Book Cover

This week we tackle chapter 20 of L. David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around! (have you bought your copy?). Chapter 20 completes part 3 which has focused on competence and the run-up to the deployment of the Santa Fe. The title of this chapter is Final Preparations.  We have six or seven weeks left  – Steven Adams is pushing for re-reading Release It, the other option is The Checklist Manifesto.  Both are great . . . thoughts?

Chapter 20: Final Preparations

The framing question for the chapter is “Do you believe that allowing initiative from the bottom won’t work in a crisis?”

The story that drives the discovery in this chapter is practicing for a fire on a submarine. Fires on a submarine – in an enclosed space with lots of combustible material, only so much oxygen and no way to quickly balance the pressure of expanding gas – are a terrifying event and potential one of the two most deadly incidents faced on a submarine (the Santa Fe is a warship and getting blown up would be bad in my opinion). Being good at putting out a fire is a critical survival mechanism.  During an exercise, the sailors that charged with getting the hose and getting water to the fire could not get to the hose due to other sailors getting to their stations, therefore, took several minutes more than the two-minute cutoff for maximizing the possibility of survival. 

Mechanism: Specify goals, not methods.

All submarines are small, with close and crowded quarters (at least in comparison to a destroyer, aircraft carrier or a cruise ship). The Navy process specified who was to grab the hose and put the fire out. In real life, the process is not efficient (at least in this circumstance). Marquet and his crew decided to let the people closest to the hose grab the hose, lay it down, pressurize it and get water on the fire. Reacting based on context got the water (or other firefighting material) to the fire within the two-minute goal. Putting out the fire is the goal of firefighting rather than following the exact process in the manual. The crew, in the scene and possession the context, were able to self-organize and attack the problem directly without micromanagement.

Marquet describes the standard Navy firefighting exercise as long and arduous. The Navy exercise makes sure to execute every possible step and firefighting activity to maximize firefighting practice. No one likes the exercise because it is long and more arduous than they perceived is needed.  As part of revamping the exercise on the Santa Fe, Marquet and his leaders modified the process to stop as soon as the fire was out (if before the 2-minute goal) and at the discretion of the officer overseeing the exercise. The new process included a feedback mechanism so that if the crew did a great job, they did not have to go through the rest of the steps: positive consequence for the correct behavior.

The crew found self-organization useful in many other situations. Agile teams often find self-organization useful when the local situational context is important. For example, development teams will typically know what needs to be done next more intimately than a planner or other outsider. The team has a deeper knowledge of where they are on a project NOW and what they learned by doing the last task. Self-organization, also known as “spontaneous ordering”, does not work in scenarios where a team has biases that cloud their judgment or select work they can not accomplish.

Marquet completes the chapter by reminding the reader that by specifying the goal(s) provides clarity. Clarity helps teams to focus on achieving excellence rather than just avoiding errors.

Remember to buy a copy of the book and re-along: Turn the Ship Around! (buy a copy and read along!)

Previous Installments

Week 1: Game Plan

Week 2: Forward and Introduction

Week 3: Pain and Business as Usual

Week 4: Change of Course and Frustration

Week 5: Call to Action and Whatever They Tell Me To Do!

Week 6: I Relieve You

Week 7: Change, In a Word and Welcome Aboard Santa Fe

Week 8: Underway on Nuclear Power and “I Intend to . . .”

Week 9: Up Scope! and ”A New Ship”

Week 10: A New Ship and We Have A Problem

Week 11: Mistakes Just Happen and We Learn

Week 12: Underway for San Diego and All Present and Accounted For