A search for common attributes


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Copyright 2005 by K. Ferlic,   All Rights Reserved

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At the time the author moved to the newly formed engineering group which began his conscious journey into creativity, the Department of Energy was undergoing a significant change in mission and outside oversight requirements. The results of a variety of required management upgrades caused the author to rethink prevailing management approaches and look deeper into the nature or organizational management.

What was interesting about the Department was given its multitude of diverse energy related objectives there were a similar diversity in approaches as to how those objectives should be met. There were the typical civilian management views and approaches as suggest by the management “gurus.’ There was the competing military management views of the three services let alone off shoots within each military community like the competing naval nuclear, surface and aviation perspectives. Externally observed, these perspectives are seen as similar. Internally in application, they can be very different. There was the academic view encouraged by the National Laboratories often management by Universities. There was the influence of the nuclear industry and, of course, the military industrial complex.

All the approaches seemed to want the same quality and safety. Yet their priorities and approaches had different emphasis and often seemed to be at odds. When their individual demanded upgrades were explored by their different approaches, there was a great different in both what was being required and how it was to be done. Yet, although the approaches differed and had different priorities, each one could point to a list of safety and quality successes. That is they all demonstrated that they could achieve an objective doing it in a safe manner with a quality product. But was any one better than the other? All did have their evidence to suggest they were the best at what they did.

Although priorities and approaches did differ, they all claimed the same objective of safety, health and quality. As such they all would have to addressed the facts of the situation. A true safety and/or quality issue is determined by the facts and requirements for operation which can be observed by any person and not the result of an opinion. It was assumed by the author that for a given product or operation, the safety requires and quality requirements should be the same for any management approach. Analogously, if you were to travel from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, there are an number or routes you could take as there are a number of methods of transportation. You could go by car, plane, train, bus, truck, boat (even from Washington), walk or run. In the end, you would get to San Francisco. Of course, some ways are faster and maybe more efficient. Nevertheless, the endpoint is the same.

The Laboratory Integrated Prioritization System was one attempt to make some sense out of these different and often conflicting approaches. However, one significant problem with this System was that it was perceived by many who did not really understand it to be just another management approach. They did not view it as a way of actually sorting out and dealing with the facts. In responds to this, the author found it necessary to look for another approach. His choice was to look for what was common in all the proposed management approaches. It was hoped that in looking to what was common in the various approaches, it was something all the advocates of the different approaches could agree upon.

At this time, the author was actively looking at improvements and upgrades to the training and qualification of the staff. He reasoned that if he knew the common essential attributes to create safety and quality used by these various approaches, they could be taught along with, and overlaid with the technical training requirements. In essence, get the proverbial two birds with one stone. He could get both technical competency and the understanding to create safety and health.

The author commissioned one of his support contractor organizations to review the various prevalent management approaches actively being pursed by the Department or being encouraged for application in the Department. He wanted to know what were some common attributes. If they could then be taught and instilled in the staff as they were being trained, then no matter what management approach was used, there would be a solid foundation on which to build safety and quality.

What was found surprised the author and those involved with the review. Rather than finding the expected set of common key attributes that each approach addressed, few attributes were common. Those that were common were not common across all approaches. Other than approaches that seemed to arise from a common root, there was little consistency. The only conclusion the author could make was that any approach would work and give you the kind of results that was desired. All that was required was a was consistent and organizational focus in that approach and all were held accountable to it. In essence, the organization needed make whatever approach they took a single point focus.

Yet, one of the most significant issues facing the Department was a lack of continued single point focus. It was not that a single point focus was not achievable. Rather, a single point focus for a way of doing business could not be agreed upon. Alternatively said, there was not a consistent organization culture across the entire department which could give rise to an organizational singe point focus

What become clear was thee was several issues that kept the department from achieving the success it desired. In addition to the lack of a single point focus and cultural approach, pessimistic as it sounds, and what we confirmed in the Laboratory Integrated Prioritization System project, was all levels of management did want to see the fact for what they were. Many became managers to implement an agenda they carried and that agenda was not always consistent with what needed to be done. Additionally, what was often overlook by many managers at all levels, but especially at the senior levels, was how and why the organization had evolved the way it did. In failing to appreciate those reasons many of the same mistakes were made again, in a new way. In the end, the organization kept repeating the past in a new way.

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