Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On the Appearance of Being Bah-Humbug-ish

I swear it's not me being a big ol' bag of bah-humbug this year. I've never been particularly good about Christmas shopping, always delaying until the last minute, and then floundering with finding good gifts for friends and family. I've had a few good moments of inspiration, when I was able to come up with blindingly fantastic gifts (or at least, I thought they were) that everyone seemed to enjoy. A lot of them had to do with being poor. One year, when I lived on a farm, I made gift bags of goodies from stuff I had grown in the garden...ropes of dried peppers, homemade relish and jam, canned strawberries and syrup. I made rag rugs one year, from the drapes that used to hang in my paternal grandparents' home.

And one year, I came up with the "Treasury of Thoughts." It was sometime in the late 1990's and I found a thrift-store glass dish with four partitioned sections. I picked up some little natural trinkets (seed pods, cool pebbles, sea shells) and placed them in each of the four sections. The accompanying card explained the idea:
"I've given you a Treasury of Thought this year. Each item in the dish represents an individual thought or action. The start-up items in the dish now are labelled as some things I think are good thoughts, actions and/or memories.
My  idea for the Treasury of Thoughts is that, as you go through the day, when you have a good thought or do something you're proud of (but that isn't great and grand enough to tell the world about) you can move a "thought" from one compartment to another to personally commemorate that good thing.
This shouldn't be a static collection of "thoughts" though. You can pick up your own things to put in it, or ask friends to collect small things for you throughout their travels.
There are a few guidelines for the Treasury:
1.  No "thoughts" can be purchased ones; they all need to be found, free.
2. Don't keep track of what thought you put in what compartment, or in moving particular ones to particular places.
3. Put it somewhere you'll see it at least once a day (preferably more), but that's out of the way of the four-footed furry feline.
I hope all this isn't too goofy, and I wish you lots of prosperity in your Treasury."
It was definitely cheesy, but it was cheap and thoughtful, and my mom kept hers for the rest of her life. Today, I think the best thing about it is that I can cheerfully drop all the thought trinkets in the yard, put the dish in the thrift store pile and compost the card...because the Treasury already served its purpose.

Then there were the years, though, that I just flopped. So sorry, family, for those ridiculous salt cooking blocks a coupla years ago. I don't think anyone has used them yet. Or the fugly swirly pink pastel pottery bowl that I found tucked away in my mom's cupboard. I think the pattern of giving useless crap started when I was very young. For probably the last ten years of my mom's parents' life, I gave my grandmother pretty soaps. They piled up in a basket on the bookshelf in her nursing home room, never used, gathering dust and diffusing their floral scents heavily into the air. But I had to give them *something.* Or so I thought.

This year in particular though, I'm just tired of stuff. I don't want to give people crap. I think it has a lot to do with cleaning out my mom's house and getting it ready to rent. I sent my sister a frantic email earlier in the week.  "Can we set up a time to call, and go through stuff? I don't know the provenance of a lot of this stuff and I feel like I'm gonna pitch out the family heirlooms if I try to do it by myself. I found some t-shirts that I made at the Early Learning Center [where I went to *pre-school!!*] (hideous, but just the kind of stuff mom would keep). And some beautiful aprons that look handmade. Sorry I've got such a horrible memory...wish I could do this on my own..." She responded sensibly and with just the kind of practical advice I needed to move past feeling overwhelmed.

Part of my frustration is that Mom had some lovely stuff that meant a lot to her. But I've already got a house full of stuff. My sister already has a house full of stuff. We already decided which pieces of furniture are going to whom. And luckily, I have the space to store stuff at my house in Maryland that does not have an immediate destination. But the other stuff...what to do with the blankets stored in the cedar-lined blanket chest that I remember piled on the bed as a kid? or the pots and pans Mom cooked with for the last 50 years? or the art that she had hanging on the wall from when I was eight, and her granddaughter was four? or that damned fugly pink swirly pastel pottery dish (actually, that one's's going to the thrift store! But you get the idea)?

Maybe cleaning out the house at Christmas-time wasn't the best idea. I kinda feel like I'm using it as an excuse for being too lazy to give any Christmas gifts this year. The reality is, though, that I'm over *stuff* for the sake of *stuff.* If I find myself inspired by something I see for someone, or have a great idea for making something, or a gift certificate that won't languish unused in the back of someone's junk drawer, I will GLADLY bestow presents on my friends and family. You may find yourself getting your Christmas present in August, though, because when I find something I think you'll like, I don't want to *wait* to give it to you...where's the fun in that?!

Unfortunately this year, I'm just not feeling inspired. My one inspiration is to sponsor any family (Amy, that means you and Ally, too) member that wants to join the Gravy, Wine & Steve team for the Greensboro Rugged Maniac race. It's sometime in April this year. Uncle Heathen and Aunt JB, you're getting race slots whether you want them or're the backbone of the team. Cameron, are you in? Jay, Alex? Does it fit with your schedule?

See, I'd *WAY* rather give stuff like this!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Molehill of Meant-Tos

I meant to write a post long before now, maybe one about my family extravaganza Thanksgiving weekend.
I meant to post on Fleet Feet Roanoke's Facebook page about how awesome my new running shoes and pants were to wear during the Hot Chocolate 15k race. My cousins, Robin and Jane, and Robin's husband Blaine were so helpful!
I meant to get more done around the house before I left for nearly six weeks.
I meant to coordinate the work that was done better, so that I didn't have the snafus that happened. Like not being able to install the vapor barrier in the crawl space because it was too wet, and having to reschedule the tilers because the other renovators weren't done in the kitchen yet.
I meant to make some more revisions to my group's Negotiating Conflict workbook before turning it in.
I meant to finish reading Don Kettl's book, The Next Government of the United States, before the last day of class.
I meant to run more than I did...but found myself profoundly lacking in motivation when the temperature dropped below 50 degrees.
I meant to do some amount of Christmas shopping.
I even meant to make some preparations for coming out to Hawaii, like calling movers for quotes and making an appointment with a property manager.

But none of that happened. And the world didn't come to an end. I did manage to get all my papers done, projects turned in and the house cleaned before I left. Some days that's enough.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Program Reviewer Philosophy

I posted my Command Philosophy a while back. I wrote the first draft of that philosophy almost ten years ago, when I was in Prospective Commanding Officer / Executive Officer (PCO/PXO) School before heading to be XO of WASHINGTON (the school requires both PCOs and PXOs to write one). It got dusted off and updated when I went to MAUI, and again before KISKA. But really those were just refinements, changes to reflect the different operating areas. It gives me some sense of peace that the underlying ideas didn't maybe I really *do* have a coherent philosophy, or set of core sensibilities that help guide me through all types of situations.

Now I'm going into a job for which I feel very ill-prepared, a little overwhelmed and a lot nervous. It's been since I first reported to BOUTWELL that I was facing a new set of responsibilities so far outside of my comfort zone. I feel the need to consider a set of principles, maybe rules of engagement for being a Program Reviewer. Since I'm familiar with the Command Philosophy concept, I'm going to call it my Program Reviewer Philosophy. As I first started thinking about this idea, it felt awkward, like I should have some experience in the job before having the hubris to assume that I knew what I was doing. Then I remembered that, as I wrote my initial Command Philosophy, I didn't know what I was doing then either...I had never been an XO, I just had a general sense of what I was getting myself into, and I wrote it kinda blindly. It worked out okay then.

A Command Philosophy is typically published to the entire crew, posted in main pass, and discussed with officers, chiefs and Department Heads. I've even had supervisors ask me for a copy so they know more about where I'm coming from with leadership decisions. But as of right now, I'm not really sure how broadly I'll share this once I get to the office. From my understanding, there are three general groups of people I'll be working with: my supervisors, my peers and my Program peeps (is that too impertinent?). I guess it depends on my reasons for developing it in the first place. I see this as something that I'll hang prominently on the bulkhead in my cubicle, so that as I sit in front of my computer screen, my eyes will not fail to miss it, and I am constantly reminded of why this is important to me, what my priorities should be and how I should conduct myself even when the pressure is on high. A self-accountability tool, if you will.

My Philosophy

…is that the Coast Guard as an institution is important to me. I joined the Coast Guard to perform great and worthy, heroic and patriotic duties, for the sea stories I get to tell my family and friends, and to do things that not many other people get to do. Those experiences, the people I've worked beside, and the opportunities yet to present themselves make the Coast Guard an organization that I want to fight for.
…is that a job worth doing is worth doing to the best of my ability. At the end of my tour, I intend to look back and be able to honestly tell myself that I faced every task and challenge to the best of my ability. This is the only way the sacrifices I have made will have been worthwhile.

My Guiding Principles
  • One Team, One Fight: We are all on the same side, even when individual programs are facing budget cuts and high priorities conflict. A deep and abiding respect for all my shipmates will remind me to look beyond any moments of contention and focus on the larger goal of taking care of the Coast Guard. 
  • Innovative Solutions and Systems Thinking: We function in an increasingly complex and networked world. "That's the way we've always done it" begs for a closer look. A passion for understanding expanded scopes of influence and underlying dynamic processes will allow for development of better, more creative options that offer effective long-term solutions instead of unconsidered tinkerings. 
  • Checking the Unengaged Side of the Ship: Just as the XO stands on the unengaged bridge-wing to check for any unanticipated hazards, a constant awareness of the bigger picture into which my small portion fits is necessary to ensure the overall positive contribution of what I am doing. Thorough analysis, based on sound data and process-based logic, is a critical risk mitigation strategy that will enable solid recommendations to percolate through the noise.
Critical Skills
  • Communication: I must be able to respect my shipmates enough to LISTEN to them and take the time to understand what they are saying to me, rather than hearing what I think they should be telling me. I must also be able to clearly and concisely present my own well-articulated arguments to reduce confusion and not waste anybody's time. Success depends on my ability to take in and disseminate information.
  • Acceptance of Risk: Times are changing too fast and too dramatically to allow process calcification to paralyze our ability to respond. New ways of doing things will not always work and sometimes my suggestions will fail, but I must have the courage to confidently promote innovation in pursuit of improvement. 
  • Acceptance of Consequences: When my ideas and actions do not stand up to the high standard of effective implementation, I must have enough personal resilience to withstand the fall-out. I protect myself against any cataclysmic negativity by relying on my Guiding Principles.
Questions to Ask...Every Time
  • Am I focusing my listening on the intended message? Am I saying what I mean to say, as concisely and clearly as possible?
  • What impact does this option or decision have on:
    • Crews in the field? Support staff manning the Help Desk?
    • Organizational ability to execute the mission?
    • Long-term asset health and resource availability?
  • Where is my ego in this?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Orders....Or, The Next Challenge

This transfer season has been more tumultuous than any other I've been through. The only other one that might be even somewhat comparable was when I was leaving HAMILTON. I had successfully screened for command, and asked for nuthin but 110s. I was cocky enough to think that it was just a matter of which one I would get.

It was about a week or ten days before Christmas. Suppo and I had left the boat right when liberty was piped to go shopping for a Christmas wine and cheese party I was hosting. We stopped by the L&L Hawaiian Drive-In just outside the 32nd St Gate of NAVSTA San Diego to get some lunch to sustain us. I ordered the kalbi rib lunch plate (with rice and mac salad). I had grease and teriyaki sauce all over my face and hands when my phone rang. It was a 202 area code...during transfer season, that only means one thing--the detailer.

Breathe, Charlotte, remember to BREATHE.

I (somewhat) calmly wiped my hands so I could answer the phone, chatted with the Assignment Officer/detailer (AO) for a few minutes, long enough for him to tell me I was going to MAUI. I had enough wits remaining about me to thank him for the call. I hung up. And then almost hyperventilated. I don't think I stopped saying omg for about two days. Suppo was very patient with me that afternoon.

This year my e-resume was due mid-August, I think, because I was putting in for a Special Assignment, as a Program Reviewer at CG-821. I duly submitted my wish-list, and then really didn't think much more about it. I knew I was going somewhere at HQ, so why fret about the details (anybody that knows me, knows that is a *flat-out* lie...of course I worried about it!!). All there was to do was wait.

Then the AO called me the first time. I spent a couple of days shaking my head in wonderment that a) he offered the opportunity and b) I turned it down.

Then he called back about a week later (at this point, I was starting to recognize his phone number on caller ID...kinda a weird feeling). He asked me if I was interested in putting in for a high-profile Aide job. Ok, so when the AO calls you *TWICE* to push special assignments, you don't say "no" a second time. I said yes, and started a crazy roller-coaster ride that ended this week with PCS orders for my payback tour.

As the AO explained the process to me, my file would be forwarded to the appropriate office and they would be in touch about an interview if  they were interested. He made it sound like the turn-around time was going to be pretty fast. Somehow, I think our definitions of "pretty fast" were slightly divergent. To me, "pretty fast" should mean, I don't know, maybe two or three days. So four days went by, then a week went by, and I still hadn't heard anything. I started telling myself that the office wasn't interested in me, my record wasn't good enough, I should have known better than to expect an interview, the whole thing was so far-fetched anyway. Sadly, I let myself get pretty down about it.

In the interim, the Deputy at CG-82 contacted me, requesting I call him for a phone interview. I phoned him back the next day, and we chatted for about 25 minutes. He asked a little about me, but also spent plenty of time making sure I knew what the Program Reviewer job was all about. He was very forthright about the pressures of the job, lots of responsibility and long hours. He gave me the names of a couple of people currently in the office, and encouraged me to talk with them about what they do.

But then, a couple of Tuesdays ago, I got an email. The subject line read: "Interview for ______ Aide." The first line: "Congratulations..." I called my sister. I called my friend who had been an Aide. I think I might have even shouted it from the rooftops. I could barely contain my excitement.

I actually prepped for this interview. I talked to my friend to get her perspective on being an Aide, about what kinds of questions they might ask, about what kinds of answers might be appropriate. I really appreciate her patience with my ignorance and naivete...I'm not sure it would have occurred to me that my involvement in UCMJ proceedings weren't appropriate and contributory topics of conversation for an interview. And she was honest enough to advise me that I needed to be upfront with the interviewers about the Aide's job is to make sure there are no surprises, so showing up the first day of a high-visibility job with a full sleeve tattoo the bosses didn't know about kinda sets a Girl up for failure. With that in mind, I went into the interview with a somewhat fatalistic attitude of presenting my best effort, to hell with the results.

The interview was last Tuesday. I was nervous! I arranged to use a landline at the School of Public Policy so that I wouldn't have to worry about the call being dropped by my cell carrier. I dressed professionally to give myself some confidence and remind my self to maintain my professional persona (no cussing allowed!). I wrote out key points to questions I thought they might ask so I wouldn't stumble (as much) over my answers. And I wondered how I went from not even knowing I wanted this job to it really, really mattering to me.

The interview was scheduled for 1600. About 20 minutes beforehand, the current Aide called me to tell me they were running behind, some things had come up; would I be able to move the call to 1700? Umm, of course, no problem. And then I (tried to) read some of the articles assigned for class the next day. It was a little anti-climatic. But 1700 finally ticked around on the clock, and I made the call.

I thought the interview went very well. The interview panel asked me some of the questions I thought they might, but then come up with a few others that I wasn't expecting. I was able to put together cogent responses to all of them. One made me nearly choke up: the CAPT asked what my crew would have said my Command Philosophy was. I told them about the BM2 that, as he left MAUI, told me he really appreciated how I stuck to my Philosophy, relating events back and referring to it on a regular basis. Made me miss my crews! And then they asked what was the one single scariest moment I had faced underway--that would have been playing chicken with a 650-foot container ship, speeding 18 knots straight at the oil platforms, and crossing his bow at about 400 yards to try to turn him away from the security zone. The crew responded so fantastically to that situation , and were totally ready to react to the threat if had fully manifested.

At the end of the interview, the panel told me that I should hear something by the end of the next week. Ugh!! I HATE waiting.

Turns out I didn't have to wait nearly that long. When I got home from class the next day, I had an email from the Deputy at CG-82 asking me to call him. I called him first thing the next morning; he told me I was on the short list for Program Reviewer but he wanted to check with me to see if I was still interested and make sure I had the opportunity to talk with someone in the job. We made arrangements for me to visit the office the next day (I was headed to HQ for something else already).

I'm glad I went to visit CG-82. I met both the Deputy and the CAPT. The Deputy talked about how much responsibility the Program Reviewer had, both in terms of the budget and some aspects of policy for their programs. Millions of dollars, the last check to make sure messages are consistent, briefing ADMs going to testify before Congress...very high-powered stuff. Yup, it kinda intimidated me, and I told him that. He looked at me a little quizzically, and asked, weren't you CO of a ship? Yeah, but somehow it just seems different. The consequences of mistakes just seem so much more daunting. But as those words were coming out of my mouth, I realized just how inconsistent they were. As CO, peoples' *lives* are in your hands, millions of dollars of assets and equipment are at stake. What's the difference between the levels of responsibilities again? I guess after two years as CO, that mantle of responsibility finally settled more comfortably on my shoulders.

Later that evening, my phone rang again...202 area code (it's not quite so nerve-wracking now that I live in the DC area, but still gives me pause). It was the AO telling me if I was still interested in the Program Reviewer job, he was ready to pencil me in for it. I asked about the Aide job; he said while the interview panel liked me, there were other candidates they were considering.

Well, hell.

Once again, I had the wherewithal to thank the AO for his call and tell him I was still interested in the Program Reviewer job. And then I started to sulk. Just a little bit, and not for long. But I had already had kind of a crappy day. Frustrations with the dry cleaner (four visits required to get O4 stripes on my Bravo jacket), losing the battle with the weedeater (thankfully there were no injuries involved and I eventually won the war...the next day), not working out or eating particularly well lately...all conspired to put the AO's call in the worst possible light.

After gaining a small margin of perspective with the help of my sister and friends, I came to realize the Aide job would have been a poor fit for me. It *absolutely* would have been super-cool fun -- all the traveling, meeting some of the country's top leadership as well as all the Coasties at so many different units, getting the high-altitude big picture of the Coast Guard; and I would have done a perfectly acceptable job at it. But it just wasn't the right fit. It reminds me a little of my friend Rickey's attitude about campgrounds that didn't allow dogs. He had a *big* dog back in the day, and while it was sometimes frustrating for him to have to drive on down the road past those campgrounds, he always felt that rule probably kept him out of some places he wouldn't have been so welcome anyway. I'm only kinda saying that my tattoos are like Rickey's dog, keeping me out of places I have no reason to be anyway. They're only the physical manifestation of an individualism that I'm not ready to change, or obscure, or censor...but not flaunt or obnoxiously brandish about, either. I see lots of days wearing a woolly-pully in my future. I might even have to get one of the cardigans.

So, my orders are on the board for Program Reviewer at CG-821. I would be *LYING* if I said I wasn't nervous. I'm *very* nervous. Like, "how did I get myself into this mess"-nervous. But that feeling is a little familiar. I remember it from getting orders to HAMILTON as OPS and MAUI as CO, from staring into the face of a new challenge, something unfamiliar, something I haven't done before. I wrote about it when I was on MAUI. The next crop of crews was starting to come in, and one of the new COs went on a familiarization ride with us during post-drydock sea trials:
One of his questions was, how do you integrate into the crew that's already in place, not knowing all of the particulars of the do you lead without total confidence in yourself?
The funny thing is, he was actually able to articulate the question. I certainly felt the same way when I was getting ready to take over MAUI, but I wasn't so clear with myself why I was uncomfortable and uncertain. I hemmed and hawed for a moment, but then told him, "Fake it until you make it." It really was an attitude of bravado that got me through those first few weeks of wondering what the hell I was doing and why on earth anyone in a position of power would have ever though I was a good fit for the job. Eventually, I got more comfortable, mostly for two reasons, I think. First, I developed the knowledge the operational area and mission required; I studied tasking messages, did some of the specialty operations, and in general educated myself on what I was doing. Second, I just couldn't sustain the level of hypervigilance I adopted in those first few weeks. I was always on edge, always looking for the next thing that was coming along. I don't think I got complacent, necessarily, but something like it. Maybe I just grew into the leadership role.
I had a brief reminder of those first few days as we were returning from our shake-down trip yesterday. [One of our main diesel engines] failed, just [as we started our approach to the pier]. I took over driving us in. At one point, I looked at the situation and realized that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing...I'm just a wanna-be Farm Girl for god's sake, not some BAMF (as my room-mate calls me) war-fighter. How the *hell* was I gonna get us out of this mess?! I thought about it for a moment, and realized that I had no choice...there was no one else with us that I could turn the mess over to, and expect a better outcome than if I just did it myself, even with my extreeeeeeme discomfort with where we were at. I balled up, and faked it until we made it in.
And then took myself off to my office for a few minutes to physically stop my hands from shaking. But, if you can spare me a moment of egotism, I did an awesome!!! job getting us safely home. It was graceful and it looked good. I really did look like I knew what I was doing.
Ha ha ha ha ha ahahahaaa. That's the funny part!
But isn't that what this life is all about...facing the next challenge, stretching myself to discover if limits exist?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Treasures Unearthed

The weather-proofing guys are scheduled to come on 2 December. And for some reason (probably because I'm a tightwad), I said I would make sure the spaces were cleaned up and ready for the crew. This means two things, really: I have to remove all the deck boards and roof cardboard lining in the attic and I have to clean out the crawl space. As Drew of DRO Enterprises, the company doing the work, said, the only thing left down there should be dirt and the sump pump.

So last night I resolved that today would be the day I would get down into the crawlspace. I had a plan in mind: coveralls and watch cap to keep the creepy-crawlies out of my hair and clothes, headlamp and hanging work lamp to illuminate all the spooky corners, an old laundry basket to load up rubbish from the far corners of the space, and early in the morning before it got too warm so that all the bugs, spiders, and other heeby-jeeby-making critters were still sluggish and not tempted to mess with me. And gloves.

It was pretty icky. Wet and muddy, cobwebs all in my face. I also realized that the electrical situation down there is downright scary; some wires are extremely corroded--I'm hoping these are not the hot wires. But I'd really like to get an electrician to check it out and clean it up before it all gets sealed in by the weatherproofing guys. Any of my DC-area readers have a recommendation for a good electrician?

Besides the scary electric set up, there were rotten boards, pieces of bricks and cement blocks, rusted pieces of mystery metal, an entire roll of the paper that goes on a roof underneath the asphalt shingles (the top few layers were disintegrated), pipe scraps...and these bottles:

There are four gallon jugs (one with the original cork still in it), a half gallon jug, a quart bottle and then all the other random glass pieces. I particularly like the little spice jar (bottom left) that has it's cork. And the Shaefer's beer can...I know it's not glass, but it was just too classic to put in the garbage. The square bottle (front and center) is pretty cool too.

I'll clean them up over the next few weeks (it's a good project for taking on between reading articles for class). The house was built in 1936, so who knows how long they've been down there. But finding these cool surprises definitely made a gross chore a little more of a treasure hunt.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Shipyard Conflict, Part II

At the end of the last post, I had just figured out the more specific Goals/Objectives (Q3 in the Circle Chart) to meet the overall goal of getting the ship working again.

"Options: Actions that address the issue:" Q4 in the Circle Chart asks for action steps to address each of the specific goals from Q3. I think I have to reorder the goals for this part to be most effective.

--Scope of the misalignment: Determine the scope of the misalignment
  • Measure the gaps between the shaft and the bearings with spacers (I know that's not the right term, but I can't remember what the tool was called), performed by shipyard personnel
  • Measure the gaps with lasers, performed by subcontractor/specialist
What actually happened: We did both, chewing up about three days arguing about whether the shipyard's measurements were accurate enough (shipyard said yes, CG said no), and then arguing about the necessity for the laser measurements. Thankfully the specialist was able to come out the night after the decision was made to hire him.

--Old ship: Make her work again
  • Attach the shafts and run the ship without further intervention
  • Attempt to move the engine blocks sufficiently to get the shafts to align; this option would not require the ship to be re-drydocked
  • Re-drydock the ship and methodically realign the shafts starting where they attach to the engines
What actually happened: Once we knew the scope of the problem, the only acceptable course of action was to re-drydock the ship. It took about two weeks. Most of the work was done at night so that the workers could see the lasers better. MKC and other engineers went to working more of a third shift, starting at about 2200, and staying until about 0300. And then came back in to the office about 1000 to contribute to the day work efforts.

--Poor comms: Improved comms between the CG and contractor
  • Have a face-to-face meeting to discuss each sides' interests
  • Ensure work item specifications are clearly written and not missing critical steps
  • Commit to having all relevant parties (KO, PE, VP and maybe even shipyard President) attend the weekly progress meetings
What actually happened: Well, we had the meeting...remember, that was the one where I lost my composure and yelled at the President. Yeah, that went well. I think the most useful action item here would have been to make sure that everyone that needed to be at the weekly progress meetings were actually there. Lots of times, it was only MKC, me or XO and the shipyard Project Manager at the meeting. That's nothing against the KO or PE, I know they were busy, busy, but the more contentious the issues got, the more important it was to have decision makers in the same room.

--Distrust: Improved working relationship between the ship and contractor
  • Review contractor's past performance to either substantiate or negate the feeling that the contractor "always" did bad work at a higher cost
  • Step to their side: try to see things from the other sides' point of view
What actually happened: This was mostly *my* issue. When I was XO on WASHINGTON, we went into drydock in the other shipyard on the island, and I didn't have a good experience there either. I always felt like they were trying to put one over on us, cutting corners and mismanaging work lists which caused us to be delayed getting out by about 10 days. I had heard horror stories from other ships about their experiences also. All of that wrapped up in my head to paint a really bad picture. But when I went back and looked at the lessons learned from all of those availabilities, the data just wasn't there to support that the contractors were "always" late and "always" over cost.

--Poorly written specs: Provide better guidance to contractor
  • Be particularly careful and specific with the specs for the re-drydocking/re-alignment effort 
  • Submit feedback to SFLC/PBPL on each of the specs we used to improve their spec templates
What actually happened: I think we did both of these.

--Scare resources (both CG and shipyard): Determine best value of contract, both in terms of time and money
  • Each party commit to responding quickly to the other side's proposals; make resolution of this issue a priority
  • Mutually agree to goal of fixing the ship for the long term
What actually happened: This is a tough one. I feel like I'm being very partisan with determining action items here, looking only at it from the ship's point of view. In the end, I don't remember how much we paid for the re-alignment fix. It's probably somewhere in the database.

--Crew fatigue: Get the ship working quickly...actually, I think this should be "give the crew some respite"
  • Maximize time off for crew while ensuring necessary personnel are onboard the ship
  • Manage the worklists to allow crew to rotate home for a few days
  • Have a morale day
What actually happened: XO did a great job of getting people back to the Big Island, at least for a couple of days at a time. I think we were all still fed up with Waikiki and the commute, but there was light at the end of the tunnel. I remember worrying about MKC, though, because his worklist wasn't getting any shorter, and he was on that crazy third shift schedule.

--Cause of mis-alignment: Determine responsibility for mis-alignment
  • Both parties acknowledge their own contribution to the situation
What actually happened: I think the only reason that this particular issue really mattered was to determine who should pay for the required repairs. But, really, both parties were responsible for the mess we were in...the CG's specs (in retrospect) were poorly written because they didn't require alignment measurements taken before the ship went on the blocks; upon realization of the amount of metal that had to be replaced, we didn't address the potential for the ship shifting on the blocks until it was much too late; the shipyard didn't recognize the risk either and didn't think to take steps to mitigate it. So, assigning blame just injects contention back into the situation.

Whew. Five more elements to go.

"Standards of legitimacy: Identify objective standards by issue; may include a fair process:" All the manuals and instructions make this one fairly easy in this case...there's guidance on nearly *everything* in the Coast Guard.
--Old ship: Naval Engineering Manual (NEM) is the easiest one to reference, though there are also CFRs (Code of Federal Regulations) and IMO (International Maritime Organization) requirements for making sure a ship is constructed and maintained safely
--Scope of mis-alignment: industry standards, NEM
--Poorly written specs: also industry standard
--Scare resources: government estimates for cost of work items, contractor estimates, what other contractors charge for same work
--Crew fatigue: Cutter Employment Standards, DAFHP/perstempo standards
--Poor comms: the contract itself specified the standard for weekly progress meetings
--Distrust: previous contractor performance, contractor performance throughout the country
--Cause of mis-alignment: umm, basic theories of physics?

"Alternatives: list alternatives and check 'best alternative to a negotiated agreement' (BATNA):"
--Party #1 / KISKA

  • Run the ship without repairs -- BAD, BAD, BAD
  • Let the negotiations run their course and have current contractor make repairs; document, document, document the contractor's performance for consideration in future contract awards
  • Tug the ship over to the other shipyard on the island and have them make the repairs
  • Tug the ship back to the CG base in Honolulu, hire own alignment specialist and sue the pants off the shipyard for breach of contract -- This is probably the ship's BATNA, but it's a fairly weak one because the ship's case against the contractor is mostly circumstantial
--Party #2 / Shipyard
  • Just wait it out...the CG needs their ship back; they'll pay up eventually -- This is probably the contractor's BATNA...and a pretty good one, dag-na-bit!
  • Sue the government for breach of contract
--How is it today? Going in to that meeting, pretty bad - at least from my perspective. I didn't like them, they didn't like me. 

--How should it be? At the very least, professional, with some level of respect on both sides.

--What steps can we take to get there, starting today? First, I needed to let go some of my antipathy towards them as contractors in general, and crooks in particular. But they also needed to recognize us as professionals, instead of just a government cash cow who they knew they could squeeze more money out of. 

"Communication: Problems and Opportunities:"
--What information is lacking or not sufficiently understood? Initially, the big unknown was the scope of the bad was it? Once we answered that, the question was, how long would it take to fix it?

--What information would I like the other party to know? The consequences of running the ship with mis-aligned shafts...I mean, worst case scenario, the shafts vibrate badly enough to ruin the bearings, struts and housings (again, not sure if that's the right term), causing the engine room to flood.

--Am I listening to and hearing what the other party is saying and does s/he understand that I am listening? Nope, not happening. You mean, I'm really supposed to listen that line of crap that we should just  put the shafts in and run the ship...*hopefully* it will work?!? He totally lost my attention there, to a fog of frustration, anger and helplessness.

"Commitment: what agreement do I want at this negotiation session and in the long run?"
--Define the agreement sought at the end of this negotiating session (e.g., define issues, establish the process for negotiating an agreement, a detailed list of action items - what parties will or will not do, next meeting date and agenda): If I were doing this exercise before that fateful meeting, I think I would have wanted a definitive plan of action made up of aggressive steps to fix the problem. The most useful thing that could have happened at that meeting would have been agreement on the "cause of mis-alignment" issue--that both parties contributed to the problem, instead of each side posturing that they were faultless, blaming the other side. Jeez, that was *such* a waste of time!

--What are the elements of a long-term agreement? Decision on a work item, including how to fix the alignment, how long it would likely take, and how much it would cost.

--Can the parties perform the terms of the agreement? The shipyard needed a sub-contractor to do the laser alignment and the CG's ability to pay for the repairs was in question, it being the end of the fiscal year and all. But really, there were no other viable options for getting us out of there.

--Does the agreement cover the significant issue? In the end, yes, we came to resolution. But it definitely could have been done more quickly and with less contention.

--How will the parties handle problems as they arise during implementation of the agreement? Having a meeting with all the relevant parties involved. As I recall, once we got started, things went along fairly smoothly.

So, in the end, I've accomplished my goal of understanding the negotiation framework a little better by using a scenario with which I am familiar. I don't think I did an overwhelmingly good job of being non-partisan about my analysis, though. I just can't seem to get a good understanding of the contractor's perspective that makes any sense to me. Is being aware of that blind spot at least a start?

I didn't enter this exercise thinking that I was going to solve contractor/government relations for all times. It's definitely a work in progress, especially out in Hawaii. But the rumors I heard from over the summer make it sound like it's going in the right direction...for the government (maybe not so much for the contractor). Something about accountability and Contractor Deficiency Reports. I don't know. I do know that I am still holding on to a lot of frustration about the time KISKA spent in the shipyard. But that's probably a subject for another post. Or maybe not. Maybe I just need to let it go.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Shipyard Conflict, Part I

I'm a coupla days overdue for a post. And this post is going to serve double duty as the beginnings of a paper for class. Such a slacker! I'll even be asking for help from the audience on this post: Uncle Heathen and Aunt Jan B, if you could assist with your conflict resolution knowledge; and Frank and Greg (or any other KISKA crew from that summer!), any comments or insights on interactions with the contractors would be much appreciated.

My negotiation of choice, which of course has already been completed, will be the circumstances regarding KISKA's shaft alignment problem at the end of the 2009 drydock availability. My most impressioned memory from that experience is attending a meeting 'long about day three or four of sitting at the pier with a broken ship (over the weekend, I'm pretty sure) where we sat down with the contractors and tried figuring out the way ahead. The company President, VP and Project Manager were there for the shipyard; the Contracting Officer (KO), Port Engineer (PE), myself, my XO and my MKC were all there for the Coast Guard. The KO got the meeting going but the President quickly took over the discussion (note: I distinctly remember him using the two words in quotations), contending that the shafts weren't too badly out of alignment, there was generally some "slop" built into the design of the shafts and bearings, and "hopefully" we'd be fine to go ahead and run the ship the way it was. I nearly came across the table at him. Was he KIDDING? I think my exact words were something like, "'HOPEFULLY?!?' Hopefully is not good enough when you're talking about something that spins at 1500 rpms. This ship is not like your old tug boats and fishing boats; this is a high performance machine, more like a Corvette than a tractor. 'Hopefully' isn't good enough!" The KO, PE and Project Manager all kind of stared at me slack-jawed while MKC and XO sat there smirking. Not my finest moment, but I was *furious!*

So I think there are some good lessons for me to learn from looking at this conflict more closely. The obligatory disclaimers: this is my perspective as I try to use the example as a useful learning tool to explore the negotiation framework and meet the objectives of my class. I will do my best not to cast unwarranted aspersions on any of the parties involved. The beauty of this exercise is that I can look back with the benefit of hindsight. I will do my best to "step back from the conflict," but do reserve the right to make snide asides...wait, that doesn't sound very productive. Will try to limit the partisan commentary. Now, onward ho!

From the syllabus for Managing Conflict, the paper we're supposed to write is described as follows: "Students are to demonstrate mastery of interest-based (principled) negotiation by completing an analysis of a two-party conflict. The paper must use all nine elements and detail the type(s) of conflict strategies present. The paper must demonstrate the capacity to step back from the conflict, analyze the situation from all perspectives and then draw some conclusions. A justification for one’s point of view is not an acceptable analysis. The topic may be a negotiation that has already been completed or one that is still in progress." I'm using Getting to Yes, and Getting Past No as primary references.

The nine elements referenced in the syllabus are: framing the issue, parties and interests, significant issues, options, standards of legitimacy, communication, commitment, alternatives, relationship. There are various tools we've learned to get into each of these elements more thoroughly. Unfortunately I haven't figured out a coherent way to move through the tools so I think I'll just have to bounce around and try to explain as I go.

"Framing the Issue: What is this Negotiation about, both as I see it and as others see it?" I'm going to start by using the Circle Chart (there's a diagram about halfway down this page), which used in an integrative manner (as opposed to a partisan manner) helps to develop a "richness of options," as the professor, Dr Field says. The lower left quadrant of the Circle Chart asks, What is the problem? What are the symptoms? What is the preferred state, or long term vision? In this case, the problem was that, back in August, 2009, KISKA was not operational, despite nearly five months in drydock and close to $2 million spent on repairs. The symptoms were mis-aligned shafts. The preferred state was to have an operational cutter. I think that all the parties would have agreed with those statements, but *only* with those statements because any further interpretation of them is rife with disagreement.

"Parties and Interests: includes all significant parties who are at the table or are not, but will affect the outcome/implementation." Because this paper is about a two-party conflict, the simple list of the parties is KISKA and the contractor. But of course there were other parties involved, including KISKA's crew, Sector Honolulu and their other surface assets, MLCPAC/SFLC-PBPL (because this happened right as the Product Line was being stood up...not that that added to the confusion at all. Nope, not at all.), and the KO I think that's a good enough list to get the point. Now for their interests.

KISKA and her crew: I make the distinction because I think we, the crew as individuals, had many overlapping interests with KISKA, the operational unit, but there were also some interests that were divergent. Operationally, our interest was in getting the ship back to a working status as soon as possible in order to be able to contribute to mission execution and relieve the operational burden on Sector Honolulu's other surface assets. The crew (me included) wanted the ship back together so we could go home. There were concerns about crew fatigue, both with the extra work associated with fixing the shafts, but also the work that was still yet to come because we had a double generator change-out planned immediately following the drydock. KISKA was interested in getting the repairs done correctly to prevent any future problems with the shafts that might affect operational readiness later.

Sector Honolulu and their other surface assets: their major interest was in getting all their surface assets back to an operational status so they could meet their mission requirements...and not have to send anymore messages that put them on the spot for not being able to do certain escorts because they simply didn't have the assets available. But I think they also had a longer-term interest in documenting the paucity of assets to bolster their argument for faster delivery of new assets as the assets come available. Sector Honolulu also shared KISKA's concerns for crew fatigue and personnel tempo (PERSTEMPO) issues. Our Days Away from Homeport (DAFHP) that year were out of control, and required Sector Honolulu to submit a waiver...more paperwork and effort.

MLCPAC/SFLC-PBPL: They're responsible for the long-term functionality and cost of maintenance for the patrol boats, so they had a significant financial interest in the proceedings. But they also answer to the operational commander, so they knew they needed to get the boat back to an operational status as quickly as possible. But they also needed to maintain a good working relationship with the contractor because the chances of them having to work with the contractor again was pretty high...being that there's only two shipyards in Hawaii that work on CG ships. And they had their own internal thing going on with the aforementioned stand up of the Patrol Boat Product Line.

The KO: his interest was in getting the best value for the government's dollar, which balances cost with contractor performance. He wanted good performance at a low cost, as much as possible. But he also needed to be concerned about getting the ship fixed quickly. He was definitely interested in maintaining a good working relationship with the contractor in order to not jeopardize future interactions.

So that's it for the parties whose positions I actually have some insights into. But there's still the contractor's interests left to explore. That's where Choice Charts come in. The Currently Perceived Choice Chart asks a particular question to which the party is saying definitively "NO" and asks what are the pros and cons of that decision. The question I formulated for the contractor was, "shall we make alignment repairs to KISKA under the current scope of work?" If they say "yes" to this question, the negative consequences outweigh the positive consequences for them; if they say "no," the positive consequences outweigh the negative consequences for them.

Currently Perceived Choice Sheet
If they say "yes":
(-) They will lose money, both in terms of paying their employees for the work, the space the ship took up in the yard, and the opportunity costs that preclude them from working on other ships if they're working on KISKA.
(-) They will set a bad precedent for expanding the scope of work
(-) It may appear that they are admitting poor workmanship and (related to the next item)...
(-) It may impugn their reputation as a quality shipyard (snarky comment deleted)
(+) Improves their potential to get more government contracts in the future
(+) It gets KISKA (and by extension, me!) out of their shipyard faster (shoots, I would have thought that would have outweighed *any* other consideration!)

If they say "no":
(+) It allows them to explore more opportunities for gain under continued contract negotiations
(+) There is not precedent set and the original contracted scope of work is preserved
(+) They won't lose as much money
(+) It does not require them to admit any responsibility for poor quality workmanship
(-) They may jeopardize the potential for future government contracts
(-) The ship (and by extension, me!) will be in their shipyard for longer

The second part of the Choice Chart is the Target Balance Sheet, which lists the consequences the party might face if they are offered an alternative plan, Plan X, that is as-yet undetermined but offers terms for which their positive consequences for saying yes outweigh the negative ones. If they say "yes" to this proposal, the positive consequences outweigh the negative consequences; if they say "no", the negative consequences outweigh the positive consequences.

Target Balance Sheet
If they say "yes":
(+) They will be fairly compensated for their work, time and space
(+) They maintain their reputation as a quality shipyard (snarky comment #2 deleted)
(+) They preserve the potential for future government contracts
(+) They maintain the integrity of contract law
(-) They may not get as much money as possible
(-) They may have to admit some culpability for the alignment problems

If they say "no":
(-) They may be sued by the government
(-) They will lose money
(-) They may lose future government contracts
(-) They may be perceived as petulant and uncooperative by other future customers
(+) The may be able to hold out for more money

So based on all this, I'll summarize the contractor's interests as maximizing profit, preserving their reputation as a quality shipyard (snarky comment deleted, again), and maintaining customer relations with the government and other potential customers.

"Significant Issues that must be addressed in this negotiation:" The second quadrant (upper left) of the Circle Chart helps to identify the theoretical underlying causes of the problem, in essence, diagnosing the symptoms. The causes I identified were:
--KISKA was an old ship with lots of deferred maintenance
--There were poor communications between the Coast Guard and the shipyard
--There was a significant amount of distrust towards the contractor by the ship (or maybe that was just me)
--The contract specifications were not specific to the ship's situation (non-MEP'd ship with lots of metal fatigue issues)
--There was disagreement on the cause of the mis-alignment (the shipyard said the shafts weren't aligned when we got there; the CG said all the metal cropped out and replaced caused the ship to settle differently while on the blocks)
--There was disagreement about the scope of the mis-alignment (the shipyard said it wasn't that bad; the CG said it was out of tolerance)
--There were scare CG resources including time (scarcity of other Sector Hono surface assets) and funding (it was the end of the fiscal year...we already had a coupla scares that something or another wasn't getting funded because MLCPAC/SFLC-PBPL was out of money)
--There may also have been resource issues at the shipyard, in terms of space and time
--The crew was *tired* of being in the shipyard, of being away from home, of a two hour commute back to the hotel, of eating meals out in Waikiki restaurants, of having a beautiful ship that didn't work

The Circle Chart third quadrant (upper right) asks for more specific goals and objectives to be assigned to each of the issues; it is a refinement of the preferred vision. Dr Field had us briefly work through the Circle Chart in class as he taught us about it. We worked on our own for a few minutes and then shared what we had with a classmate for feedback and coaching. I was good with the first two quadrants, no problems getting those things verbalized. But somehow moving on to the third quadrant...I just couldn't figure out how to get there. My ship was BROKEN, I wanted it FIXED! How much more *refined* can you get?!? I could refine the statement with a few choice expletives, but I didn't think that was quite the point.

Dr Field then suggested that I break away from the contractor/ship conflict, and use the Circle Chart to explore my own conflict. Quadrant 1 (Q1): problem - I was stuck; symptom - I couldn't figure out how to wrap my head around moving past diagnosing the issue; long-term vision - I wanted to be unstuck. Q2: diagnosis - I have a huge emotional investment in my position as CO; my own frustrations with having a broken ship made it impossible to step far enough away from the issue to be objective. Q3: refined objective - find the emotional detachment necessary to make an unbiased assessment of the situation. Q4 (sorry to jump ahead...I will come back to explain Q4 more fully, but basically it lists options to meet the Q3-specified goals): recognize that the emotional investment exists and acknowledge it for the value it provides me (the ability to be passionate about being a CO, the commitment necessary to do my job through tough times and difficult challenges); admit that that commitment can precipitate blind spots in my world view; allow myself to be mad about the whole damn thing, but then GET *OVER* IT!! and get on with business.

As self-aware as I like to think I am, going through this secondary Circle Chart proved to be what I needed to make sense of my mental block.

The funny thing is, the breakthrough I needed wasn't a substance issue, it was a procedural issue. Q3 asks for an objective to be specified for each issue. I was lumping them all together still, but they have to be broken out individually and "re-goaled." Issue: Specific goal
--Old ship: Make her work again
--Poor comms: Improved comms between the CG and contractor
--Distrust: Improved working relationship between the ship and contractor
--Poorly written specs (actually, I think this really contributed to the poor comms and distrust issues): Better guidance provided to contractor
--Cause of mis-alignment: Determine responsibility for mis-alignment
--Scope of the mis-alignment: Determine scope of the mis-alignment
--Scare resources (both CG and shipyard): Determine best value of contract, both in terms of time and money
--Crew fatigue: Get the ship working quickly

I think I'm going to stop here for now. The paper's not due til mid-November, and I've got some other projects I need to work on. Will try to finish this up within the week.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Expanded Views

You ever have that experience where, when your brain keys on something, you keep seeing that thing, running into it all over town? That's what's been happening to me this week with systems.

The subject of all the readings in my Federal Acquisitions class this week were on Systems Engineering, including an excellent look at the Coast Guard's Deepwater program as a case study for a system of systems approach to acquisition.

I went to a forum on campus where DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and MD Governor Martin O'Malley spoke about homeland security issues spanning federal, state, local and other partner agency initiatives, like the START  (Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism) program at the University of Maryland. Governor O'Malley said that where his generation was told to specialize, ("go into plastics, young man...plastics," was his quote), today we need people who are more generalists, able to look at things and see how they function as a system. Secretary Napolitano used the word "holistic" regarding the approach needed to address homeland security concerns.

I had an energy audit done on my house last week. It's a leaky ol' buggah. My windows leak; there are holes in the drywall that leak; the crawlspace leaks; the attic leaks...but with a systematic approach I can get all those leaks sealed up and improve the energy efficiency of my house. I guess what makes this a systems issue for me was Pascale's description of the current state of my crawlspace. It isn't included OR excluded from the's just kinda haphazardly there. To include it within the house, I could seal it along the outer perimeter; to exclude it from the house, I could seal under the floor and all the "through-hull fittings" (sorry, couldn't help to default to my comfort zone) like the gas, water and sewage pipes. So, I need to make a decision one way or the other, instead of just letting it hang out in undecided limbo.

But, in true system fashion, the crawlspace does not exist in a vacuum (how *could* it, being so leaky?). There's a sump-pump down there, installed well before my tenure in the house, which leads me to believe that there have been water intrusion issues. I may have influenced the amount of water reaching the crawlspace with the installation of rain barrels at each of my downspouts, but I've been reluctant to actually visit the crawlspace to see if there are damp spots. Damn it, it's raining today...would be the perfect opportunity to check it out. Ugh, creepy crawlies, spider webs, dirty paws and knees, here I come. Back in a sec...Ayup, it's wet down there all right. The sump pump is sitting in a low spot in about four inches of water. I don't know what the power source is for the pump, so it will stay idle until I can get an electrician to check it out--some of the wiring looks decidedly suspect. And here's the irony: in the middle of all these grand revelations about systems and systems thinking, I just wish sometimes that things were *simpler!* That it didn't take a weatherizer, general contractor *and* an electrician, never mind a brick mason and a painter to get my house in order. I guess that's not really irony, but just reality about all systems.

I've had two sort of insights with all these systems issues in my face lately. First, I think I may have finally found the usefulness to my current career of my background in agriculture. It's easy to see linkages and relationships, dynamic complexities (in Senge's parlance), in living ecosystems. While I got a great education at Berea College, there were some short-comings in the agriculture curriculum when I was there (that have since been so well corrected that I hesitate to bring up skeletons from 20 years ago). I distinctly remember sitting in one of my classes, probably Plant Science, and being completely horrified at the professor's recommendation that to rectify an over-application of nie-ter-gin (that's nitrogen (N) to the rest of us), all ya had to do was irrigate more...that would send all that extra N on out of your field because N is water-soluble. I think I got asked to leave the class for being disruptive when I asked what about the neighbors' fields down-stream, or the water table that got contaminated with N and produced a bulge of methemoglobinemia (I had to look up the technical name), aka blue baby syndrome, in the local population. Never did think too much of that professor. But even then I understood the interconnectedness of ecosystems. It's fairly comfortable for me too look for the relationships between things and what externalities affect those relationships.

Second, I really like the idea of expanding my view of an issue to see the entire picture. In my Managing Conflict class, one of the barriers to "inventing an abundance of options" is the idea of a fixed pie. More money for you means less for me. I love the example in Getting to Yes:
"Chess looks like a zero-sum game; if one loses, the other wins--until a dog trots by and knocks over the table, spills the beer, and leaves you both worse off than before.
Even apart from a shared interest in averting joint loss, there almost always exists the possibility of joint gain. This may take the form of developing a mutually advantageous relationship, or of satisfying the interests of each side with a creative solution."
 But in either case, it requires looking at more than just one's own side of things. You *have* to broaden the scope of the negotiation to include the other side's interests. This expansion often reveals that a) there is much more common ground than originally perceived, and b) creative problem-solving can sometimes help resolve the remaining disparities.

Somehow for me this also dovetails with Senge's feedback concept. " systems thinking, feedback is...any reciprocal flow of is an axiom that every influence is both cause and effect. Nothing is ever influenced in just one direction." Maybe it's an expansion of being able to mentally include more than just linear relationships, of being able to see inter-relations or structures separate from behaviors. "This distinction is important because seeing only individual actions and missing the structure underlying the actions...lies at the root of our powerlessness in complex situations." Guh, there's *something* there, but I'm just not making the connection yet.

Ok, I've beat this drum enough today.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dis-Articulated Brain Waves

I'm in my last semester of school, and somehow it seems like the classes I'm taking really support and contribute significantly to the others. And I seem to finally have gotten enough into "school" mode that the workload doesn't feel completely overwhelming. Which means I have time to process what's going on in the readings, make sense of what's said in class, and basically cogitate on how it all fits into the big picture. I even have time to read some of the stuff *I* want to read. I kinda wish it hadn't taken until my last semester to get to that point, but heck, I'm grateful that I've gotten to that point *at all.*

This post feels like it's going to be nebulous until I work through exactly what I want to say...I know there's something there, but I haven't quite figured out what it is yet.

The classes I'm taking this semester are Managing Differences: Resolving Conflict and Negotiating Agreements; Performance Management; and Federal Acquisition: Concept and Management. They all seem to relate to each other. Federal Acquisition requires an understanding of useful performance management measures, especially as more and more government services are provided by contractors. Negotiation/Conflict Resolution is all about making relationships work--finding the best solutions for both sides, which is important in structuring contracts. And Performance Management can provide useful tools to determine if negotiated agreements are functional within the context of today's governance structure.

If I'm not entirely paying attention to the syllabus for a particular week, I find myself struggling to remember which readings are for which class because they overlap so much.

And then I started reading The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, by Peter Senge. It was mentioned in one of my classes last semester, and I took note that it might be worthwhile reading. My uncle saw it written on a list on my fridge and brought me his copy, warning me that he thought it was boring. I've read about four chapters of it so far, and think it's kind of funny how perspective makes all the difference in how we approach things. Uncle Heathen is very much an individualist...he owns his own business, and I think, pretty much always has. He *would* think a treatise on organizational psychology would be dry because he's not had much need or cause to cogitate on how large organizations function (I'm sorry if I'm putting words in your mouth here, Uncle H). I think the book is fascinating. And I see *a lot* of Coast Guard culture articulated in the book: mental models, life-long learning/personal mastery, shared vision...any of that sound familiar to Coastie-readers? I'm actually kinda surprised the book isn't on the Commandant's Recommended Reading List...maybe it is, and I just missed it.

One of the major themes of Performance Management is how the "wicked issues" government faces require a network approach, instead of the traditional bureaucratic/hierarchical approach. There's a great quote from The Fifth Discipline, "the basic meaning of a "learning organization" [is] an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future." I just realized that those two sentences make more sense put together in my head than they come across just plunked down next to each other like they are here.

I guess the connection that I see is that we need networks of "learning organizations" to address the wicked problems that plague government and society today. It isn't enough just to have one or two highly functioning pieces and expect the rest of the network to run smoothly based on their contribution. It *could* work that way, I suppose, but it would be a struggle...kind of like when everyone relies on one or two team members to do all the heavy lifting, instead of everyone contributing simultaneously.

Oh, side note: I read an article from Harvard Business Review, "The Discipline of Teams," by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith (it was for Federal Acquisitions). One portion of the article is about the differences between "teams" and "working groups." I took a little umbrage with their distinction between the two. Working groups have: "a strong, clearly focused leader; individual accountability; the group's purpose is the same as the broader organizational mission; individual work products; runs efficient meetings; measures its effectiveness by its influence on others (such as financial performance of the business); discusses, decides and delegates." Teams, on the other hand, have: "shared leadership roles; individual and mutual accountability; specific team purpose that the team itself delivers; collective work products; encourages open-ended discussion and active problem-solving meetings; measures performance directly by assessing collective work products; discusses, decides and does real work together." Jeesh, from that description, I wonder if I *ever* worked with a team...which, of course, I know I have--on MAUI and KISKA if no other places. But some parts of the working group definitely appeal to me more than the chaos of working with their definition of a team.

But back to the learning organization/wicked problem thing--it would just be better if more organizations *were* learning organizations. And maybe that's where the performance management aspect comes in. One of the first articles we read for that class, "Why Measure Performance? Different Purposes Require Different Measures," by Robert Behn, breaks the reasons for doing performance measurement into eight categories: evaluate, budget, control, motivate, promote, celebrate, learn and improve. But Behn emphasizes that the overarching reason is to improve...improve the services, improve the organization, improve well, performance.

I had an absolute brain wave in class just now. The professor had a very simplistic graphic that depicted the way that government currently functions as a network, with federal, state, local, contractors, sub-contractors, non-profits, citizens/clients all interconnected. Somehow that made me flash on the graphic from The Fifth Discipline of systems thinking. So the question that comes to my mind is are "learning organizations" more effective at accomplishing their goals in the new governance network? I'd have to say they are, based on their inherent ability to adapt to changing environments.

A lot of this may seem elementary and obvious to many folks, and I *know* it didn't come out at all coherently. But it's important to me to make sense of it in my own mind, kind of self-discovery, dis-articulation of the wheel, if you will. And boy, is it good to get it all out of my head. There's definitely more performance measures can meaningfully contribute to learning organizations, how learning organizations can help to make sense of governance networks.

I was whining to my sister a couple of days ago that while I really like the Performance Management class, I always walk out of there feeling like an absolute stupidiot. Everybody else seems to be able to take far-flung references and make them make sense during the class discussion. It feels like anything that I contribute is depressingly two-dimensional, with no added analysis or connections. It's my goal for this semester to work on that. To approach readings more analytically, to tie non-obviously related concepts together in a meaningful and insightful way, to maybe even...think original thoughts. I don't think I'm quite there, especially with this post, which is discouragingly scattered. But the seeds are there. Just need me a big bucket of man-u-re, some water and plenny sunlight.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Planning Fallacy

We were assigned to read the article, "Intuitive Prediction: Biases and Corrective Procedures," by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky for my Federal Acquisitions class this week (one of seven!! articles, each about 45 pages long...woe is me! Thank goodness for 10 pages of endnotes/references.). Their premise is that forecasting is most often fallacious in two predictable manners: an over-reliance on intuition, rather than regressive analysis; and overconfidence with precision of estimates. Quotes from the article are in italics.
"Our  view of  forecasting rests on  the  following  notions. First,  that  most  predictions and  forecasts  contain  an irreducible  intuitive  component.  Second,  that  the  intuitive predictions of  knowledgeable  individuals contain much  useful information.  Third,  that  these  intuitive  judgments  are  often biased  in  a  predictable manner.  Hence,  the  problem is  not whether  to  accept  intuitive  predictions at  face  value or  to reject  them, but  rather  how  they can  be  debiased and  improved."
Usually as I read stuff, especially conceptual stuff, I try to relate it to something with which I am familiar. The article did a good job of providing understandable examples, but for me, what resonated was trying to predict how long something, particularly engineering-related, will take to repair. When something breaks--and it's inevitable that something *will,* every operational planner knows that there's "real estimate" and "engineering estimate" for repairs.

Real time is what it actually takes to fix whatever is broken, and is never actually known until the piece of equipment is fixed. Engineering time is the EO/EPOs best estimate for how long it's going to take.
"...the  element of  uncertainty  is  typically  underestimated in  risky decisions.  The  elimination of  overconfidence  is therefore an  important  objective  in  an attempt  to  improve  the quality of  the  intuitive  judgments  that  serve decision making."
Under extreme duress and lots of nagging on my part, a first-rate, highly skilled, extremely talented EO shared with me his engineering time algorithm: 2*estimated repair time + 20 percent. So if he thought it would actually take an hour to say, fix the fuel leak on the small boat, he'd tell me that the small boat would be FMC in about two and a half hours, give or take. That way he and his engineers looked like rock stars when it was done in an hour and a half, and they still had plenty of time to thwart the annoying gremlin trickery that is inherent to engineering repairs.

Of course, I always tried to reverse engineer his engineering time to get the real time...usually only ended up annoying the hell out of both of us.
"A probability distribution  that  is  conditioned on  restrictive  assumptions  reflects  only  part of  the  existing uncertainty regarding  the  quantity,  and  is  therefore  likely to  yield too many  surprises."
Somehow, though, I was never able to effectively apply the same theory to predicting how long it would take to launch the small boat. Like, *never.* I would always underestimate it, and we'd be late (guaranteed to aggravate me), or overestimate it, and the boat crew would have to haul a mile, usually upswell, to get to the boarding target, arriving thoroughly soaked and more tired than they needed to be (and I always knew it was my fault). I think my "restrictive assumption" was that it would either take 15 minutes to launch the small boat, or 30 minutes (mostly because my brain thinks most easily in quarter-hour increments), when actually it takes, on average, 22 minutes to get the boat in the water and boat crew and boarding team loaded. It's really hard to take the Plan of the Day seriously when it says, "0938 - Set Boat Lowering Detail," for a 1000 arrival time.
"In many  problems of prediction  and estimation, available  information  is  limited, incomplete,  and  unreliable.  If  people  derive almost  as much confidence  from poor  data  as  from good  data, they  are  likely to produce overly narrow confidence  intervals  when  their information  is  of  inferior quality."
I guess my point is that I like what the authors did with the article in trying to break down the nature of uncertainty in planning. I'm poking gentle fun at it because they take it so seriously, and turn it all scientific and statistical. But, in the end, they're right...the important thing about predictions is honestly recognizing where they are weak, and trying, despite ourselves, to compensate for those weaknesses.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reflection Paper #1

BACKGROUND: I'm taking a class titled "Managing Differences: Resolving Conflict & Negotiating Agreements." We met for the first time this past Monday, and went through an oil pricing exercise. The class was divided into small groups, and then paired up with another group. Each small group represented an oil-exporting country in direct competition with our partner group for exporting oil to a (third) neighboring country. We had to decide how to price our exported oil based on a given matrix for profits, with the goal of maximizing our country's profits. We couldn't talk with the other group initially, but then after a couple rounds, we were able to attend a "summit" with them.

The first couple of rounds, we were able to maintain prices at their, relatively profitable initial level. When we attended the summit, we negotiated a price increase with the other country that would benefit both of us. 

We got *totally* ** PUNKED!** The other group undercut us and made a huge profit for themselves, but *completely* destroyed the future potential for continued friendly relations between the group. 

Our homework assignment from the exercise was to write a short paper, reflecting on our reaction to the events. Here's mine:

PAPER: I tend to think that most everyone shares my perspective that the world would be a better place if we could all at least consider others’ needs along with our own. Unfortunately, my experience in the oil pricing exercise definitively illustrated that this is not the case. Our Alban (the other country) counterparts went into the negotiations with a clearly stated objective of luring us into a trusting relationship solely to take eventual advantage of the situation. I was also disappointed that they saw the exercise as a win-lose environment instead of one in which both parties could fully optimize their circumstances. The situation made me feel naïve and upset that my trust was used against my pursuit of a potentially mutually beneficial goal. 

For the last 12 years, my professional (and a great deal of my personal) life has been dedicated to being underway on Coast Guard cutters. It has been a very team-oriented existence. Not much happens on a ship that involves a single person; nearly everything requires the significant effort of many people working together. Trust is quickly built…or nothing gets done. The bridge watch has to trust the engine watch to keep machinery running within parameters, and the rest of the crew has to trust the bridge watch to, well, not run into anything and to navigate the ship safely. With this background, trust comes easily to me.

As the Commanding Officer, I worked hard to diligently and conscientiously build trust and camaraderie among my crews through shared missions, clearly communicated expectations and sincere respect of individuals’ talents and abilities. It is a source of personal pride to me that those crews--my guys--trusted me to be their Captain and lead them during difficult and dangerous situations. So, while trust comes easily to me, I also take it very personally. 

During the exercise, when our Alban counterparts nefariously lured us into believing that they would also raise their price to $30/barrel in the fourth month, I took it personally that they blatantly lied to us. It meant that I hadn’t done as good a job as I could have communicating the benefits of a long-term commitment to increased prices. It meant that they were only hearing what they wanted to hear, rather than what we were saying. It meant that we didn’t have common goals. It meant that our trust in them was unfounded. It might even have meant that they were bad people.

The major insight I gleaned from this exercise is that other people’s motivations are not my personal burden. As long as I make my best effort to clearly state relevant concerns and opinions, I am not responsible for their independent actions. If their goals are different, it does not make them bad people. Even if they are deceitful, I have no place to either judge them or take on their "salvation" on as my own cause.

There is a balance required between getting so personally involved that I lose my objectivity and am emotionally hurt by people with less honorable intentions and being so detached to not care one way or the other about the outcome. The balance point will likely change with each circumstance. But maintaining an awareness of my tendency towards emotional involvement may help to find that point at which I can be passionately committed to achieving my own objectives, which usually include some consideration of the Other’s situation with the ultimate goal of making the world a better place.

ON ANOTHER NOTE: I got a call from my Assignment Officer today, which is not an insignificant occurrence, especially when I'm waiting (somewhat breathlessly) to find out what office I'll be working in for the next few years. He had a "short-fused" assignment opportunity he wanted to talk to me about. 

We talked yesterday; I tried to reiterate to him exactly which office I want to work in (which just happens to be open, and wanting an off-season transfer). He didn't commit to anything, but definitely indicated I was in the running for my top two choices.

This morning he told me he had reviewed my record again last night and thought that I would be a good candidate for a *VERY* high profile, like ridiculously prestigious, assignment within the Executive Branch. Would I consider applying for it?

Um...WOW!! Holy crap!! Lil' ole' me?!? Hunh-uh, you're joking, right? Ok, deep breath, calm down, and...say no.

I thanked him first for deciding that my record of performance indicated that I might be competitive for this particular assignment; it's a huge honor to even be briefly considered for it. He asked me why I said no.

I told him I didn't think I'd be a good fit for it, that there is likely someone much better suited to that kind of highly visible job, and that, truthfully, I just don't have the social skills necessary to be good at a job like that. He thanked me for my honesty, and told me I was still in the running for the jobs I had asked for. We quickly finished our conversation.

I stood at the dining room window for a moment, looking out into my yard, breathing a little shallowly, at the thought that I had just turned down the opportunity probably of a lifetime. I'm still a bit shaken by it. I *know* I wouldn't be good at it. I'm awkward in social situations, prone to saying stupid things, don't think especially quickly on my feet. But...did I really turn it down just because I'm scared of all those things? Or am I scared of being potentially successful and influential far beyond my wildest dreams? Or am I using that as an excuse (lack of advanced social skills) to avoid something I don't want to do?

I like to think that I'm pretty good at taking on challenges, stretching my capabilities, testing myself. But this...I'm just not sure that I *want* to be good at the things I think this job would require. I don't want to be able to know at a glance who is the most powerful person in the room, and the entire pecking order on the way down from there. I don't want to be good at politics. I like the fact that I'm oblivious to a lot of that stuff. I like the fact that I say what's on my mind, with very little self-preservationist-censorship. I like the fact that I'm kinda rough around the edges and not always fit for polite company. 

In the end, I think I made the right choice. Someone else *wants* that job, would be better at it, and wouldn't embarrass the Coast Guard just by being called for an interview (as I likely would). 

But it's pretty freaking cool that the AO thought, even for a small second, that I might be the right person for that job!

Friday, September 9, 2011

An Indelible Commitment

I started writing this while I was still officially taking a break from blogging, so it's a little out of order. But still relevant.

9 Aug
I’m getting more artwork done on my right arm today. The plan is to finish out my lower arm so I’ll have a full sleeve. Jimmy McMahon at Jimmy Mack Designs in Haleiwa started the sleeve the summer of 2009, a few weeks after I got back home from Bahrain. I gave him a general idea of what I wanted…something with magnolia blossoms, irises and snap dragons. He filled in the rest, and I’ve gotten endless compliments on how beautiful the tattoo is.

So now I’m going back in and he’s gonna draw down to my wrist. This time I asked him to use the same design concept as the upper arm, but instead of wind lines, I want waves, with some fish and birds peeking out. I have no doubt that it’s going to be gorgeous. (9 Sep update: it's about 80 percent done. I tapped out after four hours on the day I left (fourth sitting). Still have a large stripe of teal/turquoise water to fill in; probably another four or five hours, including touch-ups. Jimmy left it so that it doesn't look totally weird, and you can get a sense of how it will look completed. I'll get it finished when I head back to Hawaii in December after graduation. Pictures to follow upon completion.)

I got my first tattoo when I was 21, a cute little chain of daisies around my upper left arm. Bodean, a big-bellied, bearded biker in Richmond, KY gave it to me. I thought I was pretty bad ass. I think I got it right around the time I graduated from college. It took me two years before my mother saw it. She didn’t approve. After that, I got the thistle on my right foot (quote from the guy in Raleigh, NC who drew it, “that’s the weirdest f'king tattoo I’ve ever given.” I think he might have been exaggerating a little). I got that one after attending a strategic planning conference at my alma mater, Berea College…the small stipend they paid me as a guest speaker covered the cost of the tattoo. And then I got the weird black lines around my daisies just before going to OCS at some random shop in Cherry Point, NC. There’s something about doing something responsible that makes me get tattoos, I guess.

After that I went on about a six year hiatus from getting tattoos…and was able to give blood again on a regular basis.

But then I found myself in another position of responsibility and not a little bit of stress, and I went back to my tattooing ways. One of the warrant officers onboard HAMILTON found an artist in Vasco de Nunez, Panama that we all ended up going to. Jimmy (don’t know what it is about tattoo artists named Jimmy) had been tattooing since he was 14 years old, and by the time we all met him, he had over 40 years’ experience. I started with the slightly absurd skull and trident on the back of my upper right arm, just before going to two months of Tactical Action Officer (TAO) school in Newport, RI. Then I got the first two swallows on my belly, and the last tattoo I got from Panama Jimmy was the Leo sign on my right wrist…figured it was fair warning to anyone who met me.

Being in Bahrain didn’t stop the tattoo plans. MAUI had a tattoo party. We kept three tattoo artists busy for more than eight hours, giving eleven crewmembers tattoos. I got my third swallow…in desert camo colors this time. I’ve got a master plan for all those swallows, but can’t really go forward with it until I’m done with getting underway.

When I got back to the states, KISKA was in drydock…I've told that story here before. But it was a hard time for me, coming home, but not having a home; dealing with the ship and the shipyard; readjusting to stateside operations. I wanted something good going on. And that’s when I met Jimmy Mack. I wanted magnolia blossoms, irises and sweet peas because my grandparents had them in their yard when I was a kid. My grandfather had a *huge* garden, and did some hobby-breeding of roses and irises. And in their front yard was a big, beautiful magnolia tree that I always loved. Being a half-sleeve, that one took quite a while and got me through a good part of my 14-month tour on KISKA, what with healing time and touch ups and such.

Right before my change of command I got another swallow, this time from Jess at Habitat Tattoo in Hilo. A couple of the guys on the boat had gotten work from her that I liked. And I knew I wanted a swallow from the Big Island. Her bird is cheeky and flirty and colorful…right over my heart (so very, very cheesy, I know). But it was tough leaving Hilo. And KISKA.

Now, this summer, I’m back in Waialua, taking care of my terminally ill mom. I love Hawaii, and one of the hardest parts of this whole experience for me is wishing I wasn’t here, having to deal with my mom’s cancer…her incremental decline, the narrowing of her world, her discomfort and inability to do much physically for herself.  Let’s just say it sucks, and leave it at that for now. But looking back over my history of tattoos, I realize that I get them when I need something good and quintessentially *me* in my life. I think the thought actually crossed my mind recently, if I get my full sleeve this summer, at least something good will have come out of the time…which is a little more grim and grumpy that my usual attitude. I must have been having a bad day.

Somehow I find myself a little nervous about getting this one done though. It’s kinda a huge commitment and a very visible statement of individuality. The commitment part doesn’t bother me so much. I’ve pretty much gotten used to having tattoos to the point that I don’t even really notice them on my skin anymore. Most people I’ve talked to that have extensive bodywork recognize that level of commitment I’m talking about. It’s a little different than the decision to get that nice, but small piece of artwork that can be easily covered by a t-shirt or long pants…you know, the one on the shoulder, or the tramp stamp, or the ankle tattoo. There’s a time commitment to getting it done, a definite financial commitment, but also, I think a commitment to knowing yourself well enough to go through the process and then live with that decision.

But I’ve also gotten used to being judged by other people because of them. I think the worst experience was at the airport in Bahrain one evening. I had gone to pick up someone probably coming back from Kuwait. But as I was standing there at the gathering spot, an older gentleman in a traditional headscarf took notice of me. He would look at my foot, look at my face, look at my foot and then stare daggers off into the distance. In retrospect, I appreciate his restraint for not being more aggressive or vocal with his denunciation of me. I kinda got the point regardless.

Maybe the commitment I’m nervous about making is the commitment to long-sleeved uniforms. Every day. Year round. Even in summer. I’ve done some preliminary math. I’m good from November 1 to March 31 with the Winter Dress Blue uniform. So it’s really only seven months of the year I have to worry about. And of that seven months, I should be able to wear ODUs (with the sleeves rolled down, of course) about 90 percent of the time, depending on what HQ office I go to. And for that other ten percent, SDBs might be appropriate about five out of ten occasions. If I’m in a meeting in the HQ building where trops are required, there’s always the woolly-pully. In the end, there might be two times a year that I have to wear plain ol’ trops. Umm, personnel inspections, in trops—yeah, kinda nervous about those. Maybe I'll just take leave those days...and make sure I ask for feedback from my supervisor on my professional appearance to ensure s/he is satisfied with my uniform presentation.

Now, all of my tattoos are well within the written Coast Guard regulations on what is allowable…nothing below the wrist, nothing explicit or offensive. I did my homework. I looked at COMDTINST M1020.6F (Uniform Regulations Manual) which says in section 2.A.1, “Appearance in uniform is a key element for how the public perceives the men and women of the Coast Guard, and how the Coast Guard men and women honor their country and the service. Coast Guard personnel are responsible for maintaining their personal appearance and their uniforms to reflect the long and proud history and traditions of the Coast Guard.” If there’s anything that positively influences my decision, it’s that little quote, “long and proud history and traditions of the Coast Guard.” I mean, really, what’s more traditional than sailors getting tattoos?!? 

I looked at COMDTINST 1000.1B (Tattoo, Body Marking, Body Piercing and Mutilation Policy), which says in paragraph 4,  The ultimate goal of this instruction is to ensure our workforce presents a sharp, professional military appearance to the public we serve while also allowing individual expression through authorized body art that is consistent with the Coast Guard’s core values.” Check. 

And I even reread the Commandant’s Guidance to PY12 Officer Selection Boards and Panels, you know, just to be sure that I wasn’t doing anything to blatantly disregard a focus on professional appearance for officers. It really doesn’t go into appearance much at all; it’s much more focused on performance.

So, am I safe? Do I really think there will be no professional repercussions for having a tattoo that is visible in trops? How much do I care? I guess I care only as much as the tattoo impacts one thing: my ability to be effective at my job. Now in my mind, I’ll do the same job if I’ve got my entire face covered with tattoos or nary a speck of ink on me. I'll give my best effort at any job because that's what I believe in. It's not like the tattoo ink physiologically interacts with my body chemistry to negatively impact my brain capacity. Jimmy and I joked about this...he said, oh wait, I'm using this new ink, it's called Moron Ink (and then we went on to talk about how he mixes his own inks, using a natural preservative as a base so that the inks will last longer if he doesn't use that particular color for a while).

The one thing about tattoos that may impact my ability to do my job is how other people react to them. Hence the long-sleeved uniforms, long-sleeved shirts to and from the office, and long-sleeved shirts during unit-sponsored events including workouts. I don't think that will completely make the tattoo invisible and totally keep coworkers, supervisors and other professional acquaintances from seeing it, but it is a recognition of how tattoos can distract from whatever might be the actual task-at-hand. 

Life is...a daring adventure or nothing.