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 house...it'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. "...in systems thinking, feedback is...any reciprocal flow of influence...it 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 there...how 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.