The $84 Million User Manual

The United States will be paying Boeing approximately $5.3 billion for two 747 aircraft to serve as Air Force One. If that sounds outlandish, the 747s in question are being repurposed from pre-existing aircraft instead of being built from the ground up.

Normally, Pentagon purchases don’t merit a discussion at Mr. Procedure, except that one line item jumped out at me: the government is spending $84 million for the maintenance manuals. So where do I bid to get a piece of that action?!

Granted, the expectation is that the manuals will total 100,000 pages. If you do the math, the Pentagon will be paying $840 per page for the manuals. That number got me thinking.

How would any of my bosses have reacted had I told them I will produce procedures at a rate of $840 per page? At my predominant pay rate, and factoring in benefits, my progress would sound something like this:

“Hey Brad, the procedure is going well. I finished one half of a page today, and I will finish the second half of the page tomorrow!”

Because I run a clean blog, I cannot share the boss’s likely response to that rate of production. Suffice to say, none of my bosses would have accepted half a page per day, at least on the projects I have customarily written. Nor should they have.

However, writing all the maintenance instructions for a 747—especially one used by the President of the United States—is a critical assignment, and the effort to completely capture every activity required to keep Air Force One safely flying may take the whole 100,000 pages (maybe the pages are very large as well).

The writing of a procedure—placing words and graphics on pages—is only good as the information provided or collected. Somebody needs to describe how each activity is performed before the writers and graphics developers put the process on paper. And once the procedure is reduced to words and pictures, it must be reviewed, tested (both to see if it is accurate and the process performer can follow it) and optimized. Certainly much more is involved than writing, and the writing itself may involve many iterations.

The manual is every bit a product as the airliners it describes. Just as the 747 must perform perfectly, the manuals must perfectly support the plane’s perfect performance. If the folks at Boeing have determined that $84 million is what it will take to deliver those manuals (and the Pentagon bought off on it), I can only presume that they know better than I do.

However, if they want to farm out about 100 pages of it and pay me $84,000 to develop it, they know how to contact me.

About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
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