Getting Everyone On The Same Page

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Keelan B. Jennings



TITLE: Lead general engineer
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center, assigned to the Missile Defense Agency
EDUCATION: M.S. and B.S. in electrical engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology; B.S. in mathematics, Morehouse College



“No one can whistle a symphony,” the saying goes. “It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” Putting together that orchestra—or, in this case, developing a coalition of support for reliability issues—is a big part of Keelan Jennings’ job, and an Army-sponsored acquisition leadership development program helped him hone the skills he needed to perform more effectively.

Jennings is lead general engineer with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center, providing matrix support to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). “As MDA engineering integration reliability lead, I’m responsible for incorporating best practices to ensure that system reliability is being implemented among MDA elements,” he said.

Jennings has been in the Army Acquisition Workforce for nearly five years, following several years as a senior reliability engineer/analyst with MTA Inc., supporting the Reliability and Maintainability Division of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center’s (AMRDEC) Engineering Directorate (now the Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center). An opportunity arose for him to join the Army Acquisition Workforce as part of AMRDEC in February 2015. He started as a general engineer, supporting several missile programs throughout the acquisition life cycle, including the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile, the HELLFIRE, the Longbow HELLFIRE and obsolete missile systems. “What I enjoy most about my job is knowing that it has a direct impact on safety and reliability of the weapon system,” he said. “I also enjoy the people I work with. We’re on the same page, working toward a common goal, and I think that common focus is very important for mission success.”

Jennings noted that the most challenging aspect of his work is educating others on the importance of including reliability early in the acquisition life cycle. “A big part of my work is getting that message out, building a coalition that understands the importance of incorporating reliability during system development, and using data to demonstrate the long-term costs of not incorporating it as early as possible,” he said.

Given that challenge, he added, “it’s important that anyone in this position be a good communicator with the skills to influence decisions, listen to and get along with a broad cross-section of people, and have the technical skills to identify areas where improvements are needed.”

With an eye toward improving his skills in those areas, Jennings completed the Inspiring and Developing Excellence in Acquisition Leaders (IDEAL) program, participating in three one-week sessions in Washington between March and October 2019. “As a mid-career engineer, I felt that IDEAL presented an opportunity for me to develop the skills to effectively communicate with my colleagues, to achieve better results and products, and to lead others as I enter the next phase of my career and in pursuing future leadership positions.”

Jennings “anticipated that IDEAL would follow a fairly formal structure with lectures, assignments and a few exercises. Instead, much of what I learned came from open discussion with the other participants,” he said. “Having the chance to learn from the experiences of others in all kinds of different careers was invaluable. I’m at a transitioning point in my career, so meeting others at similar stages but in different organizations helped give me an idea of the opportunities that exist.” He added that IDEAL modules on crucial conversations and influence also have been extremely helpful, “improving my self-awareness and giving me tools to communicate more effectively in the workplace and at home.”

Jennings noted that IDEAL “definitely makes you stop and think about how to identify and enact steps that may contribute to the effective communication that’s necessary to be a good leader.” That’s something he has had the opportunity to practice: After starting the program, Jennings was promoted to the position of lead reliability expert in support of the Missile Defense Agency. “IDEAL has helped me to become better at listening and understanding needs of the people I lead in order to give them the tools that they need to be successful for themselves and the organization,” he said.

His new position also provided ample opportunity to incorporate what he learned during the program’s classroom sessions. “The IDEAL session on influence provided a lot of tools that are really helpful when it comes to working with others to build coalitions. After each of the one-week sessions, I returned to my office with new approaches to try. We were paired with a partner to report how things were going, and I found that accountability very helpful.”

Since IDEAL, he added, “I’m spending more time getting to know members of my team on both a professional level and personal level. What I learned from the program is that it’s important to build trust with the people that you work with every day.”



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