During the several months leading up to my exodus from the U.S. Navy, I did my fair share of soul-searching, “what should I be when I grow up? What business segment should I pursue? What talents do I offer potential employers?” After 26 years of wearing a uniform proudly and considerable amount of time tearing up the skies in a fighter jet, I had somehow come to the realization that I wanted to land somewhere outside the Department of Defense establishment, including its industrial base. To explain why would occupy more space than blogosphere ROE allows. Long road to a short house – the day ProModel HR contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in working on a custom program (Naval Synchronization Toolset – NST) supporting the Naval Aviation Enterprise, I reeled. A voice inside my head said, “I thought you weren’t going to consider this as a potential vocation.” Fortunately for me, (and I hope for the company), a much louder voice convinced me to do my due diligence and find out more about both the company and the position. I did. We met. We agreed. Here I am. (Now is the part where I do have to explain why.)
In 1986, when I joined the ranks of squids, swabbies, sailors, etc. the U.S. Navy was in the middle of what we referred to as the “salad days”. Secretary Lehman was aggressively pursuing a 600 ship Navy (by comparison we have less than 300 today), toilet seats would cost the military in excess of $500, and there was no shortage of coffers to fix things that were broken, and in many cases things that were not. At the time, my colleagues and I very rarely questioned the deluge of dollars in our operating budgets. We were fighting the Cold War after all – we have to be in it to win it. Fast forward nearly a decade and I had the unpleasant experience of witnessing the polar opposite. No one told us that when we win the Cold War, we would have to eat sand (a poor reference to the movie Raising Arizona). The late ‘90s were a dark time for those of us in Naval Aviation as we were forced to do more with less, with no tolerable degradation in mission capability or readiness. Fortunately, some senior ranking military officers, who were also self-anointed visionaries, turned to the business world for guidance. It was out of necessity that we in the DoD began to discuss things like Lean Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, Cost-wise Readiness, and we haven’t looked back.My first exposure to the methodologies associated with LSS, TOC, etc. was in 2004 as a mid-grade Department Head in a Strike Fighter Squadron preparing to deploy to the Western Pacific. When directed (rarely optional) to enroll in and complete a “Fleet Business” course, I did as I was told and learned a new lexicon – Continuous Process Improvement, Value Stream Mapping, etc. Far more important than learning ABOUT these initiatives was that I learned we were using them, and to measurable success. We were actively and aggressively pursuing a business model that was somewhere right in between “salad” and “sand”. And as a warfighter, our success struck a chord because I knew that my aircraft wouldn’t have to be made airworthy with duct tape and baling wire.
Fast forward again to the “due diligence” exercise when I spent a great deal of time “peeling the onion” about ProModel and the role I would play in working with Naval Aviation. As it turns out, we have coupled the “wizard behind the curtain” type of development work our software engineers do so well with the tenets of LSS, CPI, and data collection / processing and offered warfighters a tool to make their lives easier. The key stakeholders within Naval Aviation use the Naval Synchronization Tool Set to make cost-wise decisions, resource squadrons with the right aircraft, and ultimately allow warfighters to be warfighters. And I get to be the “face” of the company as we support them. When most of your closest friends are the direct benefactors of an endeavor as important as NST – it’s hard to say no. I’m glad I didn’t.
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Nice post Rob. I find myself a half an orbit behind you with all the same introspection you described. It is no surprise that LSS, TOC, and CPI have been adopted by other naval communities as well, often crediting naval aviation with props as a finder’s fee. As DoD cutbacks ruminate throughout the campaign debates, and the department braces for imminent impact, we look for more mechanisms and techniques to wring out value and minimize cost. The warfighters need it, they want it, and with demand up and budgets down, they can not meet demand without it.
Great post – We are very glad you decided to come “Aboard”. It’s amazing how far Lean, Six Sigma,and other good old fashioned Industrial Engineering Principals have come!