What Junior EDs should be learning in their industrial tours (or "What is success for an ED's first industrial tour?")

Engineering Duty Officers should develop a learning plan (much like a career plan) during their initial assignment and keep it updated throughout their career. You will never have enough time in your current job to develop all the skills and knowledge that you need when you need it. You need to think about getting the knowledge you need in advance, before you need it. This topic is too broad to cover in just one post and it is only my opinion, but there is plenty of material in this very long post to get people interested and possibly incite comment. I intend to follow up with future posts on topics herein.

A junior officer in in the midst of an initial industrial assignment recently asked for my thoughts on: 

  • What experiences to have during an initial industrial assignment?

  • What is success [for an ED qualifying assignment]?

  • What to do now that will provide benefit in follow-on tours?

  • What things to do and learn now that will be most helpful for success during a CVN Principle Assistant (PA) assignment?

  • Is any CVN PA tour good enough, or are there things to be looking for when negotiating for orders (other than geographical and family concerns)?

I regularly get asked questions like this so this post is my attempt to address most of these issues. There are lots of links here to support future learning for any of the topics that interest you.

From "The Effective Executive," by Peter Drucker  

... the effective executive tries to be himself; he does not pretend to be someone else.  He looks at his own performance and at his own results and tries to discern a pattern.  [Things he can do with relative ease that are either not done at all or come hard to other people are a particular way to distinguish himself.] ... To be effective he builds on what he knows he can do and does it the way he has found he works best.  [M]aking strengths productive is as much an attitude as it is a practice ... it can be improved with practice.  If one disciplines oneself to ask about one's associates - subordinates as well as superiors - "What can this man do?" rather than "What can he not do?" one soon will acquire the attitude of looking for ... and using strength.  [Eventually asking] this question of oneself.

General Observations

These are great questions and very similar to those I had when I first reported to a shipyard. While I like getting questions like this, it is always a challenge to determine where to start since I suffer from the "curse of knowledge" regarding shipyard work and the complex systems with which it is associated (internal and external to the shipyard).  Key points:  

  • EDQP is necessary, but not sufficient, to obtain the knowledge needed.

Junior officers need to think about the story behind the story for the processes and tools we use in maintenance and acquisition.  For example, what are the strengths and weaknesses of earned value management and how do you deal with the weakness? Shipyard leaders seldom talk explicitly about their management practices and theories, especially their strategies for pursuing high realiability so junior officers tend to learn just what the practices are and not the theory behind the practices, which makes it difficult for them to decide what to do when they get "off the edge of the map."

: Observe leaders in the shipyard, those doing well and those not so well.  What kinds of decisions do they make? How do they make those decisions (e.g., what data to they use?) What can you learn about key decisions they make and who/what they consult?  How can you use this knowledge to manage that data and practices you need to understand better to improve your own professional development?

Suggestion: Start your "journey" down this path by developing a learning timeline for each of your major qualifications and writing down what you want to learn for each knowledge area (such as nuclear test or ship's force availability training, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities) and how you think you need to go about gaining that knowledge.  During my qualification tour, for each area of knowledge or qualification, I wrote down what I imagined my "end  state" to be (what I wanted to know or be able to do, as specifically as I could) because I was not satisfied that the qualification or board process specified that sufficiently.  I revised this list of expectations regularly and used it to guide the knowledge I would seek (from people or references).

Suggestion: For the critiques and problems you learn about, ask yourself "Do our systems and practices and tendencies make these results inevitable and what has to change to make a difference?"

  • An industrial tour is a very difficult transition for naval officers

  It is the first assignment you have where you are not ordered into a specific job (ED billet names do not describe the jobs a person filling them will be doing), most of the time you have no assigned people, you have to prove yourself worthy of being followed to the civilians, you get told that "your job is to qualify EDQP" so it is not clear how to balance that and having a day job that adds value, it takes nearly two years to amass the required knowledge and experience to complete the shipyard qualification, there is a tendency for one's "day job" to impact your abiilty to qualify, there is no compact job description from a SORM, there are lots of procedures, but it is hard for new officers to connect them coherently and much of what happens day to day is NOT written down, creating a repair package and executing it is much more of an "open system" than what an officer has experienced during ship assignments, and EDs often just assist their assigned civilian running mate because the work is much too complex to throw an inexperienced officer into directly.

  • You need to develop good strategies for getting both explicit and tacit knowledge

Much of the information and knowledge that workers in the shipyard use to do their jobs is written down in procedures and process instructions, but a great deal is not. Where is it? In peoples' heads (tacit knowledge), which makes it very difficult for a naval officer to assimilate it rapidly. I have posted some files in the Junior Engineering Duty Officer Guides file area to help readers with the kinds of questions to ask (here, here, and here).    While it is true that much of the useful knowledge a junior officer needs to acquire to be effective in a shipyard (and for future success as a senior officer) is tacit, that does not mean that you should only seek the explicit knowledge you need from shipyard sources. This is why I recommend doing lots of professional reading from sources outside the shipyard. See the recommendations below.

Some Questions to Ask Yourself (write down the answers)

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the middle and senior leaders I observe? What do you think they should know and do differently and why?
  • What capabilities are important for senior officers (see this link)? 
  • What do you want to accomplish as an ED?
  • What do you like/dislike about working in a shipyard or being on a project team?
  • Why did you become an ED?

  • What do you want to accomplish?

  • What excites you about the work you do now and may do in the future?

  • What are you thinking about your professional KSA acquisition plan?  What are your learning strategies/objectives for the jobs on your planner?  Do you think you will learn what you need to know via navy schools, qualifications, and OJT?
  • What blind spots do managers have? What will you do to reduce yours (everybody has them) as you develop?

These are the key questions to consider before anyone can give you recommendations for experiences during your qualification assignment. Regularly review your answers to these questions, review them with others (if you dare), and think about what you will do to modify your professional development accordingly.

Key Skills/Knowledge to Develop

Working on these developing these skills and getting this knowledge now will definitely help officers in future assignments. I find that they come up again and again when I am talking to people or thinking on my own about what is important for Engineering Duty to know or be able to do.

“Out of the box” ideas for what you can do to improve your shipyard qualification assignment experience

  • Shadowing a foreman (project engineer, trouble desk engineer, STE, plus a few other key positions) or two to see what their work life is like and what they *really* do
  • Attend Readiness Assessment Briefings, JTG meetings, morning meetings with the CTE and Engineers/Reactor Officers
  • Learning all you can about SF weaknesses and vulnerabilities (my thought are in attachments in the next email  I will be sending)
  • Learn about the SY’s nuc and non-nuc commitment tracking systems
  • Learn how the SY prepares for an NR audit
  • Learn how shipyard leaders respond to nuclear management meeting agenda items
  • Learn how a Problem Analysis Matrix is constructed, managed, and what role the SYCO has
  • Learn all you can about Functional Area Assessments

General Topics New EDs Need Learn Right Away About NAVSEA/Navy Issues

These are just my opinion, of course. Feel free to make suggestions for tings to add/subtract.

  • What went wrong on LCS to produce the fiasco it became?
  • Cause mapping (typically taught by the organization Think Reliability)
  • NAVSEA Strategic Business Plan
  • NAVSEA 04 Guidance
  • NAVSEA Commander’s Guidance
  • Recent major SY assessments: NR Audit, RADCON Audit, SUBSAFE audit, QA audit, Voluntary protection Program (VPP)description (need to provide the passport), Crane audit, Command Performance Inspection
  • National Value Streams and plans (Lean releases)
  • NR program presentation/ introduction
  • Carrier/Sub Team One latest issues
  • 688 Baseline Project Management Plan (BPMP) philosophy and background
  • Overhaul pitfalls and challenges (Soule notes)
  • Some point papers/problem descriptions (Soule)—Introduction to High Reliability Organizations, Nuclear Navy’s Industrial Principles
  • Navy Enterprise construct
  • Major challenges facing the SY (this will be challenging to obtain since you cannot find a document where they will be explained, you have to ask senior leaders, usually by suggesting to them what you think they are)
  • Major issues affecting the maintenance community (underfunded (or too expensive) maintenance is just one)
  • Major issues affecting the Navy (relating to the maintenance community, like this)
  • Develop some opinions (and discuss with others) about what the NO WIN situations are that we face in ship maintenance and acquisition
  • Challenges to building the 313 ship Navy

Suggested Reading and Listening

Books I recommend reading (just a start)

  • The Power of Intuition, Klein (many useful tools explained and provides specific strategies for learning from experts and getting coached)
  • The New Economics, Deming (explains the principles behind his fourteen points)
  • Just Culture, by Sidney Dekker (explores the fundamental tradeoffs between knowing what is going on at lower levels of the organization and encouraging people to disclose truthfully)
  • Managing the Unexpected, Weick and Sutcliff (the bible for High Reliability Organizations)
  • Managing Maintenance Error, James Reason (introduction to key issues and challenges associated with high reliability)
  • Other reading (see this link). I refer to many useful  books/articles on my book lists, but this is a more succinct list in once place.

Files I can send upon request (but I cannot put on this website)

  • Analysis of Nuclear Shipyard Challenges (this is the point paper I wrote about why it can suck to be a nuke in a shipyard.  I got tired of suffering in silence so I decided to write my ideas down and see if I could make sense of them.  I do this a lot).
  • Basic Principles of the Naval Reactors Program.doc (very easy to take for granted or ignore if you do not study and think about them frequently)
  • Overhaul Vulnerabilities Jan 08.doc (compilation of files I created and periodically update since 2003 trying to document how SF gets into trouble in overhauls)
  • INPO information on error precursors (great information that applies to our business from the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), you can learn more about them from reading the book “Hostages of Each Other,” by Rees)
  • NAVSEA Executive Leadership course (also known as the Shipyard Department Course) - my notes are from attending in October 2004
  • PHNSY Chicago DSRA (the six month availability that took over a year) analysis


  • I am a big fan of the web site.  There are lots of great tools there. It costs money to get access to written material and tools, but the podcasts are free.
  • The Public Speaker podcasts are excellent for learning good communications skills. The author posts complete transcripts of her podcasts on the site.

What is success in an initial ED assignment? Some Thoughts

This is, of course, a question that each person will answer differently. Success to me is not merely completing the Engineering Duty qualification because everyone has to do that. Success is beginning to understand the complexity of what Engineering Duty officers do, the never ending challenges and imperative to continually get better, and the responsibility we have to get better: to keep learning and developing to be smart and capable enough to manage the challenges that will come your way as a CVN Principle Assistant, Department Head, and Commanding Officer.

Better, A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, Atul Gwande

It is not only the stakes but also the complexity of performance in medicine that makes it so interesting and, at the same time, so unsettling.

… in any profession … [people] must grapple with systems, resources, circumstances, people – and our own shortcomings … we must advance, we must refine, we must improve. … [There are] three core requirements for success in … any endeavor that involves risk and responsibility. 

  • The first is diligence … giving sufficient attention to detail to avoid error and prevail against obstacles.  Diligence is both central to performance and fiendishly hard …
  • The second challenge is to do right.  … [complex endeavors are] fundamentally a human profession … forever troubled by human failings … like avarice, arrogance, insecurity, misunderstanding.
  • The third equivalent for success is ingenuity.  … It is not a matter of superior intelligence but of character.  It demands more than anything a willingness to recognize failure, to not paper over the cracks, and to change.  It arises from deliberate, even obsessive, reflection on failure and a constant searching for new solutions.

Betterment is a perpetual labor.  The world is chaotic, disorganized, and vexing.  … We are distractible, weak, and given to our own concerns. … The question, then, is not whether one accepts the responsibility.  Just by doing the work, one has.  The question is, having accepted the responsibility, how one does such work well.

Just Culture: Who gets to draw the line?  Sydney Dekker, Cognition, Technology & Work (2008)

All safety–critical work is ultimately channeled through relationships between human beings (such as in medicine), or through direct contact of some people with the risky technology. At this sharp end, there is almost always a discretionary space into which no system improvement can completely reach.

[The space occupied by safety critical work is] filled with ambiguity, uncertainty and moral choices. And a space that is typically devoid of relevant or applicable guidance from the surrounding organization, leaving the difficult calls up to the individual operator or crews. Systems cannot substitute the responsibility borne by individuals within that space. Individuals who work in those systems would not even want that. The freedom (and concomitant responsibility) that is left for them is what makes them and their work human, meaningful, a source of pride.

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