Home > Military, Planning, Uncertainty > Planning for uncertainty and communicating intent

Planning for uncertainty and communicating intent

Some quick thoughts on planning processes in uncertain situations, and communicating orders:


1. Is there anything in the 5 paragraph field order + annexes that promotes effective visualization in the mind of the reader?


      a. it DOES support compartmentalized staff approach to managing a known, familiar type of problem that is well suited for an engineering solution. I can take the order apart, hand out annexes, have staff go to their cubby hole and comeback with the functional response in that lane, and then through the rehearsal & wargaming process check for goodness of fit at functional boundaries. But if I don’t have a well or semi-structured process, this method begins breaking down


      b. a Youtube descriptive broadcast of the operation unfolding as the Cdr envisions the battle may be a better way to deliver orders. We know that in conventional operations at BCT and below that matrix orders with excellent graphics render the elements of C2 information down to the essential and had become a normal way to manage info overload.  In “A Bridge Too Far” watch the “Commander’s Appreciation” of the upcoming operation that LTG Brian Horrocks gives to XXX Corps: he provides a clear vision using the metaphor of the cavalry coming to the rescue in a Western movie as a way to communicate the purpose and sense of urgency he wants to convey to all his leaders. How many pages of OPORD are require to  share the same sense if it could be done at all?


      c. In my personal practice as a tactical logistician, the significant event for supporting operations was attendance at the combined rehearsal followed by the CSS rehearsal. I was looking for synch between the sense of the battle that the maneuver commanders conveyed in their rehearsal and that provided by their executive officers and loggies. It was clear on many occasions that there were differences within units that had just completed an extensive MDMP and produced a detailed order. The rehearsal, the visualization, was where errors were caught, not in the careful reading of chapters of text.  Where do plans fail? in execution, which is why a rehearsal is so very important.


2. Communication of essential info:  thinking about the work of Edward Tufte, the idea is “the information quotient” of your communication.  This is normally thought of in terms of graphics and powerpoint slides, but I think it works for text too.  On a slide, every pixel that does not carry information should be eliminated ruthlessly. Example: on a bar graph, the box outline of the data area does not provide info, and by eliminating it, you are more easily able to focus on the bars.  Headers and heavily tarted up graphics diminish understanding. What would our orders look like if we brought the same approach? Probably FRAGOS, roadsigns and cartoons. See once, remember always.


3. Sense making in planning:


      a. “Certainty is a far better friend than doubt”.  Human cognition is programmed to seek patterns in moments of uncertainty.  You don’t have a choice but to use an inappropriate tool for problem solving if that’s all you have. It takes a supreme act of will to venture into other processes that are not yet imprinted especially when you are in a pressure situation. Until you hit a moment of immediate realization that disaster is now inevitable, and the “rat brain” takes over and you act from programmed intuition. That’s what it takes to override the rational engineering mind: a trainwreck.


      b. So, how do you train for the uncertain? Is there an algorithm for managing uncertainty just as effective as MDMP for semi-structured problems? Well, the bad news is that TRADOC is struggling exactly with this cognitive problem.  That’s also the good news: that what makes sense to you and your experience base is as likely a method as any other, in particular when you appreciate that you will only effectively use a method that you sense fits you and your needs anyway. When we are on a movement to contact, we go slower, take shorter steps, deploy more scouts, and strive to make new connections, then proceed more quickly when we develop a sense of what’s going on.  Try that same  methodology in your problem solving. Begin the “not-MDMP” by asking people to characterize how they think the process should go (so it silently and in writing, otherwise the first person to talk will seize the agenda)  Then use divergent thinking process to explore the suitability of the choices. Then converge to agree as a group on the technique to apply.


A useful process in this regard may be IDEO’s routine process for rapidly, consistently and effectively generating innovations that have market value.


The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization by Thomas Kelley and Jonathan Littman (Hardcover – Oct 18, 2005)  That book is the best description of the IDEO process.  IDEO really gets it too and their market place performance proves it. 


The IDEO website is worth attention:  look at the shopping cart case study. http://www.ideo.com/work/item/shopping-cart-concept/


If you choose a “the challenge of creative design” metaphor to approach your “not-MDMP” challenge for handling uncertainty, IDEO could be a useful place to start.



4. News you can use?  I’ll try 😀  


      a. Sometimes this works: think of the problem/solution space as a navigation problem. Apply an IPB concept to it, and rule out processes/solutions that require you to go through No Go or Slo Go process areas.


      b. Consider approaching the OPORD format issue from the subordinate’s perspective:  ask them what they really need to know from higher to execute and how they prefer to get the info?  Or imagine that you have a perfect subordinate who takes perfect notes on the essential elements of the OPORD. Now imagine what those notes look like, and then produce that as your order as an executive summary. Treat the OPORD and annexes as the references for follow up by technicians and experts who actually need that level of detail

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