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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy

David A. Zimmer
David A. Zimmer, PMP
Chief Business Strategist
American Eagle Group

It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship of the Navy
Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

I started reading this book and devoured it before I could do my usual book review method: state what I was expecting to get out of the book and then telling you what I learned. This book is good. Really good. "No-nonsense, straight-up, here is what really worked for me" type of book I'd expect from a military guy. It is a shame more companies don't read this AND implement similar practices.

Understand the backdrop here. Captain Abrashoff is given command of the USS Benfold, a ship ranked toward the bottom of the US Navy's grading scale. His job is to command this ship for the next two years. But he decides this ship deserved better than being at the bottom of the list. He decides to simply implement some human decency with those on the ship and literally turned the ship around. But there is a greater backdrop here - he did it in the very hierarchical, bureaucratic, command-n-control environment of the US Navy. I've worked in some very hierarchical, bureaucratic, command-n-control environments, but they pale in comparison. Big Time!

What I learned from this book is huge.

1. Rules are made to be broken - carefully. I've broken many a rules in my time (I abide by gravity and a few other immutable laws, but mainly because of the lesson-learned from breaking them and the resulting consequences). Some rules I broke not so carefully and could have had my head served to me on a platter, but the outcomes served to change the environment for the better - in most cases (I carry a hat box in my trunk for those times the outcomes didn’t go as planned). Abrashoff made it a rule to break the rules, carefully. As a result, he turned the ship from the lowest grade to the most efficient, highest regarded ship of the Navy. According Abrashoff, several of the current Standard Operating Procedures of the Navy were a result of the USS Benfold experience.

2. Regardless of the environment structure, you can make changes that make a difference. As project managers, I quip we have zero authority and one-hundred percent of the responsibility to bring our project to success. Many don't believe it, but we really do have authority to make changes to broken processes, develop good practices, and overall alter chaotic systems to meet the goal of project success. Unfortunately, many of us don't leverage that ability, thus we continue to do the same inefficient, non-productive, ineffective exercises over and over and over. Hey, if Abrashoff can do it in the Navy, why can't we do it in our positions? Reading this book gave me knowledge how to make those changes properly.

3. There is no such thing as over-communications. There is no such thing as too much praise. There is no such thing as excessive encouragement or empowerment. There is no such thing as too high of expectations.

Abrashoff discusses not just the management of people reporting to us, but how to deal horizontally and vertically upward. He covers the gambit.

And finally, he aligns with the mentor leadership philosophy Tony Dungy espoused in his book, “Mentor Leadership.” I’m seeing a pattern in the books I’m reading. True leaders don’t covet glory, power, or ego. Glory and power come from their willingness to serve others and keep their egos in check. I’m starting to look at people differently. I can almost instantaneously pick successful leaders and managers from those who are working hard at it and struggling. Successful ones are hardly noticed and have effective people. The glaring ones have to fight hard to maintain the pretense.

To my fellow project managers, this is one book I’d recommend because it teaches what is possible in impossible environments.

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