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NEWS | March 9, 2018

Waterfront Operations Takes “Critical Path”

By Hendrick Dickson, Public Affairs Specialist

     Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC) Waterfront Operations (Code 300) began its second year of specialized training for project managers (PMs), assistant project managers (APMs) and shipbuilding specialists (SBSs) in January in an effort to improve efficient completion of availabilities and timely delivery of ships back to the fleet.

     The 30-week course, facilitated by Operations Research Analyst Mike Boisseau, is structured from the Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual (JFMM) and teaches the critical path method (CPM), a project management technique for process planning that defines critical and non-critical tasks with the goal of preventing delays in project completion.

     “Critical path is a project management philosophy based on the work, series of activities within any given task and how much float (flex in the schedule) you have,” said Waterfront Operations Manager Chuck Baker. “The critical path is the job that has the least amount of float – typically one job maybe two. So what we’re trying to train everyone to understand is how to identify the critical path and how you lay it out to mitigate those negative floats that show up on our schedules.”

     “Every one of these project managers has a lot of experience, and many have actually had training and have knowledge of critical path method,” said Boisseau. “Most project managers, however, were learning what they could about schedules and planning on their own, and sometimes they were not always seeing the things that should jump out at them. They may not know they are in trouble with their availability until it’s too late. Our goal is to transfer the detailed knowledge of critical path method so they will be able to recognize those pitfalls sooner through getting a better understanding of their schedule and planning.”         

     For an hour and a half, every Thursday, Waterfront Operations PMs meet to exchange ideas and experiences and to discuss better ways to manage availabilities by working more effectively with various contractors.

     “When I was hired as a PM here at MARMC my training consisted of shadowing a senior PM for about three months and attending the week long PM class over at McKean Defense,” said MARMC Project Manager Rick Benson. “The training that was mandated last year started us all at the basic level. That consisted of JFMM paragraphs spelling out our responsibilities and retraining us with definitions of commonly used terms: key event, milestone, critical path, controlling path, etc. Not just definitions, but how they apply in our contractual setting with our shipyard counterparts.”

     Last year the Navy, in an attempt to curve cost and improve on-time delivery, made a shift in how it awards ship maintenance contracts going from the Multi-Ship Multi-Option (MSMO) to the Firm-Fixed Priced contract model. This created a void in project manager capabilities.

     “When we went to the MSMO-cost Multi-ship, Multi-option the contractor not only wrote his specs, but he wrote his schedule, he wrote his plan and we followed it, but over that eight-year period, we the government, eroded in our capability of understanding critical path management,” said Baker. “Under the firmed-fixed price the contractor is obligated to provide us a schedule under the NAVSEA (Naval Sea Systems Command) standard item 009-60. There is a lot of information in the 009-60 that he is also supposed to provide and execute. Without the proper training our people have been unable to successfully hold the contractor accountable to do that.”

    “Now with this training,” he continued. “We’ve awakened industry to the fact that our project managers and our maintenance teams understand the details of their master integrated schedule network.”

     Understanding those details start with being able to evaluate schedules effectively, a primary focus in the CPM training. Baker wants the PMs to take a big picture view of their availabilities – starting even before the contract is awarded. Conventional wisdom indicates that prior experiences on multiple classes of ship should allow PMs to project what their availability should look like. From there, it is just a matter of applying that knowledge.

     “Thirty days before the start the contractor owes us a schedule,” said Baker. “If that is the first time we’ve considered what the entire availability should look like, we’ve failed. Our folks need to understand the process so well that when they get that schedule the contractor gives them they can look at it and determine if it is executable or not. We’ve never had the ability to do that before. But now they’re starting to analyze their schedule and many cases tell the contractor where his schedule is flawed and need to be corrected.”

     “This isn’t the only piece of the pie, but it is a piece,” added Boisseau. “If we don’t understand how schedules work, how contractors build the schedule, how to monitor it and how to have a conversation about it, it’s hard for us to have an influence with on-time delivery.”

     More than 40 PMs participated in the training last year. This year, about 60, including APMs and SBSs, attend the hour and a half training sessions every Thursday. Boisseau says the training is more like a workshop where he encourages participants to share their experiences. He uses schedules and tasks from current availabilities as examples and urges everyone to give their thoughts.

     “We’re using the current availabilities as scenarios and having the project managers from the availabilities share with the group – and we’re talking about it. What is working, what are the problems, how can we fix them,” he said.

     “It also helped the PM (in which the examples were taken from) learn how to go back to the KTR (contractor) and ask them to better refine the data provided,” said Benson. “These corrections would make for a better way to track the availability, minimize lost time and provide them with a valuable tool for recording lessons learned. Ultimately the end result would be all of us coming out a winner.”

     The training doesn’t stop in the classrooms however. Boisseau on several occasions has visited various ships to advise PMs on how to evaluate their schedule and to point out those issues with contractors through conversation.

     “I’m here as part of the MARMC team and I want them to know that,” said Boisseau. “My goal is for them to have the confidence, as well as the ability, to have those conversations with the contractors about the schedule that are non-confrontational because they are just the facts,” said Boisseau. “We have the same end in mind – on-time delivery of the ship back to the fleet fit to fight.”

     Over the next 30 weeks of training, MARMC hopes to put a new perspective on how project managers and their roles are viewed in the shipbuilding industry – a role that shapes the path toward availability completion.     

     “I think MARMC is leading the way for government management of maintenance and modernization availabilities,” said Baker. “I don’t like the term contract management oversight, it implies that all we’re doing is sitting back and watching. We have project managers not project monitors. Our job is to help the industrial base succeed by managing their availability and our folks are doing that and that’s a good thing.”