Deck Plate Problem Solving Reply

Submarine wisdom: If you plan on travelling at 200 feet, you should make sure your boat is capable of no less than 400 feet.

Smallwood Hall is an enlisted barracks in Pearl Harbor named
in memory of Machinist’s Mate Third Class James E. Smallwood. Smallwood was
awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal posthumously. He was supervising the
charging of the oxygen system on board SARGO (SSN-583) alongside a Submarine
Base pier in June 1960 when he discovered a high-pressure, high-flow leak. He
managed to get another sailor to safety and seal the hatch before a violent explosion
and raging fire engulfed the charging compartment, killing him instantly. His adherence
to safety precautions prevented additional loss of life and saved the ship from
catastrophic damage.

From Navy accounts of the disaster:  USS SARGO suffers an explosion and fire in her
aft end while docked at Pearl Harbor

“The fire starts from a leak in a high-pressure line that
was pumping oxygen aboard. The explosion occurs a few moments later. When dock
units and boats are unable to bring the fire under control quickly, officers
take the SARGO a short distance from the dock and submerge it with the stern
hatch open to put out the blaze. The Navy says the ship’s nuclear reactors were
sealed off and there was “absolutely no danger of an explosion from the
reactor compartment.” The submarine is extensively damaged and is
drydocked taking three months to repair. The SARGO is the first nuclear ship in
the Pacific Fleet and was scheduled to take the visiting King and Queen of
Thailand on a cruise the next day.”

The unthinkable happens in an instant. I participated in a
number of oxygen charging evolutions on several of my boats and I can tell you
it is a hair raising experience requiring absolute teamwork and discipline. Modern
Nuclear Submarines generate their own oxygen while underway but also start
patrols and evolutions with their “banks” filled. This equates to a large
number of internal flasks filled with high pressure oxygen ready to release
into the atmosphere of the boat while submerged. When oxygen is in that pure state
and high pressure it is highly volatile. One single spark from a wrench, an
errant spark from a motor, a careless shipmate with a cigarette and you are
faced with a catastrophe of monumental proportions.

As an oxygen charging officer, I can assure you, you are
being very proactive about every type of problem that could occur. Every team
member is working closely with the others, communications are crystal clear,
roles are clearly defined and equipment is checked and rechecked. Reactions are
reflexive based on months and sometimes years of training. There is never a
sense of complacency because the stakes are too high.

This type of activity is ruled by a certain type of Deck
Plate Problem Solving. The real definition of this type of problem solving is
that your people are trained to solve problems where they are most likely to
occur. You prepare for any potential problems by actively seeing those problems
before they occur. Deck Plate problem solvers see the relationship between the
eight M’s in a much focused way. Those are:

  1. Machine (technology)
  2. Method (process)
  3. Material (Includes Raw Material, Consumables and
  4. Man Power (physical work)/Mind Power (brain work)
  5. Measurement (Inspection)
  6. Mother Nature (Environment)
  7. Management
  8. Maintenance

The record of the Submarine force is certainly not 100% clear from a safety perspective.
In some ways, a ship that is intentionally designed to sink brings its own
level of challenges. But being proactive “Deck Plate” problem solvers has
helped to save lives and equipment throughout our history.


The question for your organization is this: Do you practice Deck Plate problem solving? What
are the processes you routinely teach your people (if any) to identify and
solve problems at the closest point of occurrence? While you may never suffer a
catastrophic explosion at your location, the ability to solve problems
efficiently is a key component of teamwork and ultimately survival. What can
you do to change the climate where you are?


Mister Mac

The Right Team for the Right Mission Reply

Submarine Wisdom: Just because you don’t see a problem doesn’t mean it isn’t there… being prepared for the unexpected is more than a slogan on a poster in the mess decks


Submariners spend their whole careers preparing for the normal and abnormal. In a world where seconds can mean the difference of life and death, that training becomes critical for survival and more importantly for success. There are various levels of skills and knowledge that need to be mastered both on a personal and a group level.

Teams in the workpace rely on many of the same types of training and development activities. Many books have been written about what makes a team great including one of my favorites: “When Teams Work
Best” In this book, you  find that there are five things that effect teams – “The Five Dynamics of Teamwork and Collaboration” According to the authors, those five elements include the Team Member, Team Relationships, Team Problem Solving, Team Leasdership and Oeganizational Development.

Truthfully, I have seen these dynamics at work in many different organizations and can attest to the truth of the mapping.

Of course at the heart is the team member themself. What do most people expect of a team member? At the heart, first we expect that each team member will have the needed skills and knowledge to do the job. Submarines for instance spend a lot of time in many cases in training before they ever set foot on their first boat. The crew is small so every person must be as good at their craft as possible. Once you go to sea, there are no repair stations to pull into so being able to operate and maintain our equipment is a critical factor to success.

The question I have is this: Why do most businesses fail to recognize the importance of fully untilyzing their people? Individual training is more than sitting a new person down with a set of work instructions and having them shadow someone else. The two greatest problems with that tactic is that most work instructions I have seen in non-lean work environments are poorly written and often inaccurate. They were written by “Old Pete” who was kind of creanky but had everybody convinced he knew what he was doing. Pete was not big on safety and quality so the instructions probably focus on getting enough parts done in enough time to keep the supervisor from checking up on him to often.

And what about shadowing? Don’t we wnat our new people to mirror what the experienced folk are doing? Maybe yes, maybe no. If you have already established an atmosphere of standardization and its close relative, continuous improvement, you may just get away with this form of learning. But again, many years of experience in non-lean factories has shown that either condition will not exist in a vacuum and what is called standardization is often the furthest thing from the truth.

My belief is that most workplaces cannot achieve true standardization so they are not really capable of practicing continuous improvement. As I tell most of my classes, if you are not standardized, you are only improving temporary conditions and that will not get you permanant improvements.

So what is the answer? How do we prepare the workforce? The answer is that you must first achieve a beginning level of standardization which includes 6S (5S plus Safety) and come to a minimum level of work standardization that can be repeated across all the workers actually doing the work. Then you need to have a very strong training process built into your DNA, You don’t need external trainers in most cases, although you should have some advice from someone who’s competency is Workforce Education Development. Like any skills, this competency has a number of processes and skills that can ensure you get the best training possible in an adult learning environment.

The Team Member must have the ability to get things done in the right time, with the right level of cost and quality or the team will fail. Look at your own team members. How are you preparing them for their roles? Are they experiencing frustration because they have been trained in the same way their trainers have been trained? Are they doing a lot more On the Job training than they should be?

One of my favorinte stories about OJT had to do with a critical failure at just the wrong moment. Every submarine has masts, antenaes and persicopes which must be raised and lowered at the appropraite time. A failure in any of these could result in tragedy at worse and decreased operation efficiency at best. On one of my boats, certain technicians were responsible for periodically injecting grease in a key component used to snorkel. The grease fitting was very hard to find and in an awkward place to actually accomplish the task. One of the guys figured out a way to rig up a non-standard fitting. He was happy because he no longer had to crawl back in a dark hole.

The problem was, the fitting did not actually let any grease go to the place it was supposed to . The second problem was that he trained the other two guys about his “fix”. So over time, the valve ran dry on grease and corrosion set in. So much so in fact that when the boat needed to snorkel, the valve failed to open properly. Then when it did finally open, it refused to shut allowing seawater to enter the induction mast uncontrolled. Let me assure you that one thing every submariner dreads is uncontrolled seawater in the people tank.

A good system would have never allowed this to happen. Fortunately the damage control training the crew had practiced paid off. But the ensuing recovery was both painful and embarrasing.

Are you missing the grease fitting?

The only way you can find out is get out onto the shop floor and observe. Consider what I have written today and go and see what knowledge and skill level you are depending on to make your goals. If you see differences between shifts or even workers doing the same job, you need to treally start looking at your processes and your people.

Tomorrow, we will look at one of the other critical measures of success Team Members expect from each other: Problem Solving


Why is Teamwork such an important part of a successful lean journey? Reply

Its a great Navy Day! The weather is amazing here inport and the
crew is motivated to do great things today.

Submarine thought for today: The best submarine in the world does not become the best tied up to a pier… it becomes the best when it is on its journey.

In the fifteen years I have been implementing lean, one of the first questions I am always asked is “What is the most important factor to ensure success in a lean journey?”

Of course its a natural question since imlementing lean in a traditional environment means an investment.

First, there is an investment of effort since everyone from management to the newest hire will have some level of responsibility in the journey.

Second, there is also an investment of time. We have become so time oriented in our measurements that time is inextricably linked to everything we do. Whether its a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) used to track performance or a graph on a team board that helps the team to understand their
daily progress, time is an element that drives most organizations. But does time really mean success?

In my experience, many organizations have become so wrapped up in the timing
element, they lose track of the longer term gains that come from doing the”Right Things”. The mere focus on the wrong things causes waste. Eliminating waste is one of the critical measures of a successful lean journey.

The common denominator on both of these issues is people. Without a combined effort of all of the people involved in the journey, lean will be nothing more than another flavor of the month that will quickly lose its taste.

Teamwork is the keystone because it means you have prepared the members of the team for the roles they will play. Their efforts are the bedrock that is needed to support the sacrifices that will come from an initial implementation. Without a strong structure that is clearly understood all the
way through your “system” the nature of most people is to lose energy and passion. The old way has not worked for so many because we have built structures which encourage finger pointing and the blame game.

I have seen it every place I have gone at the beginning of their lean journey. One shift doesn’t do something the other shift thinks they should. Engineering doesn’t support production. Management and labor have conflicting goals. The list goes on and on.

I suppose I got spoiled on submarines because even though we had our share of conflicts, we all had the same goal. At the end of each patrol or operation, the most important goal was to equal the amount of surfaces and dives.

Now the skeptic might say, yes, but wasn’t your driving motivation the fact that if one of you fails it could cause all of you to fail? Of course it is. But if you are being totally honest, isn’t the same for your business or organization? Can any organization truly survive with team members who are not
committed to the long vision and goals? Sooner or later, you will run into a competitor who has  decided to take the “All Hands On Deck” approach.  Somehow, they have discovered the magic that comes from everyone aligned in the same direction: Being the best.

Those teams still have conflicts. That is where creativity and growth occur. They just manage them in a way that a positive outcome can give them a competitive edge. Each team member is aware fo their role in the successful outcome. No team member feels that their inputs are ignored so they
stay engaged. If a team member needs to talk with the CEO, they know they will be rewarded not punished. Every member taking personal responsibility for the teams success leads to a kind of power you can’t build or buy.

The business world in which we operate is having to get leaner and more efficient every single day. If your team structure is not built in a way that recognizes that threat, you are already sinking from your own weight. Your competition has already started a lean or sigma approach and learning the
lessons that will propel them past you in the market place. Teamwork can help you to prepare for the lean journey but one word of caution: All of the elements of lean working together will be required to get you to the integration phase of your journey. Teamwork alone is not the only answer. In the days and months ahead, I will write about all of the elements that team
must deal with in their journey.

So today’s question was: “What is the most important factor to ensure success in a lean journey?”

I would tell you that the most important starting element is having a team that is committed to success, has a compelling vision that is shared, that learns as a team, and manages their natural conflict for success.

On every submarine, every crew member has a purpose and is highly trained to do their individul part. Can you say the same of your organization?

Thanks for stopping by. Please give me your feedback since that gives me the opportunity to continue to grow on my journey. And have a Great Navy Day!

Mister Mac

Prepare to Dive, Prepare to Dive 3

“Chief of the Watch, verify boat is ready to submerge”

“Aye aye sir … Straight Board”

“Very well Chief, Diving officer, Submerge the ship”

“Aye Aye sir, Chief of the Watch, sound two blasts of the
diving alarm and open all main vents”

“On the 1MC… Dive Dive”

The boat slides beneath the waves and begins a typical submarine
patrol. For over a hundred years, US Navy submarines have been sailing the
oceans of the world. My brief history as a submariner encompassed over twenty
years on five different boats. My career since then has mainly focused on the
world of manufacturing as a lean manager, consultant and change agent. Several
years ago, I started noticing the relationship between what makes lean such a
powerful tool and what makee submarines work so well.

As I learned more and more about lean principles over the past
fifteen years (based on the Toyota Production System) I realized that our
submarine fleet had adopted every single principle and tool over the past 100

In the coming days and months, I will share some of those thoughts
and ideas.

What does it take for an organization to be successful at

What lessons can be learned from submarines that can help someone
on a lean journey to overcome the obstacles associated with change?

Why is execution and commitment such a huge part of a lean

What are the barriers to success?

My experiences in business and industry are the source of many
hard learned lessons. My hope is that some of that experience can help others
to navigate through the three main phases that make up a lean journey:

Implementation, Integration, and Innovation

Over the coming months, I will share some sea stories, some shore stories, and some lessons from a combined total of almost forty years of lean experience. I will welcome feedback and hope that we can learn something together.

Oh, yeah, Helmsman, ring up all ahead full, make your depth 150 Feet Steady on Course 020