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The Harry S. Truman, Part 2 of 3

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Written by Dan Hoffman

A few Saturday nights ago I was four-stories up in the tower of the Harry S. Truman nuclear power aircraft carrier watching F-18s take-off and land in the dark.  Admiral Fox was talking about the weaknesses of the military bureaucracy.  You’ve heard it before: how can this massive institution of almost 3 million active and reserves plus contractors engineered to project overwhelming force be nimble enough to meet the new century’s dispersed and dynamic threats?  As examples, Fox was bemoaning the recent disaster of spending billions and almost a decade trying to upgrade the President’s helicopter and the fact that it took ten years to make a minor upgrade to the F-18.

Can we apply anything from military-style management to fast-growth technology companies?  We have seven staff with military experience, including a former Red Army Accordion player  and a Captain that led troops in Iraq. We all talked about this, and there were a few take-aways.


While the rigid structure wouldn’t work, we definitely can do a better job of giving staff clear orders, training and career paths, and the space and time to develop mastery of their roles.  This was striking on the Truman.  Their organized processes allow them to do amazing things with a crew of 5,000 that average 19-years old.  According to the XO, this clarity meant that the relatively new management team on the Truman clicked and started working together almost immediately, no offsite-ropes course required.

The starting point for us has been writing role definitions for every job, but we’re five months in and still working!  It has certainly helped uncover areas where we are fuzzy: Who’s responsible for pricing? For marketing to current clients? For managing inventory?  Our idea is that from there, we can develop training and career plans.  I’ll be happy if we complete this in 2009, but we’re trying.

The fraternization policy is another matter.  Once you are promoted above your peers, you can’t socialize outside of work.


There’s no drinking on the boat.  We had an interesting discussion about how that would work in our culture, where informal after-work sessions have been great ways to build trust

and, eventually, teamwork.  I also have to wonder about how effectively Captain Clarkson polices the no-sex-on-the-boat rule.

In the next and final installation of this tripblog I’ll write about phones.