When Pat Shanahan, who now serves as acting defense secretary, arrived at the Pentagon in 2017 as the Defense Department’s No. 2, he aimed to inject the massive bureaucracy with lessons he had learned as a successful executive at aerospace giant Boeing Co.
Borrowing from Japanese corporate culture, Mr. Shanahan began by creating an “Obeya,” a war room of sorts for communications and decision-making—a perfect remedy to what he saw as a broken bureaucracy. The Pentagon’s new Obeya was a large, classified room with white scrolls hung on the walls detailing ways to achieve goals and be held accountable, defense officials said.
But it didn’t work, Mr. Shanahan conceded, lamenting that he spent too much time teaching his staff how to use it and not enough getting anything done. After several months, the Obeya was suspended.
It was an experience that reflected the limits of Mr. Shanahan’s self-assured approach to injecting a corporate mind-set into the military, what some experts have described as trying to fit a square peg into the Pentagon’s five-sided hole.
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