The PBL Guidebook: Practical Help for the Efficiency-Effectiveness Challenge


Posted: November 2, 2019 | By: Eric Fiore, Csep

Few people would debate that the United States possesses one of the most effective militaries in the world. One could argue this effectiveness stems largely from our determination, resources, and ability to fund our ventures until they are either successfully deployed or terminated. However, all the branches of our military are being asked today to reduce costs by operating more efficiently without reducing their effectiveness. Fueling this imperative is a perception that there are widespread inefficiencies in military system sustainment programs, and thus these programs represent “low-hanging fruit” to be harvested by budget hawks. Consequently, fevered arguments about the United States’ ability to increase efficiency without decreasing effectiveness dominate the media every day. Many of these arguments focus largely on semantics, and the reality is that U.S. forces ultimately (and historically) have become as efficient and effective as needed to perform the missions prioritized by national leaders.

This point was recently reiterated in an online debate on the LinkedIn – International Systems Engineering Network. Mr. Tom Mathis, of Strategic Operational Solutions, posted:

“I think it is always important to avoid semantic debates by only using a meaningful lexicon that provides clarity. I have always used “efficiency” within the context of measurable costs, e.g., time, money, human capital, etc. An “efficient” systems/activity/method/process etc. was one that was well worth the “costs”, i.e., sustainable. Whereas “effectiveness” is all about how well the systems/activity/method/process achieved the desired effect. So a systems/activity/method/process can be very effective, but inefficient. “Efficiency” is always a relative term to what costs are sustainable by a system. The acceptable costs are a function of the value proposition of the resulting effectiveness of the systems/activity/method/process. Take for example the extreme cost during the Cold War to maintain a fleet of strategic bombers, nuclear submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles always ready to go—it was the most efficient way to maintain a very effective deterrent for nuclear aggression.”

Such sentiments highlight the issue many branches of the Department of Defense (DoD) community are having to confront as certain pundits continue to argue that the highly effective U.S. military may be overachieving with regard to the needs of contemporary policy. To meet these needs while still sustaining the highest possible level of capability, the military will have to consider employing methods that can help adapt its sustainment approach to align with available resources.

One such approach used by both the commercial industry and the military that is regaining popularity is Performance Based Logistics (PBL). The concept of a PBL system has been around since the 1990s, but initially it suffered from some skepticism and mixed reviews by Government officials who felt the system lacked sufficient transparency to perform an accurate value assessment. However, more recent successes with PBL have identified it as a tool that can help sustain warfighting capability at a lower cost.

In an effort to promote greater acceptance and use of PBL, implementation guidance was specifically specified as part of the Better Buying Power (BBP) initiative, which included the development of a PBL Guidebook. Accordingly, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness (ASD[L&MR]), in collaboration with the Services and Defense Acquisition University (DAU), developed the PBL Guidebook to assist the Defense acquisition workforce in developing effective PBL product support arrangements.

The DoD PBL Guidebook was issued by the Acting ASD(L&MR) on 27 May 2014. This guidebook is designed to serve as both a reference manual for experienced PBL practitioners, as well as a practical “how-to” guide for new-to-PBL logisticians. The guidebook complements DoD policies and guidance while providing PBL best practices and practical examples. Additionally, the guidebook provides a consolidated resource that leverages DoD instructions, other guidebooks, and the Product Support Business Model as an organizing construct for PBL best practices, processes, and supporting documentation needed to craft effective PBL or performance based product support and arrangements. The guidebook also supports DoD policy outlined in the ASD(L&MR) “Performance Based Logistics Comprehensive Guidance” memorandum.

The PBL guidebook is being made available on the DoD Performance Based Logistics Community of Practice (PBL CoP) to ensure it is readily accessible to a broad, interdisciplinary team of program managers, product support managers, life cycle logisticians, contracting officers, financial managers, systems engineers, and other stakeholders with life cycle product support and sustainment responsibilities. It is intended to be used in conjunction with a range of related resources included elsewhere in the PBL CoP; and key product support policy, guidance, tools, and training are available on the Product Support Key References site of the DAU Logistics CoP.

The PBL Guidebook is available at

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