By MS. SUSAN L. FOLLETT, USAASCApril 12, 2018
Col. James "Darby" McNulty
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Integrated Personnel and Pay System -- Army, Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems
TITLE: Project manager
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 15
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 28
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management
EDUCATION: M.S., Purdue University's Krannert School of Management; B.S. in operations research, United States Military Academy at West Point
AWARDS: Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (four oak leaf clusters (OLCs)), Army Commendation Medal (four OLCs), Army Achievement Medal (three OLCs), Joint Meritorious Unit Award, two National Defense Service Medals, two Southwest Asia Service Medals, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) and Kuwait Liberation Medal (Government of Kuwait)
The art and science of getting people paid
You've probably never thought of a payroll system as deeply personal. But it is, said Col. James "Darby" McNulty, project manager for several key human resources and financial software systems within the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems.
"It's a very iterative, people-centric process," he said. "We bring technical experts and end users together, and from their experience, draw out their ideas on how the world ought to be. Then we collectively figure out how to get there."
"The product is deeply personal because it's designed and built by and for people eager to improve our inefficient and outdated systems."
McNulty is project manager for the Integrated Personnel and Pay System -- Army (IPPS-A), an online human resources system that will enable the Army to fill a capability gap in personnel, pay and talent management. Currently, there are approximately 200 human resources and pay systems and more than 650 interfaces among internal and external systems. IPPS-A will replace more than 30 systems and eliminate nearly half of those interfaces, and will provide essential information on total force visibility, talent management and auditability, enhancing readiness and improving the lives of Soldiers and their families.
McNulty manages several programs within the IPPS-A portfolio, including the Distributed Learning System, Army Human Resource Systems, the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care, the Reserve Component Automation System and the Force Management System. While a lot of his work seems pretty technical, he's quick to point out that "it's both an art and a science. We begin with words on paper, and as we explore and flesh out concepts, those words evolve into a strategic vision for the future." He explained, "After we sketch out the road map and acquisition strategy, next comes the hard science of creating and delivering a working product designed to transform an industrial-age personnel system into an online and mobile 21st-century talent management tool."
For McNulty, agility is the biggest challenge. "We are executing an extremely large agile software development. It is very natural for software developers to be agile, but is very unnatural for the rest of the organization--particularly for a DOD or government organization. So we work really hard at constantly evaluating our command and control, our processes and our people to make sure we can improve quality, velocity and capability," he said.
McNulty got his start in acquisition 15 years ago. After nine years as a field artillery officer, earning an M.S. from Purdue University's Krannert School of Management and serving on the staff and faculty at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he was eager for a new challenge and another opportunity to make a long-term, positive contribution to the Army. His first acquisition assignment was in Minneapolis, developing and building the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon and Mortar at the Future Combat Systems program.
"Working alongside engineers and testers was a humbling experience," he admitted. "I thought I was both tactically and technically proficient, but how wrong I was. I learned more about systems engineering, physics, program management, contract negotiations, testing, human systems engineering, business management, ballistics and ammunition design than I could have imagined--everything that set the stage for me to be a lieutenant colonel, a colonel and a program manager."
His early assignments also taught him the importance of building relationships. "My first program manager called me his smoke jumper, and I took great pride in that," he said. "By jumping headlong into challenging environments throughout my career, I've developed a large network of mentors and technical and functional experts that I can reach out to for advice and guidance." Those relationships are key to program success, he added. "Delivering capability becomes far easier by nurturing relationships and a team approach to problem-solving."
McNulty recommends that boldness for those looking to advance their acquisition careers. "Jump right in, and learn to solve problems with all types of people," he said. "We have an awesome and diverse workforce; everyone looks at life through a different lens and brings value to the team. Open your aperture by signing up for short-term assignments--source selections, tiger teams or developmental assignments." If possible, he added, "try to get yourself on a program that's in development. Sustaining something is hard work, but building, testing and delivering a product is the hardest thing we do as acquisition professionals."
It's not all spreadsheets and whiteboards for McNulty, who recently received FCW's Federal 100 Award for 2018. His priorities include making time to meet with senior leaders across the Acquisition Corps and reading something "short, new and powerful every single day across a multitude of disciplines." And, like all of us, he tries to find the sweet spot between working and stepping away. "As program managers and members of the acquisition workforce, we could work every moment of every day forever and never be done. That's why it's important to balance people and mission. After 28 years in the military, I've learned it's crucial to take care of yourself, your family, your friends and your teammates at all levels. I hope to be remembered not only for my work, but for my relationships with others."
This article will be published in the April -- June 2018 Army AL&T magazine.