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Valve’s Handbook (of Half Life and Left 4 Dead notoriety) for New Employees was let loose recently on the Internet.  So as any good Cyber geek I had to take a look at this fine software makers internal thought process.  I must say their thinking is quite impressive and shows how they’ve come so far in the relatively short time they’ve been a company.  There are several connections and similarities, between Valve and the U.S. Navy & U.S. Military, I see that I’d like to expound on.

“Flatland” Empowerment - This picture says everything about the organization.  Challenges the legacy regime of full hierarchy of an organization and empowers every individual to ensure they represent the company.  The Navy, like it’s sister services, attempts to place the responsibility upon each of it’s members while maintaining the organizational hierarchy.  More than any time in history we are seeing young people fully engaged on a global scale and making a massive difference in the world, yet numerous leaders discount this impressive untapped resource and capability.

“We’ve heard that other companies have people allocate a percentage of their time to self-directed projects. At Valve, that percentage is 100.” - Valve Handbook for New Employees

Risk - Failure as a “massive learning” experience mentality.  With Valve they are taught to make predictions and anticipate nasty outcomes as we are with the Military (at some level -not every individual unfortunately).  “What would I expect if I’m right?”  and “What would I expect if I’m wrong?” are two main mantras each individual is trained to understand and embrace.  Then ensure they bounce these ideas and possibilities off of each other to ensure they match reality.  Too often within our Navy there is a fear of embarrassing situations instead of fearlessness.

Peer Reviews & Stack ranking (and compensation) - The Navy has operated off a supervisory review model for it’s entire history.  Yes it leaves a bit up to navigating the peer environment, a possible ranking board for recommendation by mid-level supervisors to Senior raters, or solely up to the Senior rater to ensure success.  In my short time with the Navy I’ve yet to see any peer ranking taken into account in the overall review process.  I think this would ensure a bit more interaction between peers.  I know I’ve seen issues both within my peer group and higher levels.  I think this has the ability to remove the “ego effect” or “negative personality”  component out of the peer interaction level and make us, the Navy, significantly more effective.  I would also change the bonus structure within the Navy.  It would shift from solely role based (Nuclear power, Aviation, Surface Warfare) to key role and performance hybrid.  I know too many individuals that “try” merely to achieve a locked in bonus then significantly “relax” once it’s obtained.  This isn’t how a bonus structure should operate nor should it be how our tax dollars are expended.  I do like how their ranking structure is broken out:

  1. Skill Level/Technical Ability
  2. Productivity/Output
  3. Group Contribution
  4. Product Contribution

We believe that high-performance people are generally self-improving. - Valve Handbook for New Employees

Employee Development consists of these mantras:

  • Engineers: code is only the beginning
  • Non-Engineers: program or be programmed

It is as simple as that.  I believe this is just like what I’ve experienced at Carnegie Mellon University.  Everyone needs to understand how programming works if not program themselves.  This self improving mantra is very much like that I’ve seen in the U.S. Military and Navy.  Those that can effectively educate themselves to ensure they have the correct balance at the time and through their career are often the most successful.

Hiring - If you haven’t noticed the U.S. Military isn’t having any issues with hiring, firing or retention.  We’re full up actually.  But are we being selective enough in this period?  I don’t believe we are and believe that we could be adjusting better to meet our current and future needs in a much better fashion.  We’re in a period where we’ve not adjusted fast enough and have already had to separate individuals because of it through Enlisted Review Boards (ERB) and a similar Officer separation program.

Lastly I’ll leave you with a final image.  It represents the main similarity between the Military, Navy and Valve.  But too often we’re allowing our people within the Navy to forget their expertise and default to the wide general areas.  This cannot continue into this more stringent and efficiency based era.

[via Flamehaus]

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We’ve reviewed Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.  Admiral Greenert has posted his Navigation Plan for Fiscal Years (FY) 2013-2017.  Key items in the Information Dominance Corps realm within his Sailing Directions are:


  • Fully exploit cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum as warfighting domains with upgrades to Ship’s Signal Exploitation Equipment and the SLQ-32 surface electronic warfare system, and continued development of the Next-Generation Jammer for airborne electronic warfare.
  • Defend our computer networks, sustain information assurance, develop network operations technology, as well as educate the next generation of cyber operators at the U.S. Naval Academy, Naval Postgraduate School, and Naval War College.

OPERATE FORWARD - While no individual bullet point sites a specific task for the Information Dominance Corps (IDC) the major move to push more ships & forces forward, increase their Operational Tempo, and rotate crews at the edge are major changes.  Thus the IDC importance is built within every bullet point listed.  These changes make the Network and Communication mission sets of the IDC more significant.  It also challenges network availability & integrity while stressing satellite and terrestrial communication pathways with higher traffic loads and most likely a more congested spectrum loading.


  • Improve the “wholeness” of the Aegis Weapons System through data link and software upgrades while adding the Shipboard Self Defense System to more non-Aegis ships, such as amphibious assault ships.
  • Sustain Fleet Synthetic Training to provide a wider range of complex and demanding simulations than possible in the field, while conserving operating expenses where appropriate.


Make sure to review the CNO’s 2012 update in his CNO’s Postion Report for 2012!

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Defense Systems has a decent summary of the major military programs affect by the recent FY13 budget submission.  Titled “Winners and losers in the fiscal 2013 budget” it highlights the following for each service:

Navy/Marine Corps:

  • Small Tactical Unmanned System (UAV) will receive $32 million in FY13, and $300 million in FY13-FY17.
  • Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing aircraft, the service will instead procure a larger Fire Scout based on a larger Bell Helicopter air frame.
  • Medium-Range Maritime Unmanned Aerial System was terminated based on the Fire Scout changes.


  • Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) will receive $900 million in FY13, and $6.1 billion from FY13 through FY17. FY13 includes purchase of net-centric warfare IP modems and low-rate initial production (LRIP) to support testing.
  • Modification of Stryker vehicles to incorporate command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems to facilitate mission command-on-the-move.

Air Force:

  • Cyber capabilities take precedence for U.S. Cyber Command is $3.4 billion in FY13, and  $18 billion from FY13 through FY17.
  • Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites (fully funded part of $8B FY13 and $40.1B through FY17).
  • Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) for surveillance (fully funded part of $8B FY13 and $40.1B through FY17).
  • Operationally Responsive Space program will be restructured to provide “more responsive and timely space capabilities to the warfighter.” Included in $8B FY13 and $40.1B through FY17.
  • (3) NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) systems $200M in FY13.  Based on Global Hawk Block 40.
  • Global Hawk Block 30 is cancelled as previously discussed in the initial Defense Budget Priorities post. Will continue to use U-2 through FY25.  Reducing $800 million in expenditures for fiscal 2013, and $2.5 billion from fiscal 2013 through fiscal 2017.
  • Reduce MQ-9 Reaper armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) purchase by 24.  But the funding will still be expended for ground stations.
  • Predator will be utilized for a longer period then initially planned to fence funding for the Army’s Gray Eagle.

The hardest part about all of these changes is the adjustment.  The Defense Industrial Base must flex in order to ensure those programs that are designated to provide capability longer must be examined to ensure fatigue and extended failure does not adversely limit their mission up time ability.  Likewise those entities with program that were cut will immediately request reassessment and ultimately reduce their workforce or reorganize and retask. This is not an easy task but it is the contractor’s role.  The intention when utilizing contractors is for this very purpose.  The entities within the Government and Military will also require retasking which is much harder to effectively achieve.

This reexamination is not much different then when I strive to get more and more effective dollar out of my diesel VW Jetta.  At 150,000 miles there is maintenance to be done but there is no need to purchase a new vehicle when the current one is providing all the capabilities required.  The difference is the human element and that should always be handled with care.

In the end there are no “Winners” or “Losers” but the goal is better efficiency and effectiveness.  If this is achieved at least you can look a taxpayer in the eye with confidence you maximized every dollar they provided.

[via Defense Systems]


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