Samuel Pepys is famous for keeping a diary from 1660 to 1669. He recorded details of everyday life in London during the Restoration period, including firsthand accounts of the plague and the Great Fire of London. Pepys spent most of his career managing the Royal Navy’s logistics and shipbuilding programs during the second, third, and fourth Dutch wars. From 1673 to 1679, he was the Secretary for the Admiralty. He fought bureaucratic waste and endemic bribery while building the so-called “Thirty New Ships” of 1677. After infighting between political factions, Pepys resigned in 1679 to face trial for corruption himself.
By 1684, he was re-appointed to his post in the government. He was displeased with the atrophy of the management system he had built. During his absence, the Admiralty had cut support staff and combined positions. With little oversight and poor internal controls, the Navy was vulnerable to financial mismanagement. In 1899, Joseph Robson Tanner of St. John’s College, an expert on Pepys, researched the details in The Administration of the Navy from the Restoration to the Revolution. A glaring example of management error, especially in a cash economy, was downsizing the dockyard controller and making the storekeeper balance his own accounts.
Pepys Expected Early Intervention
Pepys was especially irritated about the material condition of the Thirty New Ships of 1677 that the navy had fought hard for in Parliament. In a letter, he had noted that the ships had
“…planks not opened up on the first discovery of their decays, nor pieces put in where defective.”
Pepys included his own letter reporting mismanagement of repairs in his 1690 Memoirs Relating to the State of the Royal Navy of England. Pepys expected early intervention to prevent minor defects from escalating to major repairs. With management systems injured by cost-cutting and downsizing, the expectation was not met. Pepys documented the bad results to protect his own reputation, his legacy, his methods, and to justify future navy budgets.
Tanner summarized Pepys’ description of the state of the fleet,
Pepys had conducted a root cause investigation. He eliminated construction materials and assembly as causes. He concluded that deferred maintenance was the problem.
A Maintenance Improvement Plan
Pepys later addressed the problem of deferred maintenance and organizational cutbacks with a large and expensive improvement program. The funding requirement was debated at the highest levels of government. Pepys finally presented a plan to King James II in 1686. The improvements had many elements of a modern reorganization plan. They included:
- Increased budgets for several years that provided managerial stability
- Specific deliverables
- Steps to improve the availability of naval stores and ordnance items
- Increases to the dockyard labor force and management
- Reorganization and leadership changes. There were new requirements for navy commissioners: “to apply themselves with [the] utmost thoughtfulness, diligence, efficacy, and good husbandry to the repair of the ships in harbour, and particularly of the thirty new ships lately built and already found fallen into great decays…” (page 66)
The Thirty New Ships were a huge investment and prepared England for the upcoming Nine Years’ War with France. When built and maintained correctly, the ships had long service lives, with the Kent seeing action for the final time in 1744 in Cuba and the Sandwich serving for 90 years.
Other Areas of Influence
Pepys was an administrator for the English navy for nearly forty years. He implemented policies, establishing bureaucratic procedures that would influence the Navy for decades. The navy’s attempt to reduce maintenance costs by installing lead sheathing was managed by Pepys. Pepys also had to approach the King with the bad news that the program would have to be canceled. Most of the requirements about how accounts for food and pay were managed and reported. His logistical philosophy would influence many generations of English naval logisticians. His review of rot and hull maintenance would influence the famous navy surveyor John Knowles, historian Charles Derrick, and Captain William Layman in the early 1800s. He was responsible for sending the engineer Edward Dummer on an intelligence-gathering tour of the Mediterranean shipyards. Dummer later designed English dockyard layouts using principles that were very similar to Lean.
Most importantly, Pepys collected policy letters written over decades into a single book, establishing the first printed regulations for the English navy. These regulations included elements of logistics and maintenance that would be the foundation for administering the Royal Navy.