and costly to implement. Furthermore, Secretary Carter, in his November 3, 2010 memorandum to Military Departments and Directors of Defense Agencies declared his desire …”to establish “Should Cost” targets as management tools for all ACAT I programs… and to establish by January 1, 2011 …”’Should Cost’ estimates for ACAT II and III programs… for component MS decisions.”

Clearly Secretary Carter is serious in regards to achieving productivity growth and soon. However, given the timelines, the cost of a traditional “Should Cost” analysis, and the problems associated with a “Will Cost” approach,  how can the Military Departments and Defense Agencies meet the “beyond objectives” outlined in the November 3rd memorandum?

One solution may be utilizing a parametric approach. A parametric estimating approach will reduce the time and resources required while also providing an external benchmark of industry standards for similar systems. Given the pace with which agencies are expected to move its probably an approach many should consider.

Bob Koury
Senior Research Analyst, PRICE Systems