Sunday, June 26, 2011

PBPL Conference Notes

OMG!! My 100th post! When I sign onto Blogger, it tells me how many posts there are, when the last one was and probably other stuff. I don't usually pay much attention to it, but 100 is kinda a milestone!

But that's not the subject of this post. The Patrol Boat Product Line Program Review is. It was in Norfolk, week before last. No one else much in the office was very thrilled about going, and I can't really say I blame them...nearly 48 hours total in travel time from Hawaii for a three day conference (at least I wasn't travelling from Guam). I don't know *how* long it took ASSATEAGUE's EPO to get to Virginia, but it probably was a really, really long time. Despite the travel time, I was really excited for the opportunity to go. I wanted to hear how the Product Line was doing, what is still left to be done, advocate on behalf of the D14 cutters and well, hang out with a bunch of engineers...'cause that's always fun! Call it as close to getting underway as I'm likely to get for a while.

I won't bore you with all 12 pages of my typed notes from the conference, but there are a few gems that I want to pass on. It's not in chronological order, or anything like that either. Kinda more organized by what piqued my interest (because this *is* the world according to Charlotte).

About midway through the first day, RADM Ronald Rabago, Deputy Commandant for Engineering and Logistics (CG-4) spoke to the group in his role as Chief Naval Engineer. He shared his three priorities as well as some guiding principles. And while I'm always leery of paraphrasing senior leadership for fear of mis-quoting or mis-representing what they say, I offer the following only as *MY INTERPRETATION* of what he said and *MY OPINION* of what he said that I thought was important (can I emphasize that any more?).

His three priorities are: People, Resources and Processes. The people part is pretty standard for CG-speak. Regarding resources: we need to focus on getting the money in the right places, which may require Operational Commanders to make tough choices. But better choices can be made with better information, specifically maintenance cost per operational hour. One of my favorite quotes from all three days was "Without maintained ships, there are no operations" (I wrote that one down, word-for-word). And process is about making sure who does what and how business is conducted is institutionalized and preferably codified. RADM Rabago mentioned that PUB-4 is coming out soon, which will be the capstone document for engineering and logistics, similar to PUB-1 for the CG as a whole.

I found his guiding principles to be extremely heartening. This is an abbreviated list:
-Pride in work: Engineers must take pride in what they do; if they don’t, something is not right and must be fixed.
-Stewardship: This does not just mean how to cut the budget. Stewardship is more a mentality and commitment to leaving the situation/condition/process better than you found it. Good stewardship means that a lot more can be done with limited resources.
-Share the Good News: Make sure the good news of hard work done well makes it up the Chain of Command. It creates value within the community. RADM Rabago wants to personally hear about successes and good, hard work done well.
-Core Values: The core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty apply to day-to-day work. They should be a touchstone for each engineer.
-Loyalty Matters: The field needs to give leadership the benefit of the doubt in some cases. Supervisors reward loyalty with trust. This does not to mean to be silent about concerns, but instead means to support a candid dialogue about issues.
-Community of Naval Engineers: Naval engineers are a special group of people, taking care of ships. They must create an active, participatory community. We don’t know how to do the difficult job of taking care of ships without the community support.
-Ownership: Own your world; accept it, feel responsible for it. Every EO and EPO must take ownership of their ships, and use the PL to leverage the ability to be the best in the fleet.

I especially like the ones about sharing the good news, ownership, stewardship and pride in work.

It seemed like the buzz-phrase from the conference was vocalized best by CAPT Ed Nagle, Surface Forces Logistics Command Industrial Operations Division (SFLC IOD) Chief. He said we are a "data-driven Coast Guard." He was talking about it specifically in regards to a new IT tool that IOD is bringing online to track project management, but it applies to so much of where the Product Line as a whole is going. One of the main drivers for a number of the new processes being implemented by the Product Line (besides better, faster and more efficient service, of course) is to nail down that elusive maintenance cost per operational hour much does it cost in maintenance to run the ships?

It'll be interesting to see what gets done with that data once it's had enough collection longevity to be useful. The figures will be different for different classes of ship, different missions, different operational hours. How will it be used to make strategic decisions (homeporting changes, maybe?), or operational decisions (when during the year a fisheries patrol gets done?) or even tactical decisions (that acceptable level of risk that ADM Papp has mentioned a few times?)? I read an article for one of my classes last semester that analyzed what sources of information state legislators trust regarding performance measures (Bordeaux, "Integrating Performance Information Into Legislative Budget Process," Public Performance & Management Review, Vol. 31, No. 4, June 2008, pp. 547–569). The author acknowledges that analysis is thin in this area, but states that legislators tend not to give very high value to data presented by the executive agency itself, relying more heavily on information from interest groups and constituents. While the article deals specifically with Georgia State Legislators, I wonder how much of the same theory applies to the federal system as well. Regardless, though, I still think the "data-driven Coast Guard" allows us as an organization to make better decisions on all three of those levels, strategic, operational and tactical.

There was a strong and consistent exhortation by all representatives of the Product Line for supported units (Sector EOs and cutter EPOs) to provide feedback by all the means offered by the processes. Using CG-22 (on SFLC Central's webpage) to document discrepancies noted in any engineering drawings, tech pubs or Maintenance Procedure Cards (MPCs); using Quality Discrepancy Reports (QDRs) and Supply Discrepancy Reports (SDRs) when parts are received by a unit that are the wrong part, the wrong number of parts, or the part doesn't work; using 3rd A-Team meetings to provide feedback to the Program Depot Maintenance Branch on how the availability process worked; doing the leg work of submitting Time Compliance Technical Order (TCTO) suggestions when they've got a good, workable idea that improves the function of the cutter (instead of making "Chief Alts" and not documenting them anywhere); volunteering as a "prime unit" to validate MPCs, TCTOs and tech pub changes; tracking man-hours expended for various maintenance efforts (including wash downs and clean-ups); checking the "Discrepancy Found, Yes/No" box on the MPC. Lots and lots of emphasis placed on the role that the front line Naval Engineers had on improving things for everyone, including the next generation of Naval Engineers.

A couple of relevant quotes:
-"The Product Line makes sure the cutter can finish the marathon (the service life of the cutter); the Sector EO and cutter EPO make sure the cutter can finish the sprint (their two or three year tour).
-"Submitting QDRs and SDRs and CG-22s may not immediately help you and your current world of work, but it improves the processes for the entire system."
-"Things are tough right now. It's like going down I-95 at full speed, and changing all four tires.”

There was a presentation on the Fast Response Cutters (FRCs). I had seen the mock-ups of the ship, but hadn't really paid too much close attention to the specs. OMG! What a great ship it looks like it's gonna be! I hope, maybe, maybe, maybe, if all the stars align and the gods of the sea and assignment process smile down on me, maybe I just might get one. But it's a long shot.

There was a ton more great and useful information presented throughout the three days, but rather than bore you with all those details, I'll just mention one more--Ready for Ops/Safe to Sail (RFO/S2S). I don't know if that's the acronym that is going to be used, or if it's even going to happen, but CG-751 is asking the Product Line to develop a RFO/S2S MPC that must be completed every time before a ship assumes a Bravo status. Basically, from a supply, maintenance and casualty perspective, is the ship safe to get underway? That's not to say, necessarily, that if a cutter doesn't have every last widget they're supposed to have onboard, they wouldn't be able to get underway, since the Sector EO would have maintenance release authority. But in theory, it includes the engineering and maintenance perspective in operational decision making and can be used as a metric to determine prevalence of operational commander waivers and lost operational days. The Product Line would be the entity determining what required what kind of waiver for the ship to get underway. I guess the Small Boat Product Line uses something similar currently, just curious as to how that would translate to the cutter fleet.

It goes back to thoughts I've had before about where a CO's responsibility ends. I see three main players in this situation: the engineers, the operators and the Operational Command. The engineers need time to fix stuff and make sure it's not going to break. The operators (CO mostly, I think) wants to have the resources available to get the tactical mission done (which includes both equipment and personnel in my mind). And the Operational Command needs to know that they can cover all their mission requirements. In the end, I think some formalization of the process could only help alleviate some of the natural tensions among the three.

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