TITLE: Division chief, Modeling and Simulation/System Analysis Division, Cruise Missile Defense Systems Project Office, Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space (PEO MS)
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center, assigned to PEO MS
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 9
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in engineering; Level I in program management
EDUCATION: B.S.E. in aerospace engineering, the University of Alabama in Huntsville
by Susan L. Follett
The IDEAL program couldn’t ask for a better cheerleader than Nicole Olbricht. “I’m a huge fan,” said Olbricht, chief of the Modeling and Simulation/System Analysis Division within the Cruise Missile Defense Systems Project Office for the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space (PEO MS). “I would recommend this course to all midcareer acquisition professionals who want to actively guide their own careers. Mentors and guidance are wonderful and highly recommended, but each person is responsible for their own career. This course gave me the opportunity to better understand myself and the Army opportunities that are available, and how to more effectively work with people to accomplish Army goals.”
IDEAL is targeted to civilian members of the Army Acquisition Workforce at GS-12 or GS-13 seeking to prepare themselves for supervisory and leadership roles. The curriculum includes classroom instruction, engagement with senior leaders, a site visit and group activities. In between sessions, participants return to their workplaces to use their new skills and practice the concepts and competencies they learned about during the resident sessions. Two IDEAL cohorts are planned for fiscal year 2020, and each will consist of three one-week resident sessions held over a period of approximately six months.
Olbricht took part in IDEAL—Inspiring and Developing Excellence in Acquisition Leaders—from June 2018 through November 2018. “I have participated in leadership training since elementary school through church and school programs, but I have had limited Army and DOD leadership training. I felt that it was the right time in my career to look for these opportunities because I want to continue to develop as an Army leader,” she explained.
She admitted to some apprehension about the impact the class would have on her workload and her team. “I didn’t know if it would be a lot of additional work,” she said, “but that wasn’t my experience at all. The course just emphasizes what you’re already doing; it doesn’t add more work.” In fact, she added, “one of the biggest surprises was how quickly and easily I could adopt the material. I was really surprised to learn how applicable it was to my work.”
She was also surprised to learn that while Army officers are generally offered formal leadership training, Army civilians are not, and this class aims in part to fill that gap. “We learned what career options are available, what development and broadening opportunities there are, what our personal strengths and weaknesses are and how to improve and take advantage of them. Then the course brought in people from the Senior Executive Service (SES), and we were able to learn more about their paths—the positions they’re in and how they got there.”
She identified three takeaways from the course. “First, civilian training is very important to the Army, and leaders are supporting civilian training opportunities. Second, learning how and when to communicate are essential leadership traits. Lastly, knowing who you are as a person and as a leader will increase your abilities and opportunities to influence others.”
She added that coursework in communication is what she has applied most to her work. “We were able take lessons in the books ‘Crucial Conversations’ and ‘Influencer.’ We learned the concepts in these books, and application exercises allowed us to practice the concepts and apply them to everyday situations, both at work and at home.”
The class also gave Olbricht a clearer path on where her career is headed. “The SES members who attended our class as guest speakers all emphasized that no two careers look the same. One person will take one path to get to their goal and another person will take a different path—even if the two goals are the same,” she said. “I made a career map and was given guidance by two of my mentors, who continue to encourage me. As a result of that exercise, I now have a map and a plan to work with.”
Olbricht is technically part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center and assigned to PEO MS. “I lead a team of modelers and analysts to determine system capability and performance to inform Army decision-makers,” she explained. “That information allows the Army to have the best tools available to assist and protect our warfighters. The greatest satisfaction I have is knowing that I am doing everything I can to protect our Soldiers and our citizens. My current position allows me to have direct influence and impact in ensuring that we are working toward that goal.”
Her introduction to Army acquisition came during college, when she took part in a co-op with a small contractor supporting the Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center [AMRDEC, now the Aviation & Missile Center]. “I realized then that I wanted to become an Army civilian. So, I applied for and took a job supporting what was then the System Simulation and Development Directorate within AMRDEC. I had a great group of mentors early on and was able to participate, experience and learn about Army programs, specifically missile programs, through the entire program life cycle. This base knowledge and experience eventually opened the doors to support PEO MS programs as a modeling and simulation subject matter expert, then team lead, and now as division chief.”
In September, Olbricht began her latest career development undertaking: the systems and program management master’s degree offered at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). “I knew when I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree that I wanted to get a master’s degree, but I wasn’t sure about the timing or which field would be best,” she said. She looked into an MBA program with the goal of learning more about finance and budgeting, and also considered a master’s degree program that focused on leadership. “But then I had the chance to take on an assistant product manager position and I found that I really enjoyed program management,” she said. “The NPS program is perfect: It combines program management with systems engineering, which is what I do for PEO MS.”
As it is for most of us, the biggest challenge she faces in her work is one of balance—in the office and at home. “There are only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week and the fiscal year flies by,” she said. “One challenge is to work within that time to figure out what the warfighter needs and develop the best possible solution with the resources we have. The other challenge is to find the balance between work and home life and to focus on yourself when possible, so that you can be the best version of yourself at each place.”
“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.
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