Little Creek Taking Big Steps for Technical Excellence

February 28, 2019 – The engineers at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division’s Combatant Craft Division (CCD) in Little Creek, Virginia, are faced with a good problem to have: they are being asked to do more of the work they love.

The concern for Carl Casamassina, senior principal naval architect and marine engineer, is how CCD will grow to meet workload demands without sacrificing quality.

CCD is a detachment of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, and the center of expertise for high-performance boats and crafts. Any solutions to manage its newfound growth requires deep appreciation for what makes this outfit valuable to its customers.

“We’re like a microcosm of NAVSEA (Naval Sea Systems Command),” Casamassina said. “We provide cradle-to-grave, technical and logistical support for all U.S. Navy boats and crafts. We not only do the initial work, we typically own the follow-on work, as well.”

Casamassina’s experience as the deputy technical warrant holder and acting chief engineer for the detachment taught him that transitioning this period of rapid growth successfully would require more than a few new hires. CCD needed to consider how to work within its current constraints, establish clear objectives for the detachment, develop processes to maintain balance, and at the center of it all, uphold a standard of technical rigor – in Casamassina’s words, “champion technical excellence.”

“Our people are our greatest resource, but they were all bottled up in a stove-piped structure,” Casamassina said. “So, the leadership team (led by division head and site director Kenneth “Kip” Davis) looked into it and realized the best way to unlock our peoples’ latent potential and manage resources was to reorganize as a matrixed structure.”

Unlike a traditional pyramid hierarchy, a matrixed organization is “flatter.” Project leads in CCD now have better access to technical expertise and business functions elsewhere in the organization. From Casamassina’s technical perspective, this freer structure needed to be balanced by stronger quality-control processes to ensure a standard of rigor was executed across the organization. In the midst of Combatant Craft Division developing new quality-control regimes, Carderock Division released the project framework that established higher standards of rigor for all projects.

The project framework roll-out was explained in a series of “brown bags” for employees late last year by Carderock’s Technical Excellence Community of Interest “TechEx” (COI). The framework formalizes a basic standard of rigor for all projects across the command.

“The timing of the project framework roll-out worked out great,” Casamassina said. “The framework requirements aligned nicely with our ‘reorg’ goals and, as it turns out, we were already doing much of it.”

However, some customers of CCD worried its reorganization would increase the cost to them and affect CCD’s ability to provide the same level of service.

“After a senior leadership briefing of our reorg, a primary customer was so impressed by our approach he said, ‘Wow, we might do this with our own organization,’” Casamassina said. “As pleased as we were with the show of confidence, it’s important to recognize the reorg was a suitable solution for us, not necessarily everyone.”

Casamassina defines technical excellence as increasing the quality of CCD’s products, while balancing cost, schedule, performance and risk. By performing all of this with the utmost levels of technical rigor, technical excellence becomes attainable. The reorganization, complemented by the project framework, ensures technical excellence remains at the core of CCD’s operational ethos.

“In the end, we are trying to give the end user, the warfighter, the best possible product and/or service.” Casamassina said. “To champion technical excellence, we must constantly reassess how best to achieve our objectives and balance them with current constraints and good processes.”