Torpedo in the water!

“Conn sonar, Torpedo in the water bearing Mark 140 degrees”

Conn Aye, Chief of the Watch, sound battle stations, Diving Officer Commence Emergency Evasion Maneuvers”

“Conn sonar, the weapon has acquisition, estimated time to impact is twenty seconds”

“Diving Officer, emergency deep”

SSN 612

Anyone who has ever watched “Hunt for Red October” (and I know most of you have) has had some idea of the tension that passes through a control room (and the ship) as a submarine responds to this particular event.

I was very fortunate that in all my years, I never had an actual attack, but be assured that we drilled for them pretty regularly. The idea was to practice all of the skills needed to survive a life threatening event that would make a quick end to the submarine and all who rode in her. There is nothing more time-stopping than when this is done on a mid-watch when everybody is settled into a rather boring routine. Frankly, I think it’s the best time to drill but I say that from a position of being retired.

If you think about the balance of communication and actions in this scenario, you can understand why I often say that submarining and lean are similar in their success driven actions. The right communications and the right actions at the right time are essential in survival. Having anything out of sequence in a submarine could prove instantly catastrophic, The time line might be longer for a lean event, but the general end outcome could be pretty significant.

The first event that happens is identifying the problem (Sonar). They need to accurately describe the problem to the Conning Officer so that he (or she) can then decide the most immediate response to the newly identified problem. The Officer of the Deck then relays his reaction/decision to the Diving Officer and his team. In another part of the ship, the engineers are also responding to the change in circumstances based on communications and previously trained reactions.

All the while, other support communications are pouring back into the Officer of the Deck’s station (feedback loop). He (or she) adjusts their next actions based on the immediate observations from the evasive activities that are underway. The end goal is to live to fight another day.

I have worked in a number of factories where this type of communication has made a difference in helping them to meet their Key Performance Actions. The proper flow of information is absolutely vital in any organization where work flow crosses physical and information related barriers. If the receiving group is not aware of an immediate need for a particular component, waste is driven into the process (waiting or in some cases inventory piling up in the wrong place).

If the workers see problems but know that their team is not empowered to address them, they are reliant on middle managers to solve them. If the middle managers are not in a position to “see” the problem or are not capable of communicating within their system, the interactions will slow down the process and create pockets of inventory and more waiting. The results will be decreased levels in your Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and added cost to making your product or delivering your service.

Submariners practice the “what if” scenarios all the time in order to be able to respond to things that may occur. I am sorry to say that almost no modern factory I have been in will allow itself to be proactive enough to even approach this idea. Instead, most that are not lean merely react and force their people to do Non Value Added work to contain and overcome the problem.

Better communications will help teams to react when the unexpected occurs. Understanding why the unexpected occurs and being proactive about setting coutermeasures in place will help to shorten the gap between the event and return to normal.

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