Welcome R/V Taani!

OSU’s RCRV finally has a name! Check out this article to get a little background on how Taani was chosen as the name for OSU’s next ship.  Here’s a little graphic that gives a bit of history on OSU’s ship names going back to about 1960.  See a pattern?

By the way, editorial tip:  ship names should always be italicized and not preceded by the word “the” as they should be treated like a person’s name.  However, the name of a class of ships (The Oceanus class, for example) is not italicized. So I guess the RCRV class will now be known as the Taani class. There it is.

Also, I’d like to give a quick shout out to the latest addition to RCRV, um, Taani team.  Dash360 is now on board helping with Project Controls. They’re already doing great work for us and I’m excited to see what they can do. I should add that they produce a podcast on project management, so you know they mean business.  I actually encourage you to check out their latest episode in which they interview for Navy Seal Lawrence Yatch.  He was the keynote speaker at NSF’s Large Facilities Workshop this year and provides exceptional wisdom. Check it out!

I’ve been getting some good feedback on this blog.  People apparently appreciate the transparency (thanks, I’m trying) and also the technical tidbits.  So with the latter in mind, I’m going to more regularly highlight some of the ships’ more interesting features. Here’s one.

Perhaps the single most important instrument on any research vessel is the CTD. I’ve personal conducted literally hundreds of CTD casts (thousands?)… they’re the bread and butter of any cruise, pretty much.  So how the CTD is handled really matters.  Say it takes one ship 5 minutes faster to deploy or recover a CTD than another ship. Over the course of a 2-week cruise that can equate to many hours of lost productivity. The design of the system will make a huge difference over the life of the vessel. That’s why we’ve put a lot of thought into this, and so have our partners at Rapp/Triplex and we think we have a workable solution, though it’s not ideal due to constraints we have from other equipment and the layout and size of the ship.   For an example of very solid approach, check out the following shots from Sikuliaq (and this video). They have an deployable boom that can daintily set the CTD at the water’s edge and bring it inboard for processing with just a touch of a button.

This is the overhead crane type used on Sikuliaq to deploy/recover CTDs.

This is an empty CTD frame being brought on board Sikuliaq into its Baltic Room using the overhead crane.  The docking head provides a bit of a cushion for recoveries. Ours will look very similar.

Here is an animated video of the whole thing in action.  Investigator, the ship in the video, is Australia’s new research flagship has a lot great features like this (and cool videos, too).

On a smaller ships like those in the Taani class, we don’t have the luxury of a Baltic Room from which to deploy and recover CTDs and work the samples. (The term Baltic coming from their prevalence in that region to keep their folks out of the bad weather.) So we had to come up with another solution.

Enter the deck skidder.  Workboats in the oil and gas industry have been using rails on decks to move equipment around for a long time.  Here’s a cartoon example of a big one:

You can see the rail in this photo going fore/aft into the vessel’s large hangar. Note that the rail is recessed into the deck.

This approach is not all that common on research ships, though Roger Revelle does employ an elevated rail system and a little trolley.

You can see the orange rails leading into the vessel’s lab spaces. This is a similar approach to what we’re going with. Taani’s track will be bolted to the deck so it can be removed if necessary. To avoid tripping hazard, however, it will be surrounded with lightweight fiberglass grating which will be tapered down to the deck level. We expect the CTD to be moved by an electric chain drive, which eliminates the danger of an oil leak.  Somewhat similar systems have been added to other ships, but they are rarely as integrated as this, and usually involve tuggers and cables and are awful tripping hazards.

So basically the CTD will be brought on board and set on a trolley using a Triplex LARS (Launch and recovery system). Then, should the scientists wish to process the samples out of the weather, the trolley/CTD will be translated forward on the rail into the wet-lab. The wetlab will have a roll-up door to allow easy and complete access for the system. Once in the wetlab, it can be secured in place and worked on.  Here’s a little picture of it.  I’ll ask my animators if they can make a better version of it actually on the ship rendering that I can post later.

You’ll notice, by the way, that there’s a second position. That right hand bend in the rail is so that the CTD can be moved out of the way (all the way outboard in the wetlab) to provide easy access into the main lab for mob/demobing purposes.

One more graphic to sum it all up:

If you have any questions about this system, drop them in the comments below. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll ask the right people.  Thanks again for reading. And have a nice long weekend, if you’re so lucky.

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A quick post, “unfortunately”…

Well, we made it through our first Annual Review. One down, five to go! The OSU team did a great job preparing and organizing (I’m talking about you Hannah!) and it went pretty well. There were no real surprises anyway.  And the warts we knew about were the warts we presented. On the technical side, the warts included the delay caused by the lengthening change and the challenges GIS has faced with some of its Functional Design subcontractors.  What challenges? Well let’s just say that GIS has hired quite a few engineers of their own recently and moved most of the Functional Design work in house. On the project side, it means that our Earned Value Management system has not yet been accepted, unfortunately,  due to some issues with the schedule format. But like I said, none of this was a surprise and we’ve got a solid plan moving forward. We’re still on track to starting construction in November.

It was great to bring to entire team together in Corvallis. It’s been quite a while since we’ve done that and I’m not sure when, and even if, we’ll do it again, unfortunately.  Future annual reviews will be at the shipyard. I’m always really impressed with the talent we have on our team–all around.  I mean the Shipyard managers from GIS, the NSF officers, OSU’s financial support, and our team at the shipyard. Lot’s of talent. Here’s a picture we took with some of the team.  Unfortunately, we were having such a great time, we forgot to take a picture with everyone while we were still all together.

On the technical side, if you’ve been following our progress at all, you know that we’ve made a lot of effort to ensure that the RCRVs are going to be efficient to operate and that overall the “triple bottom line” is solid. Though laudable, this approach can create challenges, unfortunately. For example, one small way we’re increasing efficiency is by specifying LED lighting throughout the ship. This includes our external navigational lights that have very particular requirements dictated by the Coast Guard to ensure that they’re reliable and visible from predictable distances.  However,  LED lights, if unshielded, have been found to interfere with VHF communications, as announced this last week. Fortunately, we’ve known about this issue having looked into upgrading our Nav lights on Oceanus several years ago, and have required shielding in our RCRV specifications.  I mention it here as an on going example of the type of “gotchas” that can sneak up on you and why we monitor the industry for the latest and greatest to ensure we’re ahead of the game. One of these days, don’t be surprised if I come on here and write about how one of these “gotchas” actually “gottus.”

One more quick announcement. I’m very pleased to announce that the project’s very own Shipyard Representative, John Comar, has been selected as OSU’s “Exemplary Employee of the Year” for 2017. CEOAS Dean Roberta Marinelli presented him with this honor during the Annual Review this past week.  Well done, John! Very well deserved!

Ok. Until next time, thanks again for reading.  Enjoy your last week of summer. And, as always, feel free to subscribe using the link above.    /d


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Things are heating up…

Corvallis has been shrouded in a smokey haze this week as we feel the effects of the giant fires raging to the south as the temps have been well up into the 90s.  On the project side, things are heating up as well (how’s that for a segue ?).  Our largest change so far (and hopeful largest of the project) has been approved.  We’re adding 6′ and solving our foreseeable weight and volume problems.

Here’s a graphic of our new General Arrangement Drawings that incorporate the added length.  Lots of positive to see if you know where to look.  For example, we’ve consolidated all the ship’s officer staterooms together on the O2 level. The 2nd and 3rd engineers are next to each other which will be nice as these rooms will have special alarms that signal when there are problems with the machinery spaces.  One other big change we’ve made is to move the Datapresence Center down to the first platform below the main deck.  We’ve had it on the O1 level since the very beginning. It took someone from the outside of the project who was new to say “why not move it down.” We had seen it up there so long, it just wasn’t something we’d considered doing, but it solved a lot of problems and opened up several good opportunities for staterooms, air handling systems, and the relocation of the hospital that now has access directly from the weather deck and rescue boat.

We’re set to begin actually building these things in November. I think we’ll all be very glad to see some physical progress after all these years of planning and designing.

We’ve also settled our schedule summary, for now, that includes the revised delivery date for the first ship and sets the baseline delivery for University of Rhode Island’s ship.  Here’s a link to the updated schedule.  You’ll notice that it actually shows three ships.  I should be very clear to say that the third ship has NOT been funded by Congress yet. The third ship is on here (and all the dates associated with it) are just our best guesses.  So don’t get excited.  But if we do get funded, and the funding comes in not too late in the year, this is kind of how the third ship would play out.

We’ve added a key new member to our team in the last few weeks.  Daryl Swensen has joined as the “Transition to Operations Coordinator.”  Daryl was with OSU a few years back leading OSU’s Marine Technician group. He brings a wealth of sea-going and science planning experience to the team which is good, because it’s his job to get the new ships outfitted, all the science gear and systems tested, and the ships ready for service in the academic fleet. Welcome aboard Daryl!

Ok. That will do it for now.  Next week is that Annual Review I mentioned so we have lots to do to make sure we’re squared away for that.  Enjoy what’s left of the summer! If you’re in the west, watch out for the fires! And, as always, thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe using the link above.


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A little of this, a little of that.

Greetings. No major news since my last post, but I thought I’d just provide a few short updates on a number of topics. For starters, we’re making good progress in wrapping up the change I referenced in my last post. Though not quite finalized, it looks very good that we’ll be moving forward with the added 6′ in the next week or so.  When we get that finalized, we’ll be sure to update our General Arrangement Drawing (GA’s) on our website. The new GAs look great, by the way, and I’m looking forward to sharing them.

We had our first meeting with our friends from University of Rhode Island today. We discussed how they’ll be involved during the construction process and how things might go during the transition of their ship. We had a few different ideas on what that might look like, and, if you know me at all, you know I like different ideas! I find that the best plans and ideas are usually not the first ones thought of, but, rather, the ones that grow from the original idea into something smarter and better.  I looking forward to working with URI– they’re going to bring a lot to the table.

In a few weeks, OSU will be hosting the National Science Foundation review panel for our first “Annual Review.” In advance of that, we’ve provided the reviewers all of our project documents so that they can really look under the hood and see if we’re doing our jobs like we said we would.  This kind of oversight, though somewhat of a pain from time to time, is very important to ensure that we’re all being good stewards of the taxpayer’s money. In conjunction with our annual review, we’ll also be hosting a few representatives from Gulf Island for our normal Quarterly Review.

On the technical side, we’re making steady progress.  Rapp is making headway on the main crane selection, for example. This has been a challenge since the design phase of the project.  In our specifications, we require a telescoping crane that covers the entirety of the back deck and has the ability to tow light packages over the side.  And we need that to be light and preferably not use a crutch to support it during towing operations.  Thus far, the crane selection has been either complicated or facilitated by the recent merger of Rapp and MacGregor, I sometimes can’t tell which.  Larger ships often employ two cranes on the back deck.  In many ways, this is actually easier to design and build as neither crane needs to do everything. But smaller ships can’t fit two cranes.  One of the drivers is that the crane needs to be able to load cargo (such as portable laboratory vans) from the pier. Two smaller cranes wouldn’t give that capacity.

We’re also to the point in the process where we’re starting to pick colors for lounge furniture and the booths in the mess.  We’re going with brick red booths, a choice you often see in old 50s diners.

Lastly, we’ve chosen a name for the ship! And, we have a sponsor line up for the keel laying.  Stay tuned for more info on that in an upcoming post.

As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions, comments, gripes, or suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comment tool above.  Until next time, have a great summer!

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The Operator for the Second Ship is…

University of Rhode Island has announced that it has been selected by the NSF to operate the second RCRV.  Congratulations to them and welcome to the team!  We’re looking forward to working closely with URI to ensure that we deliver them a ship suited to the work they’ll be doing in the Atlantic and that part of the world. The rendering currently shows it as blue. Will it be blue? Or white? Or blue and white? That’s up to them. We’ll see.

I should point out that OSU has actually been working with URI (and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) since the mid-70’s operating the Oceanus class.  Though the same class and nearly identical at delivery, the ships diverged significantly over the years. Oceanus added a deck.  Wecoma got a bit longer.  And Endeavor added a deck AND got longer. But they continued to share a common propellor and drive shaft.  The institutions took turns providing maintenance for these and sort of passed around the good one.  When Wecoma was retired in 2012, the drive shaft and propellor was removed and added to the spare parts pool mostly obviating the need to ship parts around after that.

To date, we have worked closely with URI to help develop our Datapresence concept.  They have been pioneers in the use “Telepresence” at sea, collaborating with Dr. Bob Ballard of Titanic finding fame  and having success recently in helping with the extraordinary find of the “Black Box” from the ill-fated El Faro. They have also participated in the project’s Science Oversight Committee— a group of scientists from around the country representing different disciplines who have provided a voice for the nation’s science community to ensure that our ships met their needs.

What about the operator for vessel 3? I actually don’t know… so don’t ask me.  But all things in good time….  First, Congress needs to pass a budget for FY19. That budget needs to contain funding for NSF to award to OSU to start the contract option for the third ship.  After those ducks are in a row (or was that just one duck?), NSF will most likely be confident enough to make an announcement for a 3rd ship operator.  They apparently received plenty of proposals to support that route (though again, I was not part of that process whatsoever).   It should be noted that NSF has said in the past that a 3rd ship would most likely be operated out of the Gulf Coast. Just sayin…

But for now, congratulations again to URI!  We’re looking forward to building you a great ship!

Thanks again for reading.  Feel free to subscribe using the link above. Until next time… stay cool this summer.  Especially you OSU guys down in Houma!

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Likely a little bit longer now…

If you’ve been following my posts or this project at all, you’ve probably heard me refer to our principal technical risk: that being weight, center of gravity, and volume related issues.  I’ve explained how we’re required to carry much of the same equipment as larger vessels such as all the computing resources for our multi-beam SONARS, the deployable centerboard, and capable over-the-side handling equipment. You’ve probably heard me mention that we have the same requirements as other Coast Guard “inspected” vessels such as the need for a hospital, bridge and the engine room compartment size.  We also have several new requirements that other research vessels have not dealt with before such as the EPA’s Tier IV emissions standards and ballast water treatment.  All told, it’s been a lot of STUFF to cram into a regional class vessel in a way that can actually be constructed and maintained.

As we’ve moved through the DVT process, our friends over at Genoa Design International have been busy putting the design into a very detailed computer model, called Ship Constructor (C) . They’ve included all the piping, HVAC conduit, electrical wireways, and all the individual pieces of auxiliary machinery needed to keep the ship moving. They’ve added the Caterpillar C-32 engines and all associated controls.  They’ve put in the winches and tensioners from Rapp/Triplex. And they’ve been able to do so using the information furnished from the vendors themselves (called VFI, vendor furnished information).  This VFI is critical to getting things to fit correctly.  During conceptual and preliminary design, we take our best guess at how large and how heavy things will be. We ask potential vendors to provide what they can, but because we’re not sure who or what vendor will actually be selected by the shipyard (during our open procurement process) and because the vendor is not actually getting paid to supply this information, it’s not alway all that accurate and actually is often rather optimistically small and light. That’s why we add a good bit of margin to all the estimates we use during early stages of design.  Nonetheless, it’s always a bit of a crapshoot… we have to take an educated guess, but ultimately what the vendor provides when on contract can’t always be accurately predicted.

All this to say that we’re currently exploring a change to the design that adds six feet of length so that we can get everything to fit.

Let me explain briefly what I mean by “fit”. We actually look at the vessels’ end of life condition when making weight and volume decisions.  Specifically, we look at a kind of worst case scenario:  the ship is 30 years old, has grown fat in its old age with years of accumulated equipment, it’s covered with ice, and one compartment is flooded– can it survive? Even if the vessel is fine at delivery, if it won’t be fine in this scenario, that’s not good enough.

People sometimes look at ship’s length as THE marker of its size and class.  When viewed through this lens, the addition of a few feet could change everything, somehow.  The reality is, an additional six feet only makes the ship safer and easier to maintain. It will improve the quality of life for all on board through better arrangements.  It won’t increase operational costs nor add additional capabilities. As we’re still in the “paper phase” of the project, the cost of the change is manageable as there’s no steel work to undo or redo.  And the scope of what we’re looking at adds no additional water-tight compartment requirements nor moves us into a higher inspection class.  In short, it’s the right thing to do.

We’d have preferred not to lengthen, but after weighing all the options this is the best way forward.  The change isn’t finalized yet, but we’re heading that way.

Thanks, as aways, for tuning in.  Feel free to subscribe using the link above if you haven’t already.


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Second RCRV has the Green Light

I’m happy to announce that last Friday OSU executed the first contract option with Gulf Island Shipyard to procure a second RCRV.  NSF made an award to OSU last week that allowed us to move forward with the second ship.  We’re all excited to make this happen!  NSF hasn’t announced exactly where the ship will be going or who will operate it, but they’re getting closer to making that determination.

Whoever it will be, OSU is standing by to work closely with them to make a few decisions that will be necessary to customize the ship to its operating region.  Though the RCRV class will be very consistent in terms of machinery, over the side equipment, navigation systems, etc., the vessels will have a few (what we call) “regional differences” and these will need to be finalized relatively quickly. For example, and perhaps most obviously, the (to be selected) operating institution (OI) will need to choose a color scheme for their vessel. I suppose they might like OSU’s choice of Orange and Black with an angry beaver on the bow, but if not, they’ll have an opportunity to customize their own scheme. Though NSF will retain ownership of all RCRVs, they grant the operators a certain discretion when it comes to appearance (as long as NSF’s logo remains prominent!).

The image we created for the second ship has a dark blue that is very similar to that used by many current UNOLS operators from WHOI to SCRIPPS to University of Alaska and many more.  We’re also going to get input on the galley layout, as kitchen layout seems to be a very personal preference.  Internal color schemes will be chosen as well. On the science side, the OI will need to let us know if they think that a shallow water or mid ocean depth multi beam would be preferred (for ocean mapping).   After delivery, the OIs will layout and outfit the labs, the mess, and the staterooms according to their tastes and requirements.

In terms of delivery of the second vessel, one point remains firm. It will not be delivered to OSU by GIS any sooner than six months after delivery of the first ship.  We actually wrote that into the contract in order to ensure that OSU’s shipyard staff had enough capacity to work the delivery trials fully for each ship.  We’ve got a pretty limited staff and we just can’t handle two ships going through trials at the same time. We also think this approach will allow us to apply the focus needed to properly transition the vessels after delivery.

In order to incorporate these “regional differences” and other changes learned from the detailed design process of the first ship, another round of Design Verification and Transfer (DVT) is scheduled solely for the second ship. It will be much shorter in duration, but time is needed to ensure that the second ship’s detailed plan is accurate before we launch into construction.

Ok. That’s it for now.  We’ve got two ships to build!  As always, feel free to subscribe to this blog using the link above. Thanks for reading.  /d

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Guest Blogger: Co-PI Clare Reimers and the NSF Large Facility Workshop


This past week, NSF hosted its annual “Large Facilities Workshop”.  Several RCRV team members were on hand, including my CO-PI, Dr. Clare Reimers.  Here is her report:


May 4, Blog Post by Clare Reimers, RCRV Project Scientist

This week I represented the RCRV Project at the National Science Foundation’s Large Facility Workshop that was held in Alexandria VA.  This annual workshop is organized to share knowledge to promote good practices and address common challenges amongst NSF’s Large Facilities community.  The members of this community come from a portfolio of “Big Science” facilities ranging from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) managed by CALTECH whose developers received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, to the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) managed by Batelle, the Ocean Observing Initiative, and many more. RCRV is one of four major facilities in the construction phase and the newest project in this category.  A project still in the design phase is AIMS, the “Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science” project that is planned for modernization of McMurdo Station.

What I took away from the workshop is that it demonstrates NSF’s intent to maintain healthy collaborative relationships between the agency, its advisors, and the institutions/organizations it supports whose personnel are managing Large Facilities for innovative and challenging scientific research.  Although it was difficult to get very “excited” about talks addressing awardee audits and how to demonstrate fulfillment of core competencies in project management, I did appreciate the spirit of NSF providing information about the sources of new requirements and how to meet to them.  Lessons learned ranged from how the dish radio telescope facility in Puerto Rico, “Arecibo Observatory’ successfully implemented it emergency response plan during hurricane Maria, to approaches LIGO is using for nailing down costs estimates for operations. It is clear the large budgets needed for Large Facilities to address the questions at the forefront of science get extra scrutiny from the Office of the Inspector General, the National Science Board and Congress, as they should.  Therefore, the Large Facilities workshop provided inspiration for project personnel to be at the top of their game to deliver on science missions and stay on time, scope and budget during construction phases.

One session I especially liked was given by a former Navy Seal, Larry Yatch, who is now in the business of instructing groups in how to create highly functioning teams through effective project management.  He gave many pearls of wisdom based on his years of strategic combat planning and leadership, but the pearl that shown for me was the reminder that for teams to be highly effective, everyone needs to know their roles and feel enabled to make the right choices.  He also advised that we all are “lead-followers” with roles that can switch back and forth.  I’ll be heading out to sea next week on the R/V Oceanus as a chief scientist and will be keeping this in mind.  I will also be paying more attention to everyone’s roles on Team RCRV and working to add clarity to “the desired end state”.  So – thank you NSF and Larry for these reminders. It feels good to work within a collaborative support structure that truly believes in the importance of the science enterprise.


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It’s the little things.

I read an interesting piece recently that referred to my “long silent” blog that I took as a good reminder of my goal to do my best to keep people informed about the progress of the construction of the RCRVs. Note the lack of parenthesis around the “s” there that I normally use when referring to our project scope. I’m happy to note that for FY19, Congress has appropriated NSF “$105 million for the continued design and construction of three Regional Class Research Vessels (RCRV).”  That doesn’t actually guarantee “three” RCRVs but at least two look to be in the cards.  So it seems like NSF’s solicitation for operators for the second and third vessels will continue.  Proposals are due, by the way, on 19 April. So if you’re interested, you better get busy proposing! I’ll be at the UNOLS Research Vessel Operators Committee meeting next week where I’ll be presenting the status of the RCRV build to the academic research vessel operators (including prospective RCRV #2 & #3 operators) from around the nation.

Since my last post, we’ve had another Quarterly Meeting and I’m happy to say that it was very productive. We had good discussions and it was time well spent. That’s not to say the project is without challenges, however; there’s always something to deal with.  But the good news is that OSU and GIS continue to work very well together in solving those challenges.  As I read that, I can see that sounds a little “fluffy” or a little like some non-speak that a politician might use. But it’s true.  Working with GIS has been great so far. We’ve had a bit of a slow ramp with some of the engineering drawings as part of the DVT process, but that seems to be behind us. The main technical challenge remains what’s always been our biggest challenge: getting everything to fit!  There’s a lot that goes into a “capable, modern research ship,” even a regional class size.  In fact, it’s the smaller regional class envelop itself that makes it so hard.  And it’s the little things that add up to get ya.  All wires and cables. The pipes. The HVAC system.  All that STUFF takes up room. For example, one trade off we’ve had to make is to reduce the size of our potable water tanks by a few percent so we could pass cables from the engine spaces to the bow thrusters.

It seems like there’s often some unfortunate comprise to make during this phase.  For example, it also looks like we might lose our Anchor Pockets that did a nice job securing the anchors while giving the ship nice tight lines. But we needed the internal volume. As it turns out, the space that’s causing the biggest challenge is the Auxiliary Machine Room.  That space, unfortunately, is where our Anti-Roll tank is located.  And I can tell the engineers are eyeing the volume it’s taking up so they can fit in other required machinery.  But when compromises start to cut in to core capabilities of the ship, other alternatives need to be explored.

Changes.  We’ve had 5 official contract changes so far, nothing significant. Two, in fact, were credits as we simplified the existing design. We’ve got 5 more in the pipeline and about 5 more beyond that we’re contemplating. All changes have passed through the project’s rigorous configuration control process.  Here’s a few of the pending changes: enlarging the chain locker (part of the anchor pocket loss I mentioned), enlarged our portable winch at the request of the science community, re-arranged the winch room to make it more accessible. That’s the idea.  Just tweaks far. But necessary, and they will improve the ships and make them easier to operate and maintain.  The DVT process was intended to make just these sort of fixes.

That’s it for now.  I’ll try not to wait so long before the next entry. Oh, I should add one last piece.  It looks like we should start cutting steel this summer.  Speaking of steel (and aluminum), that topic might make an interesting post for next time…

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QMRs: The elephant in the room.

Sorry for a bit of hiatus.  I’ll try to catch up on a few major issues this week.  First off, we held our first “Quarterly Management Review” last week down at the Shipyard.  These are meetings hosted by GIS wherein they provide OSU and NSF leadership the status on major issues.  I’ve attended quite a few of these types of reviews over the years and I’ve seen that these kinds of meetings can rapidly veer into the realm of “dog and pony show.”   Too often, people are afraid to honestly discuss issues when there is a large audience. It’s natural. Few want to air dirty laundry or look bad in front of an audience– and there’s a tendency to want to “take it off line” where people feel safer to discuss problems more honestly.

I understand this, but for the most part, I don’t follow this approach personally.  These meetings are expensive in both dollars and time. In fact the Dean of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences was in attendance as were managers from NSF and other parts of OSU.  My thought is this. If we’re not going talk about anything real, why bother going to these?  We can find out status in weekly reports! Right?

So the challenge is to create an environment or, rather, a culture that is open and honest in a public setting where anyone can speak up. You all have been there. Sitting in the back row, knowing something, but staying quiet.  Or sensing something is amiss, but not asking the question.  I’ve been there for sure.  There are different reasons for this and one can be the sense that someone is too junior or otherwise whose voice shouldn’t be heard.  I remember studying this in “Bridge Resource Management” (a course for sea-going deck officers) where we learned about some of the factors that led to a tragic Korea Air Crash.  Basically, it boiled down to “power distance” and that the co-pilots were afraid to question the pilot right up to where the pilot ran the plane into the ground.  Malcom Gladwell dives deep into this issue in his book Outliers, and I encourage you to check it out.  My take away is twofold: when I’m junior and I see a problem, I don’t hesitate to speak up.  When I’m senior, I try to reduce that power distance and encourage OTHERS to speak up. I’d really prefer not to run aground.

We’ve got about 20 more QMR’s ahead of us and maybe six Annual Review where we, OSU, are in the hot seat rather than GIS.  My hope is that these are open and productive. I don’t want them to be easy or comfortable unless we are completely on schedule and on budget and no risks loom.  I’m reminded of a talk I saw at the Workboat Show a couple of years back. A CEO of a large shipyard vigorously told us about how he actually used a big stuffed elephant that he’d bring into meetings in order to remind people to name the elephant in the room. It might seem hokey, but he saw the importance of not tip toeing around problems.

This is a long winded way to say I’m not a fan of the quarterly management review unless it provides a real forum in which to discuss real problems honestly.  The idea of preparing for a big presentation that provides information that we already know and where everyone tip toes around the big issues is, simply, a waste of time. Don’t agree? Drop a comment below.

After all this, you might think that our first QMR was nothing but slides, furtive glances, and people avoiding hard truths.  It really wasn’t.  But we can do better. Honestly.


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