In April 1991, Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet (CinCLantFlt) designated the USS Conolly (DD-979) as one of five demonstration ships and two air squadrons “to implement TQL and to provide data from operating ships and squadrons on adapting it to their special needs.” This discussion describes some of the lessons learned during the Conolly's experiences from April 1991 to April 1994, particularly the interrelationships among TQL-related requirements and all the other requirements on the plan of the day of a typical warship. The Conolly began implementing TQL with executive steering committee training at the CinCLantFlt schoolhouse. The initial executive steering committee included the commanding officer, executive officer, four department heads, the command master chief, and a master chief petty officer. These training sessions coincided with the Conolly's required training readiness evaluation and refresher training. The executive steering committee continued training as the Conolly prepared for her Operational Propulsion Plant Examination. CinCLantFlt provided officer/chief petty officer overview training while the ship was in and out of the Caribbean satisfying requirements for refresher training.
The executive steering committee began deliberating the Conolly's mission, vision, and guiding principles during counternarcotics operations in December 1991 and January 1992. These deliberations culminated in February with a document outlining what the Conolly stands for. During this same time, the ship also was undergoing combat systems readiness review, identifying internal processes as candidates for improvement and selecting quality management board members and quality assurance personnel.
A CinCLantFlt training team embarked in March 1992 for the deployment transit to provide quality management board and quality assurance training. Following the training, the Conolly's executive steering committee chartered two quality management boards: (1) to improve internal communications processes and (2) to improve common area cleaning processes. These two processes emerged at the top of brainstorming sessions at all levels. The two boards received their charters coincident with the Conolly's performance of maritime interdiction operations in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, from April to June 1992. The Conolly changed command in July 1992 on station in the Persian Gulf, in the middle of her six- month deployment.
The executive steering committee met during the return transit to identify and appoint a master chief petty officer as the total quality coordinator and to plan for replacement training for departing key players, including members of executive steering committee and quality management boards and quality assurance personnel.
The total quality coordinator, with the assistance of CinCLantFlt, provided a TQL overview and training in TQL fundamentals. Training intensity abated, however, as the Conolly deployed to the Caribbean to undertake counternarcotic operations during the last two months of 1992.
During and following the Conolly’s time in Newport News yards (March-May 1993), the executive steering committee—composed of all new members, with one exception—chartered two additional quality management boards to examine: (1) the process associated with calling away working parties and (2) the process of scheduling barber shop appointments. The total quality coordinator continued on-board TQL instruction with emphasis on the I Division introductory training.
After June 1993, the demands placed on the Conolly to undergo refresher training, prepare for combat systems assessment and the Operational Propulsion Plant Examination, and deploy (with no notice) for 56 days for the Haiti operations required a command decision regarding the appropriate allocation of crew time. The command had to choose between allocating resources to bringing the ship to combat readiness or to activities related to TQL.
The choice was evident: steering committee and quality management board meetings and TQL training had to be sacrificed to enable the Conolly to achieve the levels of performance required for combat systems assessment and the Operational Propulsion Plant Examination. An additional consideration in this decision to place TQL on hold was the need to undertake intensive training with the George Washington (CVN-73) battle group from January to March 1994, in anticipation of a May deployment with the group. Thus, with the exception of I Division introductory training, TQL activity slowed considerably during the build-up phase preceding deployment in May 1994.
What can be learned from the Conolly's experience with TQL? There are at least three lessons: (1) the ship's natural operating cycle must be taken into account when planning TQL implementation; (2) the TQL organization structure competes with the normal ship organization structure for scarce resources; and (3) the process of developing the ship’s mission, vision, and guiding principles has inherent value.
The Operating Cycle
The ship’s operating cycle—the period during which a warship moves from maximum combat readiness (usually one month prior and three months following deployment) to a decline in readiness culminating in the ship’s rehab period—has important implications for the introduction and implementation of TQL. Specific process improvement projects have a greater chance of succeeding if quality management boards undertake and complete their work during the downside and trough of the cycle. Once the buildup begins, the ship’s attention necessarily turns to readying its organic functions for combat, which places demands on the crew that supersede any other activity requiring time and resources.
The Conolly did not anticipate the implications of this cycle for TQL activity. Quality management boards chartered during the decline and trough phases were unable to complete their work before the buildup phase began. Beginning in June 1993, the Conolly decided that the primary emphasis of her TQL program would be moving the ship to the highest possible state of combat readiness, consistent with her primary mission.
The Conolly's emphasis during the next ten months was on those evolutions needed to bring her to optimal combat readiness. The need to respond to the demands of inspection and assessment teams drove these evolutions. Preparing for these inspections and assessments required near-total dedication of effort and resources, to the exclusion of other activities such as TQL, which have longer time frames and lower priority.
In effect, the Conolly chartered a quality management board consisting of the entire ship’s crew and tasked it with bringing the ship to a state of combat readiness. That outcome was attained through practices fully representative of TQL theory, including fact-based decision making undertaken at the lowest level of expertise, cross-unit cooperation, and multidiscipline teams and teamwork in an environment free of fear.
The Conolly believes strongly that TQL implementation must be planned around the ship’s cycle. In particular, TQL activity, whether training or doing, should be undertaken and completed during the declining phase of the cycle; otherwise it will compete for resources required by mission-critical activities.
The TQL Organization Structure
The TQL organization structure can foster potentially damaging adversarial relationships with the standing organizations as each competes for resources and crew time. The Conolly learned that during periods of high-tempo operations, precedence must be given to the standing organizations. The ship’s mission states, in part, that she will “deploy anywhere in the world as directed by the President, ready to support U.S. interests in peace and war.” This provides clear guidance for deciding among alternative uses of resources, when the choice involves strategic activity.
The nature of the Conolly's operations required cooperation and integration within and among departments and divisions. Thus, if the ship was to attain combat readiness, it was imperative that the elements of cooperation and integration—people and roles—be maintained intact and not disrupted by assignment to competing activities.
The creation of an additional structure of hierarchical units (executive steering committees, etc.) to achieve cooperation and integration is a redundancy. With resources stretched to their limits, the Conolly opted to retain the existing organizational structure to enable requisite mission-critical activities. But with the attainment of combat readiness required for deployment, the strain between the two structures eased and the merits of the TQL structure became more apparent.
All commands should evaluate the costs and benefits of creating a separate organizational structure to do TQL work during any phase in the cycle, especially in light of the Conolly's experience with using the standing organization to do the job. Prudent use of resources and the advantages of simplicity argue for using the standing organization to do the important work of a command. The case for a separate TQL hierarchy may not hold up if the costs include deflection of resources from mission-critical, and thus survival- supportive, activities.
Statements of Underlying Values
A well-developed statement of mission, vision, and guiding principles can direct shipboard improvement processes with or without the formal organization of TQL. The process of developing and promulgating what the Conolly stands for was invaluable for laying out expected personal and interpersonal behavior. Important elements of the Conolly’s statement were respect for the individual and insistence on a fear-free work environment.
The ship’s progress during the ten months from July 1993 to April 1994 was undertaken at a pace that would strain the ability of any organization—warship or workshop—to maintain such an environment, but the Conolly learned that respect for individuals and freedom from fear contributed immeasurably to her progress during that period. The tempo of operations provided numerous opportunities for the ship to demonstrate by behavior the meaning of the abstract, value terms included in her mission, vision, and guiding principles documents.
Although all the possible behaviors consistent with a set of values cannot be cataloged in advance, the Conolly’s experience suggests that an effort should be made. Abstract statements of intentions to do “right” must be anchored in actions. For example, what behaviors should be expected of the ward room in relation to the chiefs mess in relation to the mess decks? How would one know from the behaviors of individuals whether a ship in fact follows the tenets of TQL?
Implications of Lessons Learned
Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s plan-do- check-act cycle encourages managers to consider any solution to a problem to be tentative until evidence accumulates to support it. Thus, acting may differ from doing because of the information gathered during the check cycle—that is, midcourse changes may be necessary. For the Navy, the checking cycle refers to the lessons learned during the implementation experiences of ships and squadrons designated as demonstration units. In an undertaking so large and ambitious as that of implementing TQL in the Navy, no implementation strategy and plan could anticipate every contingency to be confronted in the fleet.
The Conolly undertook the task of implementing and institutionalizing TQL as directed, following all the specified procedures and processes, including TQL- related training, top-down support, critical mass, and organization. Her TQL experience included many success stories, but some came at considerable cost because of a lack of appreciation of (1) the relationships among TQL activities and other daily shipboard activities and (2) the competition between the TQL organization and the standing organization. In the final analysis, the Conolly’s TQL successes were attained by the command’s insistence on creating and sustaining a fear-free work environment for everyone on board.
Dr. Gibson, professor of management at the University of Kentucky, studied the Conolly's TQL experience while under way from January to May 1994. Captain Holt, presently assigned to Second Fleet, Operations, commanded the Conolly from July 1992 through April 1994.