NUWC: Not Just Another "Reorg"
by CAPT John Mickey, USN

As a career submariner turned Acquisition Professional, I won’t claim to be an authority on the dynamics of major organizational change. But frankly, I’ve watched the Navy evolve for more than 25 years now, and to call anything that happened organizationally during the first 24 of them “transformational” would be a stretch.

That opinion has changed in the past year. Perhaps it’s only a matter of perspective, but from where I sit now, as Commander, Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport, I can’t help but feel that we are implementing what may be some of the most profound changes to take place in NUWC’s 135-year history. It’s not just about altering reporting chains and office-door nameplates, but about fundamentally restructuring the way we do our business and, in some respects, also about changing the business that we do. Part of this transformation is driven by larger efforts within the Warfare Center “enterprise” of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), and part of it is NUWC-specific. Regardless, it signals a sea change in how we support the Navy’s undersea warfare community.

A Proud and Distinguished History

As an organization, NUWC can be proud of its heritage. Variously known as the Naval Torpedo Station, the Naval Underwater Sound Laboratory, the Naval Underwater Research and Engineering Station (NURES), the Naval Underwater Systems Center (NUSC), and most recently, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, NUWC has steadily evolved its portfolio of activities in undersea technology to become “the Navy’s full-spectrum research, development, test and evaluation, engineering, and fleet support center for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, and offensive and defensive weapon systems associated with undersea warfare.” Although NUWC is by no means the nation’s sole provider of such capabilities, it is uniquely chartered b/y the Secretary of the Navy with responsibility for stewardship of them.

The New Challenge

Despite a distinguished record of accomplishment in supporting undersea warfare since its inception, NUWC needs to look to the future to meet the enormous challenges posed by the evolving underwater threat. These needs go well beyond locating quiet diesel submarines in a complex littoral environment. They also include finding new ways to solve “old” problems, shortening development and deployment time, applying our technologies to new missions, and doing it all under budgetary pressures more severe than any in recent history.

Almost two years ago, NUWC leadership became concerned about our ability to meet these coming challenges. Not only were we still operating with an organization that hadn’t changed much since the start of the Cold War, but we knew that we had a credibility problem with some of our primary customers and stakeholders. This was due to the conflict of interest that arose – not infrequently – from trying to act as both a technical advisor and a technology provider at the same time. We resolved to examine ourselves critically to see if there was a better way to accommodate the new environment. Almost at the same time, NAVSEA, NUWC’s parent command, began to initiate similar alignment activities among its own four lines of business: Shipyards, Warfare Centers, Engineering, and Business Operations. Subsequently, the NAVSEA-directed changes have complemented NUWC’s initiatives nicely, although they slightly changed our implementation timelines.

One of the most visible changes in the NAVSEA Warfare Centers (NUWC and the Naval Surface Warfare Center – NSWC) has been the creation of twelve Product Area Directors (PADs), each a Senior Executive holding national responsibility for a specific product area. Although the PADs still reside at the sites at which they were previously employed, their purview now extends beyond the home site itself and embraces all product-area work regardless of location. Within the scope of their product areas, the PADs exercise stewardship of the Warfare Center core equities and establish a vision and strategic plan for them. They are also responsible for reviewing work proposed by prospective customers in their product areas and determining which, if any, Warfare Center is best suited to perform it. Individual sites may no longer accept customer work independently, nor can customers freely “shop around” for a Warfare Center site of their own choosing. If a customer has work that must be done by a Warfare Center, a PAD will ultimately determine which site it goes to.

Whereas the PADs control the Warfare Centers’ workloads, the Commanding Officer of each site is responsible for shaping an effective workforce and implementing efficient processes to support the work. Thus, as a site commander, I must work with every PAD that sends work to Division Newport to determine the workforce capacity and skill mix needed to handle it. Mismatches between the assigned workload and my workforce will become immediately apparent. Because COs are still singularly accountable for meeting our site financial targets, resolving these mismatches becomes somewhat more difficult, since “finding more work” is no longer a unilateral option. If I believe that the health of one of my core equities is in danger, I can ask the PAD for help in identifying work to sustain it. Lacking that, I must find a way to retrain or redeploy the people in the overmanned area, either temporarily or permanently, depending on the long-term prospects for the associated work. On the other hand, if the PAD intends to send more work than I have capacity for, I must either reject the portion that I cannot support or create additional capacity – by hiring, training, or outsourcing – to execute it.

The position of Director, Undersea Warfare (DUSW) was recently created as a new Senior Executive position within NUWC’s Headquarters organization to reinvigorate NUWC’s ability to offer credible “honest broker” advice to senior Navy leadership. The position will champion a view of the Navy that looks beyond the boundaries of individual programs to see the bigger USW integrated picture. DUSW also monitors the health of NUWC’s investment in future technologies to ensure that our ability to offer potential future capabilities remains viable within the pressures of meeting near-term readiness requirements.

Three other significant changes have been made to NUWC’s organization. Each of them is intended to encourage – or require – horizontal integration of efforts among NUWC’s various line organizations, which can easily become stove-piped by the products they work on.

The first of these are Customer Advocates (CAs), who assist the PADs in oversight of the workload assigned to the sites. On behalf of their customers, the CAs negotiate the scope of tasking and the resources needed to accomplish it. Once the tasking is finalized, the CAs assist their PAD and the customers in monitoring each site’s performance of it. They participate in the sites’ internal reviews of project execution, give the COs feedback on existing or potential risk areas, and help adjudicate changes in tasking scope or funding.

Mission Capability Managers (MCMs) are chartered to oversee NUWC efforts in mission areas with multiple customers – currently ASW, Strike, Homeland Security, Training, Integrated Logistics Support, USW FORCEnet, Information Warfare, and Special Warfare. As extensions of the DUSW, the MCMs provide subject area expertise and awareness of “big Navy” and joint requirements in their assigned mission areas. They are also responsible for maintaining an end-to-end, system-of-systems perspective of the technology and acquisition efforts in their mission areas, and for identifying non-traditional solutions. Although these are primarily program office responsibilities, the MCMs provide NUWC leadership and program managers an independent assessment of issues and opportunities that might arise.

Finally, there are new Communities of Practice – formal networks of employees with common skills, work areas, or functions. We believe that these groups will foster cross-department/cross-divisional communication, identify best practices, and disseminate lessons-learned quickly and effectively, promoting a more robust and sustainable knowledge-management process for the command. If properly supported, these Communities of Practice can significantly improve our productivity and efficiency by minimizing the waste of re-learning “other peoples’ lessons” and by identifying and promoting better ways of doing business. To paraphrase one of our current Navy leaders, “it’s far better to have someone go ‘steal’ a good practice and implement it immediately than it is to waste time and resources developing a better one.”

No, It’s Not Just Another “Reorg”

Although many things are changing at NUWC, rest assured that we hold some key things dear, and we are strongly committed to ensuring they don’t change – the safety of our products, the quality of our workmanship, the talents of our people, and our guiding principles of accountability, respect, teamwork, initiative, and integrity. These are not negotiable.

On the other hand, the transformation taking place at NUWC is substantial and signals a new way of doing our business. Not only have we revised or realigned many of the fundamental processes used to plan and execute our work, but perhaps more significantly, we have begun to see it reflected in our underlying culture. No, this really isn’t just another person’s desire to shuffle the deck chairs, and it won’t be “business as usual” when our current crop of leaders move on. I have already seen clear evidence that positive change is taking place and that it’s permanent. I’m encouraged and excited about the potential it brings.

CAPT Mickey is Commander of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division, Newport.

NUWC Realignment Chart
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Fall 2004 Cover