Torpedo in the water! Reply

“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.

We seem to be stuck. Reply

No matter what endeavor you are undertaking, these are words you really don’t want to hear.

Anyone who follows submarine history at all can tell you about one of the most famous groundings in modern history. A Soviet era submarine (Classified Whiskey Class by NATO) found herself on the rocks near the largest Swedish Navy base on October 27, 1981. She found herself no only on the rocks but on the front pages of every newspaper in the free world.


Now it should come as no surprise to anyone that there was probably some amount of espionage going on at the time but the resulting drama certainly left a black mark on the Soviet Submarine Service. Frankly, it was not a good thing to get caught, but much worse to get stuck and need interventions.

Some things to think about. Do you think the submarine had a plan before it left port? Was the equipment designed to support the operation it was assigned to? What could have been different about the crew? Did the environment itself play a role? I can assure you from my limited experience, I don’t think any boat I ever served in left port without all of these in place and a lot more. Yet from time to time things happen you didn’t or couldn’t prepare for.

For those of us who have ever found ourselves “stuck” during the middle of a lean implementation, believe me when I say that the spotlight is harsh and unpleasant. Those who are responsible quickly find out who their supporters and who their detractors are. People often say that success has many parents but failure is an orphan. What should you do if you find yourself in this position?

Probably, the program started out with a lot of fanfare. Announcements were made, key individuals were photographed and published in all of the newsletters. Everything at the start is shiny and new and filled with the promise of what can be. Then, either quietly or with a loud bang, you find the program literally stuck on the rocks. Now what?

First, don’t panic. It is not the first time a major initiative has gotten stuck and it won’t be the last time. For now, just recognize that it is only one place on the timeline and does not have to indicate the end. You should act with a sense of urgency, but don’t let that urgency cancel out your sense of commitment to finding the immediate root cause. Gather the facts as you know them and then gather the key stakeholders.

Those facts will be assembled in a way for the stakeholders to help drive to the real root cause. I normally use an Ishikawa (fishbone) approach since it seems to help visualize the problem much more efficiently. Manpower, methods, machinery, materials and environment are typically the starting point for most session. You can change the categories to encompass the situation but at the completion you should have visualized where the problem is most likely to have started.

Once you have that problem isolated, there are decisions that must be made by the stakeholders. Do you stop and declare victory where you are? Do you put things on hold until another time? Or do you look at your original reason for starting and determine what ended up being missed in the leadership vision or plan?

Experience has shown that there will be times in the implementation where things will go soft for a while. Unless you have someone who has the strength of ten thousand, the leaders of the program will end up losing the vision of the big picture. The way to defeat that is to create a plan that includes stakeholder re-commitment at planned intervals. Since a lean journey can take years if it is done with the methods commonly accepted, that refreshing of commitment may be the best way to maintain the  forward progress.

The session should include a recognition of victories and things that still need work. It should include a review of where the original mark was set and a determination of the relevancy of that goal. Capture the changes in environment to see what may be important to future success. But in all these, be honest with yourself and with your stakeholders. Putting a pretty picture on a garbage can doesn’t change it from being a garbage can.

Create your map. Check your compass. Periodically do reality checks. and for heaven’s sake, if you get lost, ask someone who may know for directions.

Swedish sign for whiskey

Boom 9

Submarines operate for extended periods of time under the ocean. This ability gives them the advantage of stealth in performing her missions. Since even the most modern submarine requires people to operate it, providing the basics of life while submerged has always been a challenge.

sub duty

Think about those World War 2 movies where the Destroyer had forced the U-boat to the bottom. The destroyer captain could be patient since all he had to do was ride around on top and wait for the air on the inside of the submarine to become so horrible it could no longer sustain life. At some point, the boat would have to come to the surface.

When the idea of using nuclear submarines as launching platforms became a reality, something different needed to be done. So the Treadwell corporation proposed building a new type of “Oxygen Generator” that would ensure a high rate of oxygen production from pure water. The process is called electrolysis.

Direct current is passed through a KOH (Potassium Hydroxide) solution, which electrolyzes the water to H2 and O2. The water has been treated by an ion exchange system to eliminate other electrolytes. Sixteen electrolytic cells at about 1000 amps are required to produce 120 SCFH of O2 (sufficient for 120 men) at 11 of 16 pressures up to 3000 psig. The gases are removed from the cells and distributed (O2) or disposed of (H2). Hydrogen is discharged overboard. (or at least that’s the plan”

The early model had 7 foot cells inside and had a nick-name: “The Bomb”.


Picture of a 6’ Generator. Ask any sub sailor what the most dangerous thing is on a submarine and you might get a lot of different answers. Obviously anything that can explode and potentially kill you will probably rise to the top of most people’s list. While my first patrol on the George Washington was spent mess-cooking and driving the boat, my second and subsequent patrols were spent in the atmosphere control room.

I had heard about the Bomb ever since sub school. Stories from the early days talked about how unstable it could be. Even if you don’t know anything about science, you have to believe that any machine that has that much pressure and that much electricity running through it could be a bit of a problem if things went wrong. Add to that the fact that Oxygen in high concentrations will feed a pretty good fire and hydrogen… well, let’s just say that hydrogen was not our friend.

The bomb sat in the forward starboard corner of the machinery room on the GW and you had six or seven other pieces of equipment to monitor at any given time. Everything on the early models was manual except for one or two automated devices. There were rows of indicator lights that would flash in series to tell you that all was well inside the box. Gages also told you that the correct balance between the oxygen side and the hydrogen side was being maintained. If either of those stopped being normal, the loudest alarm you would ever hear in your life would tell you that you have fifteen seconds to close a series of blocking valves to prevent an uncontrolled release of something that could just ruin your day.

Not only was the O2 and H2 pretty dicey if released, but the potassium hydroxide itself would eat through paint and at 3000 PSI, could shoot around corners with ease and blind you. Legend had it that in a few early models, the force of the explosive events was so strong that it blew off the metal panels and cut a guy’s head clear off. (okay it’s a legend and they did teach it to us in O2 Generator school but who wants to take a chance of that happening?)

Did I mention how many parts this thing had? I will tell you that during the upkeep before I made my first “Room watch” I had to order all of the parts to completely rebuild the beast. I got writers cramp after one day. O-rings, penton seals, gaskets, and on and on were required since the bomb had an “event” on the previous patrol with the Gold Crew. Any leaks on the inside of the box would result in KOH being sprayed on components and creating more leaks. If the H2 and O2 sides became unstable, the rapid depressurization would result in an explosion. So putting it back together with no flaws was absolutely critical. We were still finishing the job as we got underway for Patrol 43.

SSBN 598 A gang

Auxiliary Division from Patrol 43

I still dream about Patrol 43. If there was ever a thing that could go wrong on a submarine, it happened on that patrol. Most of those stories will come at a different time but this one stands out among the most memorable.

We were submerged and the Bomb was running. It was my first time by myself running it and I was pretty intimidated. In the first hour or two, I must have reviewed the emergency shut down procedure a hundred times in my head. I could see every flicker of every light and every tiny movement on the gages that would tell me a leak was developing. I practiced evacuating the room a few times but quickly realized there wasn’t a great place to hide. You see, just on the other side of a very thin bulkhead was the upper level of the missile compartment. Yep, the perfect place to put something that could blow up was right next to the warheads of nuclear missiles.

Go in the other direction and you find yourself staring into the hatch that leads to the reactor compartment passage. Now that part is a bit safer since there is so much safety shielding around a reactor. But you still thought about the potentials.

After a six hour watch, I was never so glad to see my relief, Dewey Watson. Dewey was a young guy from Ohio and seemed a lot more confident than I was about his new duties. (Yes, we both graduated from O2 Generator school at the same time). I had work to do in the engine room so I signed everything over to him and left. I was laying on top of a condenser in lower level fixing a pump when I heard the most dreaded announcement followed by the General Alarm “Fire in the Machinery Room”

It was the Bomb. I later found out that shortly after taking the watch, Dewey had an uncontrolled release of pressure which caused the machine to become unstable. He was trying to get all of the emergency shut down valves so the machine could be blocked out. The machine started spraying caustic and the roving watch in the missile house saw a cloud of “smoke” and called it in.


All the watertight doors were shut and I ran to the hatch in the reactor tunnel. The Engineer was standing there with a CO2 fire extinguisher in his hand. I looked through the observers hole and Dewey was jumping back and fourth trying to get the machine blocked while the spray continued.

Just at that moment, another announcement came across the 1MC that chilled me to the bone… “The atmosphere monitoring station has reported that Hydrogen level in the boat is 4% and rising”  4% is the level where Hydrogen becomes so unstable, it could possibly explode! You could feel the boat taking a very strong up angle as the control room crew tried to drive us to the surface. Dewey had a look on his face that looked like it was his last few moments. The engineer handed me the CO2 extinguisher and said “Get in there and help him” as he pushed me through the hatch he had just opened. He shut it behind me.

“Dewey, what do you want me to do?” “I don’t know Mac, it’s blocked but it keeps spraying” “Shut the power off, its not helping now anyway”

Just then, the boat leveled off and the 1MC announcing system came on.

“All hands this is the captain. Disregard the previous announcement about the hydrogen level in the boat. There was a mistake reading the instruments and hydrogen was at .04 % not 4 percent. Damage control teams are assembling to help combat the casualty. There is no fire.”

The bomb, hissing and crackling, slowly settled to atmospheric pressure. We had a heck of a mess to clean up over the next few weeks but we had dodged a bullet.

When we went back in to repair, it turns out that one of the penton seals had not been placed correctly. It would not show up immediately but at higher pressure and heat, it allowed the leak to slowly become a bigger problem.

I learned a lot about built in quality after that day. You can never assume that any test or inspection will save your butt down the road. The whole spirit of BIQ is that you do the job absolutely the right way with the absolute right parts every time.

Now some people might be saying that this is a life and death thing that rarely ever happens in their job. Really? Who do you think designs the parts that go into the cars, trucks, boats, planes and so on? People. And who do you think can be effected if just one percent of the airbags fail on a car series that will include over a hundred thousand cars? Maybe your family member?



Picture of the sail from the USS George Washington… flowers in memory of MM2/SS Dewey Watson

Mister Mac

Blinders? Why no, these are my new leadership Goggles! 1

For over a century the leadership of the U.S. Army and Navy were in agreement about how the United States coast would be managed: the Army would defend the beaches and out to the range of their coastal guns, and the Navy would protect anything beyond that range. The advent of the airplane challenged that arrangement. The new theory was that the U.S. Army Air Service’s airplanes could attack an enemy fleet far from the range of the coastal guns, the airmen wanted to take over that mission. The only problem they had was that up to that point no airplane had ever actually sunk a battleship.

In May 1921 men and aircraft from various units arrived at Langley Field, Va., to prepare for the Ostfriesland bombing trials. Designated the 1st Provisional Air Brigade, this unit was commanded by Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell during the bombing trials. At the time, the largest bomb available was a 1000 pounder which most experts agreed would never be able to achieve the goal. Special 2000 pound bombs were created just in time for the events about to begin.

Billy Mitchel

The Navy leadership was particularly keen to disprove the claims by the outspoken Mitchell. The Chief of Naval Operations just prior to this period had actually disbanded the naval air services at the conclusion of the first World War.


Admiral William S. Benson said “I cannot conceive of any use that the fleet will ever have for aircraft,” and that “the Navy doesn’t need airplanes. Aviation is just a lot of noise.”

Billy Mitchell was a firebrand and a visionary. He was a leader and air service pioneer in the First World War. He was also not diplomatic and could not understand why men who were endowed with a reasonable amount of intelligence could not see the wisdom of investing in a technology that would allow them to leap into the future.

Even the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels mocked Mitchell. As he was preparing to retire after a long service in some fairly progressive service he said:


“I would be glad to stand bare headed on the deck or at the wheel of any battleship while Mitchell tried to take a crack at me from the air. If he ever tries to aim bombs on the decks of naval vessels, he will be blown to atoms long before he gets close enough to drop salt on the tail of the Navy.”

In the eyes of the Navy and most of the civilian leadership, the test was a complete waste of time. The Battleship had emerged as the backbone of the Navy and defender of the seas. Military strategy had been wrapped completely around the relative strength of these floating fortresses. Most importantly, Secretary Daniels and his congressional supporters had made a huge investment in the battleship concept. The very thought that a $20,000 aero plane could sink a $40,000,000.00 battleship was beyond anyone’s ability to believe. Anyone but Mitchell and his supporters.  Some people are convinced that is why the Navy did everything it could to influence the outcome of the test that were about to begin.

Mitchell's Bomber 1921

In Mitchell’s view, the test was supposed to determine whether a battleship could be sunk by aerial bombing. That was also the question that congress wanted answered. The Navy took the position that it was merely a test to determine how much bomb damage a battleship was capable of absorbing.

The rules were set by the Navy and made it as difficult as possible for Mitchell. The ships needed to be sunk in deep water which meant 100 fathoms or more. The Navy said no to two locations with sufficient depth close to the shore and instead insisted on a location 50 miles out to sea from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The base the bombers would eventually use (Langley) was further west by 50 miles. This resulted in a two hour flight for the bombers (1 hour each way) which would further limit the bombers time over target.

Ludicrously enough, no aerial torpedoes could be used and the air service was only allowed two hits with its heaviest bombs. This statement comes from the after action report:

The torpedo plane was not used in the tests and there is little reliable information available concerning torpedoes fired by aircraft. The mining effect of bombs dropped close to the side of a vessel brings up the question as to whether or not the torpedo is as desirable a weapon for aircraft as bombs. The torpedo has certain advantages over bombs and certain disadvantages. It can be fired with accuracy from great[er] distances than bombs, but is much more expensive to manufacture and is more complicated to handle. For a given weight of projectile the bomb carries a much heavier explosive charge than the torpedo.” I wonder how long it took for the Japanese delegation to stop laughing.

An inspection team would be allowed to go on board each ship between each hit to carefully inspect the damage. Just to make sure the deck was sufficiently stacked, the Ostfriesland was the main event specifically since she had been built with watertight compartments that were specifically designed to withstand multiple direct hits and still survive.


But Mitchell had a few tricks up his sleeve too. Instead of directly attacking the ships with his powerful bombs, he would aim them to the sides of the ships. Then when the underwater explosions would occur, it would cause damage to the hull by the force of the water being shocked by the bombs. This made the Navy rule of no more than two hits null and void.

During highly publicized tests held in June-July 1921 off the Virginia capes, the Navy and Army studied the effects of bombing on ships taken from the German navy after World War I. During the tests, Navy inspectors tried time and again to interfere with Mitchell and his crews. Delays, extra long inspections, changes in rules and so on forced Mitchell to continue to adapt in order to be successful


The climax came on July 21, 1921, when Army Air Service bombers attacked the last ship, the powerful German battleship Ostfriesland. These tests, General Mitchell stated, would prove that bombs dropped from airplanes could easily destroy “even the most modern of battleships.” Furthermore, they “demonstrated beyond a doubt that, given sufficient bombing planes — in short an adequate air force — aircraft constitute a positive defense of our country against hostile invasion.”

The official after action report (From a Naval observer) stated”:

“The Ostfriesland tests began with an attack by Navy planes dropping thirty-three 250-pound bombs, scoring eight hits, followed by eight 550-pound bombs, making four hits. The Army then dropped eleven 600-pound bombs registering one hit. An examination of the vessel after these attacks showed that she had sustained little damage from direct hits with the exception of a hole in the starboard side of the forecastle made by a 600-pound bomb, which put out of commission the two 5-inch ammunition hoists directly under it; but the mining effect of the bombs that dropped close to her had damaged her considerably under water, and several compartments were leaking. She had gained water during the night and the following morning was three feet down by the stern, with a list of 5 degrees to port. Engine and fire rooms were partially flooded, when the attack with 100-pound bombs was launched.


Five of these were dropped and three direct hits were made on the main deck causing no vital damage to the ship or battery. However, her fighting efficiency might have been affected by a large hole on the starboard side of the forecastle, taking in water. By noon she was down five feet by the stern and one foot by the bow.


In the final attack, seven 2000-pound bombs were dropped, none of which hit the vessel. The possible effect of the explosion of this type of bomb on deck, or between decks, could not therefore be ascertained. Three of these bombs were close enough to do extensive damage to the hull. The most effective bomb detonated close under the port quarter, throwing water up under both sides of the hull. She immediately began to settle rapidly by the stern, listing heavily to port, water entering through injuries on deck, broken air ports and through gun ports. She turned completely over and went down by the stern at twenty-two minutes after the first 2000-LB bomb was dropped.”


Billy Mitchell standing with two unidentified men on deck of battleship USS “Indiana” surveying the considerable damage caused by a 300lb. bomb dropped from a plane.

The Navy officers were shocked. But soon there were cries of “Foul” and for years afterwards the Battleship club claimed that Mitchell had violated the “rules and destroyed the value for the tests. In their minds, it was a senseless demonstration that clouded their real purpose of showing how a battleship could absorb multiple direct hits.

Congress and the public saw it differently of course. The test proved what Mitchell had claimed. The birth of modern aviation power in the nations arsenal can truly be marked by the sinking of this ship.

After touring the Pacific, Mitchell returned in 1924 and submitted a report that stated the defenses at Pearl Harbor were almost nonexistent and the military build-up by the Japanese made war only a matter of time.

Never one to keep silent about inadequacies in the Air Service, Mitchell was court-martialed in late 1925 for public criticism of the policies of his superiors. He resigned his commission the following year but kept up the campaign for an independent air service until his death in 1936.

Mitchell did not live to see his ideas vindicated in World War II. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1946 as an early architect of American airpower.

The Navy resisted for a few more years but eventually newer voices were heard and soon early aircraft carriers were built. Based on the events at Pearl Harbor, we all owe a debt of gratitude to that firebrand Mitchell for speaking up even in the face of adversity.

Even after the tests, the Battleship Club was not done bragging about their place in history. The program for the Army-Navy football game on November 29th, 1941 included a picture of the Battleship Arizona. “It is significant that despite the claims of air enthusiasts no battleship has yet been sunk by bombs” the caption said. The program did not include any mention of the events off the Virginia Capes in 1921.


Eight days later, the Japanese, in a sneak attack that violated all the rules, sank the Arizona at its moorings at Pearl Harbor.

The only role she played in the following World War would be to stand as a stark reminder that not seeing the dangers that are coming at you does not eliminate them.


Think about that today as you do your strategic planning for 2012. Do your leaders have their blinders on? Do your visionaries have a voice to tell them about the things they don’t want to hear?

Mister Mac 7/21/2011

Turn On Your GPS Reply


A few weeks ago, we went up to the Finger Lakes region of New York. Neither of us had ever been there before so we did what we have always done. One of us will go on either Yahoo or MapQuest and see what the best route is. I should point out immediately that we made a decision the last time we bought a car NOT to pay the extra money for the GPS system that was available.

I am not sure if you have ever used the Yahoo/MapQuest approach before but it is filled with interesting possibilities. For instance, it won’t always tell you when a road suddenly veers to the left or right in the backwoods and suddenly becomes a completely different road with absolutely no identifiable route or name besides “Billy Bob’s Boulevard”. Another favorite part of the mapping tools is the decision you have to make about shortest distance or most freeways (shortest time). Its really kind of important that you make the right selection before you start.

So off we go and the first part of the journey went relatively calmly. It wasn’t until we actually got to the lakes region that things started going a bit off. I am relatively adventurous. I know that at some point, one road will lead to another and you will hit one of four places in the Mainland US: Canada, Mexico, Atlantic, or Pacific. That could explain why I have been to over 600 cities around the world in the past forty years (I keep a travel log of all the places). My co-pilot was understandably getting a bit concerned as we were falling further and further behind on our schedule.

As pretty as the country was, we were scheduled to go on a dinner cruise and it was “non-refundable” whether we made it or not. We finally arrived at the B&B and found that the owners were at the hospital welcoming their first Grand Child. We called the husband for directions to the boat since we were now sure that Yahoo/MapQuest might have led us to the Titanic instead of the actual boat we needed to be on. He said, “Well, just turn on your GPS.” At that very moment, we realized that there was a great tool we could have easily used if only we actually had one.


Upon hearing the sad news about our lack of proper preparation, he gave my navigator very detailed directions… to the wrong boat landing. In his defense, the joy of seeing his first grandchild the day it arrived in the world probably distracted him. There are two boat cruises that the Inn recommends to its customers and the one we actually needed was about thirty miles in the opposite direction we were sent to.

Fortunately, the boat owners were understanding and all worked out well. But it did remind me that if you don’t have the right tools and don’t know how to use them, you will more than likely not make it to where you thought you wanted to go.

Lean has a tool called Value Stream Mapping

Since flow improvement and waste reduction are pretty important goals in lean, this tool is designed to help you understand where you are at the beginning (Current State Map) and where you would like to go (Future State Map). There are measurements and tools within the model that can quickly identify your pockets of waste, bottlenecks, work flow imbalance, inventory pools (planned and unplanned), and if you really know what to look for you can see where your team has reacted to all of these problems with systems they developed which don’t show up on any plan you have ever seen.


I have helped teams walk through this process many times and can assure you that if they are being honest with themselves, they quickly become overwhelmed with low hanging fruit. Hidden inventory is one of my favorites. The old system could not guarantee the Just In Time delivery of parts or goods to where they need to be. But if the team doesn’t make its share of widgets that day, they feel the wrath of the production manager. So the unintended consequence is that the local team leader gathers up all of the “extra” material they need to make sure this never happens. There are so many clever tricks to do this and I will not put them in this article (no use making your work harder…)

The interesting thing about finding these “extras” is the fact that often times the line side people are better at doing inventory planning than the people who are actually supposed to do so. All the charts, graphs, analysis on stock level and AMD will not compare with a well trained cell leader who has been burned on too many occasions.

Value Stream Mapping will help the teams to identify where those issues are, what the root causes are, and how to make sure you come up with a more reliable fix.

But be warned: Value Stream Mapping can be deceptively simple

You might feel the urge to run out this afternoon and buy a good text book on VSM and start making money saving changes first thing tomorrow morning. As someone who likes to experiment, I would say that it will be a lot of fun to watch for all the unintended consequences of blindly bumping into your existing systems. As someone with a conscience, I would feel horrible if I actually encouraged you to do this.

In the early books on lean such as “Learning to See”, the authors take us on a journey of discovery. In today’s competitive environment where so many of the people who want to take your customers away from you, it might be a little late for you to take a leisurely walk through the discovery forest. You need a faster GPS and you need someone to help you turn it on and use it. Then, and only then, you can make use of this tool in ways that will create the long term DNA within your organization.

By the way, VSM can be used in a number of organizations that are not manufacturing. Some of the hottest trends in lean are in health care and finance. But the need for existing manufacturing businesses continues to grow.

Your competition probably already has started their lean journey… what are you waiting for? Turn on Your GPS!!!

Tomorrow’s blog will have a story about how some of the smartest men of their time almost kept America from being able to win World War 2.

Mister Mac

You Need More Mustangs 6

I have a great friend and mentor in Michigan who taught me a lot about systems and change. One of the things he talks about is the change that goes on in an organization during its journey from an entrepreneurial adventure to one that is more established. If you think about it, a brand new company is filled with spirit and vigor because they are excited about what they are doing and everything is a new adventure. As they grow, that adventure will have peaks and valleys but since everything still has that shiny new feel, its kind of expected that there will be unexpected events from time to time.

Then at some point, things start to change. If the company has been successful, more and more people are brought in. Conflicts can arise because the new folks probably don’t have the same driving factors as the original builders. Maybe they see the work as just a job. With new people and more chances for misunderstanding, the growing company then has to bring new structures. In the beginning, the mission and vision were probably just understood. There were probably not a lot of issues with “culture” because the folks who started it understood that they had to adapt to whatever conditions required to be successful.

New people bring new requirements for structure in the organization too. The one thing that I think normally expresses that most is when the company hires its first Human Resources person. Then the organization begins its steady journey into the “Sea of Mundane”.

Bokenas and Gent Sun - Weds 101

If you have been in the business world for anything more than a few months you have probably sailed on that flat, lifeless, soul choking body of water. The word comes from the Middle English mondeyne, from Anglo-French mundain, from Late Latin mundanus, from Latin mundus world. (In other words, its been around for a very long time.) One of the quotes used to describe this sense of ordinariness is “They lead a very mundane life.”

I suppose, for some people mundane is okay. Its predictable, it has plenty of structure, it gives employment to a lot of very nice people to maintain itself and it is the Ninth Waste in Lean… Wait, what did he just say?

Yep. Mundane is the Ninth Waste and in my humble opinion the worst one of all since it results in so many of the others.

Short review for those who don’t follow lean all that closely. Waste – as defined by most lean practitioners, is anything the customer is not willing to pay for. They don’t care how you make your product or perform your service. You can actually take as long as you want, use as many extra people you want, move stuff around your warehouse with absolutely no practical purpose and on and on and the customer doesn’t care. All the customer really cares about is how quickly you can satisfy their needs at the highest quality with the lowest cost. Its up to you to figure out how to pay for all that other stuff if you want to stay in business.

Of course, there will be many who will jump up and down at this point and point out that in large corporations and particularly ones that cross international borders, you could not survive long without the “support staff”. Someone needs to write all those policies and maintain the endless series of rules which govern everything from what size tea cups are appropriate for the break room and how many sets of shoes each person should get each year. Speaking of break rooms, we need regulations on what can be posted on the walls like the upcoming blood drive, the existence of something called a “Diversity Club” and the vital need of keeping the room clean and tidy. Plus it’s a great place to hang those ever important mission statements and graphs of the latest statistics which have no actual purpose in a mundane organization since no real problems will be posted, only happy thoughts.

Support staff are involved in heady discussions such as competency development, leadership pathways, length of breaks for the remaining staff and of course making sure everyone speaks incredibly nicely to each other. The opposite of that is when people don’t, then the support staff rushes in with training, counseling, worrying, and my favorite waste of all… reporting all of this activity up the chain in the most favorable possible way so as to look like they are really adding value to the organization. Mundane can’t exist alone at the organizational level, it grows quickly to have structure throughout the entire organization. By the way, mundane loves company… its not just human resources, its any “leader” hoping to climb the corporate ladder. They come in all shapes and sizes and titles and have one thing in common… the more mundane the better.

Please don’t get me wrong. You do need some mechanism for keeping the paychecks and benefits right. You do need a referee from time to time as the company grows so that all of your employees feel that their rights are being respected and they have a clean, safe, and relatively happy place to work. The problem with mundane is that it won’t stay in one place and be useful for the things it was designed to keep mundane. It encourages people to hide behind it in order not to be accused of violating its very existence.

The mundane police are everywhere. Step out of line and they will be the first to show up with their white pads of paper and accusatory looks. They can be deceptive to the common person too since in most cases they wear a plastered on smile or a nice look of genuine concern. But don’t be fooled. The mundane police have one purpose in life. Their main role is to make sure everything stays nice and mundane.

If they have been successful, they have many partners in the organization. The CEO likes mundane (as long as it seems to be delivering a steady stream of money or at least the appearance of it). Most companies that are in a mature state like to be seen as good citizens and employers so the mundane police help to keep that all sorted out. No bad news needs ever hit the CEO’s desk as long as the mundane police can keep things smoothly humming along. People who violate the mundane standards are dealt with swiftly and soon depart out of frustration.

“Wait, what??? Why would anyone leave such an orderly place?”

Since the culture is one of cover rather than fix, waste is added to every process. People spend more time worrying about completing the non value added activities than in actually fixing the problems in the shop.

The single most non-value added activity I have personally witnessed in my life within a corporation was a mandated training program to spread the fact that people should be committed to their work. No actual substance about what that meant but a very tidy set of bullet points on a PowerPoint that a group of senior managers probably spent five days off site with a highly paid consultant developing. Then more money was spent on the support staff who cleaned it up, put it into the right fonts, issued a long series of instructions on how to roll it out and meetings after meetings to ensure that everyone knew how to properly present it.

In the meantime, the customers were a little frustrated because they were not getting their parts. And when they did get them, there seemed to be more than the usual quality issues. And they were more expensive that anticipated. As the issues kept mounting, the answer to the mundane police was very simple: For gosh sakes don’t tell anybody about this. Instead, lets spend more time in more meetings developing spread sheets to demonstrate that it was actually someone else’s fault. But you better be quick about it because its almost time for another leadership seminar.

Since all mature companies probably need a certain level of mundane to function, how do you fight the spread of mundane? Simple. You need mustangs.


Wikipedia describes a mustang as a free-roaming horse of the North American West that first descended from horses brought there by the Spanish. In 1971, the United States Congress recognized Mustangs as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.”

You probably have seen a few mustangs along the way. They are the ones who will actually raise their hand at a meeting with a senior manager and in front of the whole organization question the wisdom of spending time, money or effort on some useless process or activity. The mundane police will stand there tight jawed with anger building up inside as they see their participation in the secret company bonus program slowly slipping away.

Mundane police hate mustangs

They will do anything in their power to silence them and put the in their place. They can be pretty successful too since they control the rules of the game.

But let me repeat myself; you need mustangs. The mustang will be the person who points out the waste in your processes. The mustang will be the one who questions things like “we’ve always done it that way”. The mustang will be the one who can spotlight the people who place more value on mundane that in meeting the customer’s needs. The true mustang realizes that if you keep burying waste, sooner or later that pile of waste will stink to high heaven. In my experience with people like this, their main motivation is that they want to remain free and in order to do that they need a job that will maintain their lifestyle. Their culture is a natural culture that does not need charts on the wall to document what it is they believe. They will show you with their hard work and their determination to drive to a better place.

If you want to kill your business, kill or drive off all the mustangs. Wrap yourself in so many regulations and so much structure that they won’t have any choice but to leave. I can assure you of one thing; if you drive them off, they will probably go and find a place that is willing to listen and compete.  Mustangs are your truth thermometers. As bothersome as they can seem to some, they are vital in the fight against the mundane.


The US Navy has a group that are unofficially called Mustangs. These are the men and women with enlisted experience who become officers. Chief Warrant Officers and Limited Duty Officers fill a valuable role. In most cases (unfortunately not all) they represent an independent spirit. Their positions are very selective but because of their experience, they are held in high esteem. When a Mustang tells you something is about to break, it is not only welcomed, it is expected.

LDO CWO school grad

In this highly competitive world, if you are going to survive, you not only need to welcome mustangs, you need a way to develop them within your company.


Hi-ho silver!

Mister Mac

By the way, it’s a little past 0800… back to work before the Mundane Police catch you!

What is the most important part? Reply

Systems thinking is an important part of Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline. In an organization, it mostly means having the ability to see the whole while balancing the importance of the parts. For me, this has always been a touchstone of lean thinking. Every part has its own role and in any system, their interactions make the difference in how well the system functions.

The crew on a submarine are all part of a “system”. On a well functioning boat (like the USS San Francisco SSN711) there is a lot of pride in being a member. There is no word that means more to me than “shipmate”. It means we have a common bond forged in the deepest parts of the ocean, through the roughest storms, and in some of the most challenging circumstances you will ever face in your life.

711 West Pac 82

Yet even on a close functioning system like a submarine crew, there can be divisions. Ask any submariner (at least on the Nuke boats) and you will hear about the Nucs and nose-coners. A Gangers and torpedo men may be combined now, but back in the day there was quite a rivalry. Electronics Technicians and Radiomen may have shared the same technologies, but don’t confuse them. And for heavens sake, don’t confuse either for a Sonar man or IC man. Even the officers had their little splits between the forward and after folks.

1983 Crew of SSN 711 2

So which one is the most important part? Well obviously, you can’t have a well functioning submarine without all of the men operating in harmony when the pressure mounts. A torpedo is quite useless if there is no electricity to power the fire control panels. A reactor is quite useless if the sonar doesn’t tell you of an upcoming undersea obstacle. No one functions at all very well when the sanitary system is secured due to an unforeseen breakdown. How long do you think you can hold your bodily function when the head is closed for repairs? Especially after slider night!!!

SSN 711

The same can be said for a lean system

Most major lean programs recognize at least four or five principles related to lean. These all stem from the original house model that Toyota built. Teams, Standardization, Just in Time, Built in Quality and of course Continuous Improvement are recognized as some of the ways to describe those principles.


Toyota House

My work experience in the past fifteen years has been with many of the largest companies in transportation and what I have observed is that all of them use the same basic principles. Looking at the “House” I see the linkage to the underwater world I once belonged to.

But the same question comes up over and over in dealing with people just beginning their lean journeys. What is the most important part?

The answer is, its all interconnected and interdependent. You need to have a good understanding not only of the system but of systems thinking. I highly recommend that you get a copy of “The Fifth Discipline Field book” . It should be just as high on your reading list as any text on Lean. I wish I had read the book at the beginning of my professional life almost 40 years ago. I may not have made some of the mistakes I made along the way. Or not… the fun part about living is being able to last long enough to realize the folly of some of your mistakes along the way. And you will make mistakes.

WW 1 poster

I should make one last mention of linkages. As proud as I am to have been a member of the greatest submarine ever built, I am just as indebted to all of the men and women who I served with on the other four submarines and two surface ships.

You all helped me along the way and I am indebted to anyone who has ever worn the Navy Blue for being a part of a greater system;

The Armed Forces of the United States of America!

YOU are the most important part!

How Deep Can You Go? 7

I wish I had a nickel for every time I have heard this question asked. For the past seventeen years I have been delivering speeches to all kinds of organizations about submarine operations  during the cold war. Submarines played a key role throughout the Cold War and some of the stories remain buried in secret even today. I was just fortunate enough to have served on five submarines that each had their own role in a “War” that lasted over fifty years.

I was a young seventeen year old when I first got the Navy bug (just like my Father and Grandfather before him). It was in the middle of the cold war just as Viet Nam was winding down. My Qual boat was the USS George Washington (SSBN 598 Blue Crew). After almost a year of schooling, I finally reported aboard the “Georgefish” in 1973. My world would never be the same.

598 1973 Pearl Horbor

I heard the question for the first time right after my first patrol when I came home to see my family. At that time (as now) submarine operations were meant to be as classified as possible. We were warned in submarine school never to divulge. You never revealed how fast you went, how deep you could go, or what general part of the ocean you operated under. The Russians had trawlers set up all over the world with listening devices. Their main goal was to try and track us well enough so that our missions could be compromised.

1974 Bob and John

(Yes, we were allowed to wear beards and yes I qualified in one patrol)

But it was also assumed that they had operatives near US bases. A number of times when on later boats (fast attacks) we would pull into ports on special operations only to be greeted with signs at the local bars welcoming us and offering discounts on drinks.

If I remember correctly, in those days we were allowed to say that we operated at depths in excess of 200 feet and greater than 20 knots. Later, I seem to remember you could actually admit that the boats could travel in excess of 400 feet but I am not sure I remember if they ever allowed us to admit more than 20 knots.

Rear Admiral Rayborn and Admiral Burke

I have to be honest with you, 20 knots was fast enough on some of the older boats. When you are going that fast, it’s a little harder to “see” what is going around you in the dark ocean outside. Unlike my favorite TV show growing up (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) our subs are not equipped with windows of any sort. But that speed helps when you are trying to get someplace in a hurry or at least back to the surface.

Surface surface surface

The real answer on how deep you can go is how well your boat was built. In the early days, boats were built with the technology of the day and were limited to some fairly shallow operations. The Holland for instance was made of steel plating and had angle iron ribs. She was built to withstand a pressure of 35 pounds per square feet and could safely operate at a depth of 75 feet. Pretty amazing stuff for a ship of that age. One of the other constraints of the early boats were that they were assembled using rivets.

The Holland was the precursor of not only safe submarine operations, but of what could go wrong on a submarine. One night in 1901, she was in the Narragansett Bay getting ready to dive when a passing Ling Island Steamer kicked up a wake large enough to swamp the little boat whose topside hatch was partially open. With the buoyancy on the old boats so close to neutral, it didn’t take too much blue water coming in to send the boat to the bottom of the sound (95 feet). Fortunately, they got the hatch closed quickly, blew and pumped their way back to the surface and had the first realization about two things: the engineers were wrong about 75 feet and in the near future, somebody better put some thought into how to get out of this little sardine can if you couldn’t  get her back up.

San Francisco 1981 Carribean

Years later on the USS San Francisco’s maiden voyage, we were in the Caribbean on the surface when a rogue wave rolled over the bow towards the open forward hatch. This hatch is right above the XO’s stateroom and part of the computer room. I was below decks when the boat suddenly developed a small down angle and it was like seeing a solid blue column coming in that hatch. Two of us scrambled through the incoming stream and got the hatch shut, but we were completely soaked. More importantly, the boat was very heavy very quickly. Only the efforts of the control room crew kept it from becoming an even worse casualty.

Silouette of 598

Through the years, construction has improved and we learned from our early lessons. The boats got stronger and the men got smarter. Schools were set up to better prepare the men for their future roles as submarines. Welding replaces rivets (although there are some very interesting stories to come later about welds)

The two terms all submariners know are test depth and crush depth. For those of us that have ever driven one of these underwater fighting ships, we are keenly aware of how far we are from both of those depths almost all the time we are on the planes. Its particularly interesting when you intentionally dive to test depth just to see if the engineers have made the right calculations. But that story is for another day.

Flooding is always a concern on a submarine (although in my opinion not as bad as fire). We trained in simulated damage control trainers on shore to prepare the teams to patch and fix leaks that we really hoped would never happen. At deeper depths, the sea water pressure is so intense that even a small leak would shoot like a cannon through the materials inside the boat. The USS Thresher was an example of how things can go wrong. That is also a story for another day.


The modern boats go deeper and faster than anything I was ever exposed to. I try and keep the perspective that men from the early days of submarining would have the same perspective about the boats I drove and rode.

Well, the answer to the question “How deep can you go” is the same now as it always has been since I was a young seventeen year old:

“I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you”.

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist shipmates)


This picture is taken outside of the submarine Force Museum in New London CT. It gives a very visual perspective of how far submarines have grown. The inner ring is the size of the first submarine (Holland) hull, and the outer one is the relative size of the Ohio class submarine’s hull

For those of you who are non-believers, Liberty Call Commences for you now. Liberty Expires Onboard at 0800 Monday Morning July 18, 2011

For all others:

Church Call… The smoking lamp is out on all weather decks.

Maintain silence about the decks

Navy Church Pennant

Chaplain’s Corner

This morning, it occurred to me that we are a lot like submarines in our ability to handle the question and the reality of “How deep can you go.” Recently, my loving shipmate and I have been forced to undergo a personal dive to test depth. It was an unexpected wave over the bow and caught us both off guard. Much of the comfort in our life has been stripped away by what amounts to an overreaction. Old friends and colleagues seem to be in short supply these days. Even people who we had given strong service and faithfulness to have been very hard to find. As the old saying goes “the phones aren’t ringing”.

But our faith has sustained us and brought us closer together. We have been reminded that the “Builder” has given us the internal strength to withstand the pressure. He has given us the protection to keep us from going deeper than his love has prepared us for. Spiritually, we have come even closer together and feel his presence in our lives.

When you find yourself approaching test depth, remember your training.

Psalm 26

Declare me innocent oh Lord for I have acted with integrity. I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Put me on trial Lord and cross examine me. Test my motives and affections. For I am constantly aware of your unfailing love, and I have lived according to your truths.

I do not spend time with liars or go along with hypocrites. I hate the gatherings of those who do evil, and I refuse to join in with the wicked.

David was not saying that he was sinless. In fact, he is asking God to forgive him of his sins and not let him sink to the level of those who have aggrieved him. He was consistently in fellowship with God clearing his record when he confessed his weakness and asked for forgiveness. He knew that God will forgive those who come to him and he despises those who fail to do the same. David is pleading with God to clear his name of the false charges made against him by the enemy. We can also trust God and ask him to forgive our sins and clear our record according to his mercy.

No one on the face of this earth is completely innocent. Otherwise, Jesus would not have had to come to give his life to relieve us from the burden of sin. You know that the enemy is very active in the world today. The days you lose ground are the days you choose to fight him on your own.

What about you? When do you choose to show mercy or withhold it? What does your compass tell you when your ship is tossing about in a rough sea?

James 2:13

There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.

I hope in your daily walk you get the chance to demonstrate your understanding of His words. I know I have been given a clearer perspective and will strive to be better at honoring him by showing more mercy in the future when I am in that role.


Steam Will Replace Sails? Madness!!! Reply

An Ohio class submarine slips its mooring next to the Delta pier in Bangor Washington.

Silently, she glides down the flat calm waters of the Hood Canal on her way to the open ocean.

Ohio on the surface

This five hundred sixty foot vessel will soon submerge and begin her primary mission. For over fifty years, ships like this have provided an umbrella of security for the nation and freedom loving people everywhere. The very threat she represents have ensured that no one during the entire history of Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) submarines has ever launched a nuclear missile against us.

From the US Navy Fact files:

“The Navy’s fleet ballistic missile submarines, often referred to as “Boomers,” serve as an undetectable launch platform for intercontinental missiles. They are designed specifically for stealth and the precision delivery of nuclear warheads.
Ohio class SSBNs can carry up to 24 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with multiple independently-targeted warheads. The SSBN’s strategic weapon is the Trident II D5 missile, which provides increased range and accuracy over the now out-of-service Trident I C4 missile.”

Iowa Forward shot

The subs are shorter and considerably less tonnage than the biggest battleships ever built, yet have more potential firepower than all other ships combined. In fact The Trident D-5 missile can potentially carry up to eight 14,300-kiloton W-87 warheads mounted in Mk. 5 re-entry vehicles – meaning that a single Ohio-class submarine of today has the potential to unleash more destructive power than has been used in all of the wars in the world’s history.


Incredibly, just a short 100 years ago, the dream of having a truly submersible vessel almost died on the drawing table. As strange as it may seem from our vantage point today, there were powerful forces in the US Navy that wanted nothing to do with the little experiments that John Holland, Simon Lake and others were trying to promote.

To understand the mentality of the Naval and Civilian leaders who were making those decisions, you have to understand the history of the US Navy technology for the hundred years prior to the first submarine. Even the press of the time questioned the little boat’s significance. From the New York Times “Holland may or may not play an important part in the navies of the world in the years to come.” As one author put it, the Times was “no better at predicting than it is today” (Admiral William J. Crowe). Truthfully, from writings of the time, most of the Naval Officer Corps considered the new invention to be somewhat of a nuisance which stole money and manpower away from really important projects that fit more into the Navy’s vision at the time.

As I was researching this, it occurred to me more and more that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Leadership often is the major stumbling block to any innovative process and especially to lean principles. Like the Navy of old, many university trained engineers who become leaders in plants and business units lack the vision to see beyond the tools they have been taught to embrace. I have seen and heard scoffing from so many of these “leaders” though the years it is almost pitiable. Imagine the progress that could have been made with the same kind of vision our early submariners had.

Naval engineers

The Navy had actually gone through many massive and powerful changes fifty years before the first submarine. They had gone from wooden ships to armor clad fortresses. Steam replaced sail as the primary propulsion. Newer technologies like electricity and wireless radio made the ships virtually independent of a need for out of date technologies that were both cumbersome and in some cases dangerous. The US Navy in 1900 had just won a global campaign that firmly established itself as a sea power (The Spanish American War). Pride filled every wardroom as the ships came home to an adoring public.

Now along come two rather experimental ideas clamoring for attention (and the decreasing pot of money a peace time Navy was faced with): submarines and ship born aircraft. How dare these youngster try and challenge one of the most powerful Navy’s that was solidly embedded in the philosophy of Mahan and surface to surface battles that they had spent most of their lives perfecting!


Here is the rub: the DNA of the leadership had been molded and polished to overcome the previous technology and one of the provisions of that polishing was to abandon alternate methods. If you want to be successful in something, you must convince yourself that your way is the most superior and all others will not meet the challenges the same way yours will. In the case of the leadership in 1900, they were of the firm conviction that fighting a surface action with dreadnaughts and cruisers under steam would carry the day. Their training was focused on that, their equipment was designed around that, and their men were trained to follow the orders of their officers without question.


They did not come to their view without some level of resistance from the previous generation. A sailing ship was at one time considered to be the very best way to carry the fight to the enemy. In doing my research, I found that many old time Officers hated the idea of steam so much, they threw every obstacle they could in its way. They were so convincing that the politicians of the day restricted funding and resources to the upstart technology. Those admirals considered steam to be the ruination of the Navy. Sailors who did not have to climb the masts and unfurl the sails in any weather would quickly become lazy and slovenly. Sailing skills would become lost as the new propulsion took hold. Steam was dirty and really fouled up those nice white sails as well.

Talk about holding on to the

past with all your might!


This ship is one of three authorized by congress for the “New Navy” in 1883           USS Atlanta, USS Boston, and USS Chicago (pictured here)

Even though steam propulsion was proving itself globally, the Old Guard still clung on tenaciously to their beliefs. Note the rigging on this “New” type of ship. It was so bad that if the Captain made a decision to use his boilers rather than sails, he was required by Naval Regulations to make the log entry in RED and report the action immediately upon return to home port with a full explanation why he chose to take this action.

Fortunately for the nation, dreamers and the new realities of technological change finally forced the Navy to adapt to the new technologies. Two World Wars probably helped as well, but even those produced leaders who wanted to cling onto their own version of “sail power”. Looking at the development of the Nuclear Submarine Program, you will find the usual history of two steps forward, one step back because of old ideas. Thankfully, those ideas outlived their time as well.

Organizational DNA is a hard thing to change, but it is possible

You really have two choices in trying to effect a systemic change. You can plant seeds in the newer generation and wait for the new DNA to come into power. Or, you can seek out and engage the visionary that lives in every person at some level. One takes time and the other takes effort. Both take a large helping of patience.

There are some really great change strategies out there and I will be happy to share them with you if you inquire. In the meantime, take a hard look at your strategy and current way of doing things. Are you still clinging onto the sails or are you ready to look for that next great leap in technology. Thanks for visiting today! Don’t forget to bookmark it and return for new adventures in lean submarining.

Mr. Mac

Ohio bow shot