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.


JB said...

I know that this conflict was a complicated one and my comments will probably seem simplistic. But I keep coming back to Fisher and Ury's basics. I’m not familiar with the Choice Charts model, but it does not seem to fit with Fisher and Ury’s model.

First, if the contractor were at the table (i.e., at a table with someone with whom s/he had developed some trust and communication), s/he could better articulate their interests, perhaps in a way that would allow you, as a good listener, to identify areas of common ground and develop mutual empathy, i.e., becoming partners in developing solutions. After you helped everyone separate their interests from their positions, everyone would generate possible options to meet the variety of interests (“Make sure brainstorming proposals aren't mistaken for negotiating proposals” a la Fisher and Ury).

In that kind of a conversation, you would not set out a limited yes or no question like “"shall we make alignment repairs to KISKA under the current scope of work?” (yes or no boxes them in and your yes or no question addresses only YOUR interests.) All your questions should be “how can we…”

The Choice Charts seem to be based on figuring out how do I get them to go along with what something I want: e.g., something good will happen to them if they do, something bad will happen to them if they don’t. That’s really not a collaborative negotiation and it seems to lack mutual brainstorming of options. Good brainstorming allows participants to think outside the box and to think in terms of enhancing the pie (pie and ice cream!) rather than splitting the pie. (This problem may not even be a pie.)

Of course, the fact that you have such strong feelings about your interests and positions does make it more difficult for you to shepherd the process. To make collaboration work, you really have to convince yourself that their interests are just as important and valid as yours. (and they are - if anyone is unhappy, it impacts everyone).


Just a Girl said...

JB, thanks for your comments. I totally agree with you that we (CG and contractor) could have been much more productive with our negotiations if we had gone about it differently. I don't think anyone in this particular situation really was approaching it in a collaborative manner; it was definitely confrontational. I didn't know any better back then :).

Fisher and Ury talk about Choice Charts (they don't specifically call them that) when they discuss identifying interests in Getting To Yes (p 45-48 in my edition). We talked in class a little bit about what you said about getting them to go along with what we want, because the Target Balance Sheet really does seem to lead that way. It's not about finding out what that Plan X *is*, but is just another way to try to verbalize what the other party needs to be satisfied. This step is tied to identifying interests and is distinctly separate from identifying options...which I haven't gotten to yet in the post. Got lazy :)

Azulao said...

Okay, sorry, but I stopped reading at the end of paragraph 2, mostly because I wanted to say,

Oh my GOD, Girl, you are my HERO!!! I wish I had HALF your brass to call bullshit on bullshit! "Hopefully" isn't good enough?! Right in front of a whole lot of people who needed to hear it?

God, that was brilliant. Thank God you're not a girly Girl, like me. I would have said, "Well, Mr. President, I'm glad to hear that the design has some flexibility, I wonder if the high performance nature of this cutter will deal with that level of, ah, slop. I wonder if you could describe our alternatives..." and suchlike ladylike claptrap.

God, you're my hero.

Forget about conflict "resolution," I think we need more conflict IDENTIFICATION.