24 May 2012

Keeping the Fleet at the Center

I recently read a book by Bob Lutz, the Vice Chairman for Product Development at General Motors (GM) from 2001 to 2010, called “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business.” In his book, Lutz describes the state of affairs he found when he arrived at GM in 2001. At that point, he was a veteran of the car business, having worked in the industry for nearly 40 years and experiencing firsthand GM’s domination of the market during the 60’s and 70’s.

But upon his return to GM, Lutz found that the design teams had moved away from an organization focused on product excellence and the end user – the customer – and instead transformed into a company driven by complex business processes, executive boards and working groups focused on eliminating “waste,” “streamlining” operations, and achieving “efficiencies.” As a result, GM produced generations of automobiles that met all the technical and fiscal internal targets yet fell far short of the mark in sales – what really counted.

I believe many of the lessons Lutz discusses in his book are very applicable to those we have experienced in the Fleet in recent years. When I look at some of the big issues we’ve encountered over the past three years with programs such as LPD-17, Aegis 7.1.2, VTUAV (Fire Scout), and the many software programs (e.g. R-Admin) installed on our ships, it is apparent to me that we were not doing our jobs with a focus on the end user, our Sailors. In these instances, the desire/need to deliver the program or system became paramount; we did not adhere to our acquisition standards and failed to deliver whole programs built on foundations of technical excellence. Then we accepted these flawed programs into the Fleet without regard to the impact on our Sailors.

One reason I established the Fleet Integration Program (FIP) (as I discussed here) was to prevent this behavior and ensure we deliver platforms and systems that meet our standards, the standards our Sailors need (and expect) us to meet so that they can accomplish their missions.

As I wrote in my post last week, we have entered a period in which the resources we have now and can expect in the future will no longer support the behaviors of the past. The likelihood of decreasing budgets and increasing demand for Naval forces leave us with no margin for delivering poorly designed, poorly delivered or unnecessarily burdensome programs to the Fleet. We must keep the Fleet and our Sailors at the center of the programs, systems and platforms we deliver and ensure operational effectiveness is the bottom line of our efforts, not simply increased efficiencies. All the best, JCHjr


Anonymous said...

In the same the light, we have been driven to provide hours and hours of data in hopes to come up with some magical metric that senior leaders can brief and show great strides in these systems and processes (similar to the GM processes you refer in your blogpost.
The constant pull for data ( from DRRS and other stoplights) creates an environment that sees constant staffs calling for 'harmless'' data calls. Yet these add up and compounded with multiple PowerPoint requirements ( 5 different slide formats from 5 different staffs) asking for the same stuff ( can't tell if it is THAT important or just metrics fluff) is hampering our officer corps. How can officer focus on being war fighters?
Keeping leaders off the deck plates and strapped to keyboards is also not taking care of your customer.
A.J. Squared Away

Anonymous said...

you have hit button, again. Our Navy is now so focused on providing data and paper that justifies any/all processes that more time and energy is devoted to the paper than to the accomplishment of the task. Disagree? During a visit to a ship in overhaul, stop by the WAF van, either one, the Navy/ship will have one and the prime contractor will have one and they are jammed with folks trying to process paper. The checks on the the other system (tagout/TUMS). I would suggest you have a survey of the sailors and the waterfront techs on the redundant systems that are now in place. Then find out what is the purpose of their product and who/what does it serve?
We no longer focus on correcting and actually fixing a technical problem, the focus is on dotting i's and crossing t's, The cost of doing business is skyrocketing with the hours devoted to generating paper and then having more inspectors who ensure the paper is correct. Just an outside opinion, perhaps a 'lean 6 sigma' on process redundancy/reduction should be implemented?
Retired 0-6

J. Scott Shipman said...

Hi Admiral,

Good post and my first visit to your blog.

The late John Boyd said, "People, ideas, hardware; in that order!"

Sadly, in too many corners, the "process" is more important than thinking. This is a symptom that bureaucracy has poisoned the culture to an such an extent everyone up and down the food chain is more concerned with covering their ass and not making a process error, than thinking.

Culture is a choice, and we've been making bad choices for too long. We need men and women who are comfortable with risk, not risk averse conformists.

Byron Audler said...

Ah...WAF/TUMs. What a nightmare. It's gotten to where I spend most of my time writing WAFs instead of ordering material and breaking out drawings and helping the trade with information to get their jobs done. They hate me for not helping them, but they can't go to work until the WAF is done and approved. Tagout wouldnt' be so bad, except that there are so few people on the Navy end to process the tags that it can take days of a short availability to get the systems tagged out. This is compounded by sailors not knowing their own systems. This is very bad for several reasons but for our side it's bad because we share responsibility for accuracy...and this is NOT right. The ship should be the expert in their systems.
BTW, Admiral, the last security exercise it wasn't a nightmare getting out of Mayport NS. I don't know if I have you to thank for that, but if I do, thanks!

Mike Ihrig said...

I also read the same book by Bob Lutz titled “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business.” While I agree with most of your points, it did spur me to some slightly different thoughts of what Mr. Lutz was referring to.
As I thought about the book and then applied it to Our Navy and all our current processes, I kept asking myself are we, as an organization, closer to the “Car Guys” or “Bean Counters?”
As a retired Nuclear CWO4, working on the deck plate level as a contractor, I have to point out the obvious: with all the current road blocks, streamlining process operations, focus groups eliminating wastes, different understandings of rules and requirements between coasts, and all the written guidance generated to bureaucratically ensure the right things are accomplished, vice holding people accountable, have made us basic “Car Guys” extremely frustrated.
Still providing support to Our Fleet.

Retired CWO4/SS Mike Ihrig

Ret ANAV said...

To quote you, Admiral:
...we have entered a period in which the resources we have now and can expect in the future will no longer support the behaviors of the past.

Clearly this is not JUST about System/Subsystem/Component...it is about providing quality training to the sailors as well.

Byron hit it on the head earlier...This is compounded by sailors not knowing their own systems. I asked three members of a ship's navigation team yesterday where a specific piece of navigation equipment was located and NONE could tell me. That is a HUGE problem.

A little deeper:
Post Port-Royal grounding, NAVSAFECEN DTG 132230Z MAR 09


As this has yet to be done, and with the capability to do so already in place, why is it so hard to make this happen? SUBFOR has been doing this for years.

Anonymous said...

ADM Harvey,

Sir, I think you are spot on in identifying a large problem with our Navy today. Officers should be focused on war fighting and taking care of sailors instead of worrying about endless reports needed to satisfy some metrics for some far off bureaucrat. As Mr. Lehman pointed out in his USNI article on Naval Aviation (http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2011-09/naval-aviation-culture-dead) Squadrons have 780 reports to submit annually, most of which seem to have no justification. I know senior officers want metrics to justify tight budgets, but the military is not a business. We don't return a product that is measurable. The safety and security of the nation is our only real metric, anything else is a fabricated idea that doesn't reflect reality. My proposal in this time of tight budgets is to reduce the bureaucracy. That way we can focus on what is important, sailors and the defense of the nation.

Very Respectfully,

Anonymous JO

Anonymous said...

The Great Question...What do these metrics actually cost to generate? Manpower isn't cheap.

And just how accurate are they? As an organization, the Navy has lost the concept of significant figures - only measuring to the accuracy of the LEAST accurate factor. We're marking the log with a piece of chalk, cutting it with a chain saw...and measuring with a micrometer.

Anonymous said...

Admiral: I concur with the GM comparison. For a great follow-on read addressing focus on the end-user, I recommend “Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy” by Dev Patnaik (available for Kindle/iPod). Unlike standard how-to-do-better-business-my-way tomes, Patnaik gives well known historical and current examples of companies that succeeded and failed to connect with their customer base. The intro can be found here: http://my.safaribooksonline.com/book/general-business/9780137153886/firstchapter

Anonymous said...

Admiral - So who is pushing/pulling to field a capability prematurely? I'd argue that it is sometimes driven by OPNAV but often only in response to the Fleet saying "we'll take it as soon you can get it to us" . . . That issue aside, where are the CONOPS??? I see multiple programs of record that have fielded, or soon will reach initial operational capability, that have no warfighting CONOPS - a Fleet Forces responsibility. How can we expect new programs to work as the Fleet expects when the Fleet has not documented the CONOPS before program fielding? The fix? DO NOT FIELD an operational capability until after OPEVAL successfully completed. OPEVAL should be based on program of record requirements in the context of the final warfighting CONOPS in concert with other elements of the specific Family of Systems. If we choose to field a capability earlier to advance a program's development/maturity, we shouldn't overly criticize shortcomings as if it were a post-OPEVAL fielded system - Firescout for instance. V/r, A retired URL O-6 now slugging away in the acquisition world