Home > Creativity, Military, Planning, Teaching, Uncertainty > Reflections on TRADOC Pam 525-5-500: Commander’s Appreciation & Campaign Design (CACD)

Reflections on TRADOC Pam 525-5-500: Commander’s Appreciation & Campaign Design (CACD)

Research Question: What is the theoretical basis for the US Army’s proposed modification to the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) and what are the issues of concern for practitioners of the art of military decision making?


  1. Introduction and background:

The United States Army’s Military Decision-Making Process stands the test of time as a method for developing winning strategies against a Western-style professional army using Western doctrine and tactics. Refined through the last several decades, this model is an excellent example of the rational analytical approach to strategy formulation.  However, the modern world and national policy are placing new demands on the Army, and its planners now face challenges and environments where the status quo is unsuitable.  The MDMP’s rational analytical control model is not well suited for finding solutions in complex, uncertain environments, where certainty and control are at least problematic.


The drivers of change include the proliferation of threats in the form of non-state actors, the new missions of nation-building, strengthening our partners in international alliances, the increasingly urban nature of warfare, the involvement of civilian populations on the field of battle, and opponents who employ tactics outside the boundaries of conventional warfare.  These opponents leverage culture and media to achieve strategic objectives in ways unlike anything we have ever experienced.


                These pressures are driving Army planners at every echelon to adapt their way of understanding their environment, the nature of the problems they must solve and the criteria to measure success. It is clear that the rational, analytical planning process that is second nature to our planners, must adapt to the new environment. Our military education, an artifact of a powerful organizational culture that traces its roots to the founding of the nation, must adapt as well.  We are challenged as a profession to learn new ways, and to develop leaders who can be successful in the new strategic environment.


The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) has recently published (Jan 2008) a white paper on the subject of modifying the classic MDMP to account for an emerging understanding of the challenges of problem framing and complexity. The white paper offers thoughts on what to do about unstructured problems and how to adapt the MDMP to adapt to the new reality.


The impact of this dramatic departure from the traditional rational decision model known as the MDMP has profound implications for scholars, doctrine writers, educators and practitioners in the field. The debate on these issues has scarcely begun, but the effects are already being felt in curricula in all Army schools. The outcome of the debate will influence a generation of subsequent doctrine derived from these general principles.


  1. Description and summary of the Commander’s Appreciation and Campaign Design (CACD) theoretical construct from TRADOC PAM 525-5-500


    1. Need statement (summarizes why increasing complexity requires a new approach)

The U.S. Army Commander’s Appreciation and Campaign Design (CACD) is defined as a cognitive model to develop campaign plans. It is the result of three years of seminars and wargames held at very senior levels and incorporates recent operational experience, recently published joint doctrine and the elements of systemic operational design. It proposes a method that goes from shared understanding to a common frame of reference to designing a problem resolution. There is been a perceived need to incorporate more strategic thinking at all echelons and facing complex problems.

The TRADOC pamphlet asserts that today’s operational environment is more complex than that of previous generations. This increase in complexity, it argues, requires an in-depth of approach to frame a problem which can then be handed off to a deductive reasoning process represented by the military decision-making process (MDMP). The inductive reasoning process is one of formulation and creativity while the deductive process is one of implementation and disciplined, practical activity. The TRADOC pamphlet is designed to be applicable for the military community, governmental agencies and multinational allies.


The increase in complexity comes from the movement away from wars-between-states and towards war-among-the-peoples as characterized by Gen. Rupert Smith. The conflict will include state as well as non-state actors, and military action will probably not produce a decisive political result. The role of the global audience and their interpretation will shape the courses of action in terms of engagements available to military planners. Media amplification of strategic and political communication messages further complicates the environment.

Traditional planning processes have assumed that mission statements from higher headquarters were properly and completely framed. Military planning at each subordinate echelon would simply refine the initial mission statement and concept of operation delivered from higher headquarters.  Recent operational experience, however, suggests that understanding proceeds from lower to higher.  While higher headquarters has the advantage of a wider perspective on the problem situation, the lower headquarter’s immersion in the facts of life makes them co-equal partners in the developing narrative.

The need for an iterative process of shared understanding between all echelons in the planning hierarchy emerges from CACD. This approach places a premium on frequent effective communication, open, candid discourse and frequent recalibration of planning objectives to be successful.


    1. The characterization of complexity

CACD defines problems from a holistic systems perspective, in which systems are composed of subsystems that form a complex whole, consisting of a set of independent parts that interact. Complexity comes from the number of parts and their interactions with other parts. Structural complexity refers to the number of parts of the system while interactive complexity refers to the behavior of interacting parts. A part with many choices for action contribute to greater complexity to the overall system.

CACD observes that structural complexity itself does not lead to complex problems because they may have the following properties: linearity, proportionality, replication, and demonstrable cause and effect relationships. Briefly, these qualities mean that the structurally complex system may in fact be very predictable and controllable and be a proper subject for detailed analysis. A Swiss watch is a good example of a structurally complex machine which is predictable with great precision. It may take quite an effort to make a prediction but it is subject to normal and reproducible analysis. The very precision of a Swiss watch limits its degrees of freedom in thus it’s complexity. It is complicated but not complex, in other words.

Interactive complexity on the other hand, introduces the challenge of unpredictability. Interactively complex systems have the qualities of nonlinearity, instability, irregularity and inconsistency. They frequently do not have a defined set of cause and effect processes. Consider a soccer game with two teams of 11 players with a defined set of rules and a playing field of known dimensions. From these simple sets of rules, a complex and unpredictable game ensues precisely because of the degrees of freedom available to the individual players at any moment on the field. The game can be described and understood but not predicted or controlled. Systems composed of people are inherently interactively complex, particularly when the rule sets are not as clearly defined as those of a soccer game. Introducing elements of sociology, religion, tradition and culture increase the degrees of freedom beyond the bounds of computation.

CACD represents warfare as a clash between societies or cultures and so warfare is both structurally and interactively complex. It asserts that the modern operational environment has increased the nonlinear complexity inherent in all warfare. Media amplification further expands the range of possible outcomes to the extent that individual soldier actions can have a direct impact at the strategic level of war almost immediately. The alleged atrocities in Abu Ghraib prison are an example of this phenomenon.

A special category of complex systems are known as complex adaptive systems or CAS. These are systems that are both structurally and interactively complex but have the additional ability to learn and adapt to their environment. Such  systems exhibit stability under change, are able to act from anticipation, and can operate without central direction.  These qualities make the task of prediction even more unreliable. In a world where adversaries are adopting a network centric organizational style with distributed command and control and freedom of action at the tactical level loosely guided by a central authority, appreciating the dynamics of complex adaptive systems is fundamental to military success.

    1. The nature of operational problems and operational art

military campaign planners are concerned with operational problems, which are defined as a discrepancy between the state of affairs as it is in the state of affairs as it ought to be which compels military action to resolve it. Not all discrepancies require action and these are called concerns. All strategically important operational problems include more than military issues. It is normal to describe these operational problems in terms of the acronym DIME, which is short for diplomatic, information, military, and economic domains.

    1. Problem framing

Operational problems are categorized in the CACD as being well structured, medium structured, or ill structured.

Well structured problems are considered to be tame, easy to control, and lend themselves to systematic process-based solutions. They are easy to recognize and place in categories. There is usually an optimal solution which can be achieved with established technique.

Medium structured problems introduce some interactive complexity. Professionals will agree on the structure of the problem in the form of a solution that may disagree on the general principles that should be applied and the process for achieving the desired end state.

Ill structured problems are at the most interactively complex and are typically nonlinear and chaotic. Professionals will disagree about how to solve this kind of problem, the definition of an end state, and whether or not it can even be achieved. This lack of consensus stems from difficulty in framing the problem. In 1972 Prof. Horst Rittel described socially complex problems with these characteristics as ”wicked problems” in the sense that they are extremely difficult to solve. His definition effectively describes operational problems of this nature.

  1. Review of the concept of complexity and Bounded rationality
    1. Herb Simon (Administrative Behavior)

Herb Simon first used the term “bounded rationality” to describe the limits of rationality when predicting human behavior. He said that

“… we think people behave irrationally when their goals are not our goals, or that they are acting on the basis of invalid or incomplete information, or that they are ignoring future consequences of their actions, or that their emotions are clouding their judgments are focusing their attention on momentary objectives.”

He did not mean the peoples’ actions are so apparently random as to be inexplicable, only that they could not be forecasted with engineering precision. He went on to describe the decision principle known as satisficing, which means that people will search quickly for an answer that is good enough, select it, and then move on to other decisions. Combining this less-than-optimal decision principle with cultural points of view that are not easily accessible constitutes the sociological basis for complexity and problems involving diverse human elements. (Simon, 1945)

    1. Systems dynamics movement (Checkland’s summary)

Peter Checkland, the well-known writer on systems theory, summarized the lessons learned from the soft systems movement of the 1960s and 70s in the acronym CATWOE, which describes the essential elements of any root definition of a human system (Checkland, 1981). He describes the root definition as a concise description of a human activity system in terms of a conceptual model. Briefly,  CATWOE considers:

Customer: those who benefit from the system

Actor: those who transform inputs into outputs and perform defined system activities

Transformation Process: the method of converting inputs to outputs

Weltenshauung: the German expression meaning worldview which creates contextual meaning

Owner: the proprietor who has a startup and shutdown power over the system

Environmental Constraints: external elements that must be considered

The soft systems methodology (SSM) can give structure to complex organizational and political problems in a disciplined way, well informed by practice and theory and provides a reasonable amount of rigor to what can be a messy process. It requires participants to agree upon the methodology and can suffer from narrowing the scope of the process too soon. It creates meaning through a concept called “rich pictures” which are contextually dense narratives of the situation, issues, players and possible outcomes of a complex problem. The completion of a rich picture however may require participants to reach consensus in order to proceed with interpretation and analysis. It is subject to the dynamics of power politics in the creation of rich pictures. Soft systems methodology will have problems whenever consensus is not achieved, but the method is sound for reaching shared meaning when positions are not diametrically opposed. (Checkland, 1981)


  1. Other schools of thought or approaches to complexity:


The following schools of thought are important voices in the dialogue of managing complexity but which go beyond the scope of this paper. Each represent a different point of view that should be considered before forming a final position on theoretical construct of the TRADOC white paper. I will be examining the implications of each of these schools later in my research program. It is enough to know for now that they are out there and represent distinct, important voices.

    1. Mintzberg’s practioner scholar, integrated schools of thought (On Management)
    2. Fast and frugal heuristics: describes rules of thumb strategies that are robust and often as successful as formal, rational methodologies. (Gigerenzer, 2005)
    3. Weick’s “mindfulness” from his work on High Reliability Organizations, integrates a sense of Eastern philosophical mindfulness for leaders and planners that offers rich insights in complex problem sets. (Weick, 2006)
    4. Academic treatment of problem framing (Tversky and Kahneman, 2000)
    5. Other schools identified in graduate planning texts  but not explored (Baron, 2000)
    6. Burton’s work on “certainty and confidence” as a biological artifact, which suggests limits to the confidence appropriate for intuitive judgments, even among professionals and expert practitioners (Burton, 2008).


  1. Interface between the Army construct and theory and practice
    1. The interplay between Simon’s Bounded Rationality and TRADOC’s CACD.

My application of Simon’s general approach to bounded rationality would to be to start by being skeptical of a revolutionary difference between the planning and management of modern complexity, compared to traditional problem sets. This line of reasoning would observe the cottage industries of professional revolutionaries asserting that this time it’s different and that the characteristic of change now are unlike any moment in human history and therefore require extraordinary responses to catch up, whereas in retrospect what looked like revolution was simply some isolated moments of volatility that were well within normal limits when taking a wider view. This is a philosophical debate about appropriate historical perspective in the management of financial markets that seems to be “discovered” on a regular basis by professional commentators with an axe to grind. Simon’s general approach to administrative management would be to reduce the complexity to manageable proportions and increments through the normal process of analysis, while accommodating the particular uncertainties and complexities with risk-management strategies appropriate to the problem domain. With respect to CACD, then this approach would feature a careful examination of the support for the proposition that we are in fact in a period of a revolution in military affairs and to frame questions that would make this a disprovable hypothesis. That would be followed by a series of scoping efforts to establish the dimensions of complexity to determine just how far from historical norms military planners find themselves. Then it would be normal to examine the robustness of the complexity to see if we had truly entered an open-ended period of increasing complexity that would justify the formal development of new planning protocols appropriate for the new environment.


    1. Comparing Checklands Soft Systems Methodology to CACD


The Checkland CATWOE framework appears to move a step beyond what I would describe as Simon’s “careful business as normal” approach to complexity. CATWOE offers a simple, robust, and systematic framework for appreciating complexity and systems dynamics that is well-grounded in research and practice in a variety of operational domains. What makes this approach compelling as an evaluation tool for CACD is that it directly and intentionally addresses what CACD asserts as a root cause for the dramatic expansion of complexity that the authors assert as a driver for a new method of planning: the human dimension. While a comparison of the CATWOE framework to the CACD recommended protocol for performing “appreciation” goes beyond the scope of this paper, I have begun such an assessment, and CACD seems to be in harmony with CATWOE upon initial inspection. I am tentatively concluding that this is a rich vein to mine to look for CATWOE generated insights and lessons learned as a way to understand CACD in context, and to anticipate issues and utility for the CACD process as the Army develops an implementation plan.


  1. Summary of main lines of debate in the Command and General Staff College on the CACD document.


After an initial informal survey of my colleagues in all departments, there seem to be four distinct schools of thought concerning the TRADOC white paper on CACD. I will summarize each as a marker for potential future inquiry to confirm my initial assessment. This inquiry could form the basis of an action research project.


b. Status quo: this is the largest group in the college. Most have not read nor plan to read the white paper and generally believe that the existing paradigm for the military decision-making process is sufficient and complicated enough for the vast majority of planners in the Army. They find the MDMP sufficient for all problems more complicated than those solvable through effective battle drill. They see no reason to further complicate the job of a planner and consider modern complexity to be more of the same and not qualitatively different. This group will have to be tasked to read the paper, respond to the paper, and teach the concepts of the paper. Even so, they won’t be happy about it and may actively seek to undermine the importance of the new concepts if directed by higher headquarters.


b. Thoughtful naysayers: this group has read the paper but is unpersuasive by the arguments that increase complexity requires a different approach to problem framing. They will typically offer the view that the recognition primed decision-making model of Gary Klein (Klein, 2001) is sufficient to cover those areas not suitable for the application of MDMP. they consider complex problems beyond the scope of military responsibility to be someone else’s problem on which military planners should be limited to giving military advice. If order to teach this material would do so professionally but not enthusiastically.


c. Tentative supporters: this group will see me at in some or all of the arguments of the white paper but are unwilling to fully commit to the new paradigm until more fully developed and successfully applied in practice. They typically have seen the limitations of the rational planning process of MDMP. and generally acknowledge the concept of bounded rationality, but may not yet be fully convinced of the merits of the proposal set forth in CACD. I count myself as part of this group.


d. Enthusiastic adopters: this group is fully seized with the arguments of the white paper and are pressing to have it supplant existing curriculum in whole or in part on the MDMP. They spend their time beating the drum for the concepts in the white paper and are not eager to engage in the critical dialogue concerning the boundary conditions of the CACD approach. This is by far the smallest group and they are not yet persuasive to the instructor population at large.





TRADOC Pam 525-5-500. (2008).  Commander’s Appreciation and Campaign Design.


Burton, R (2008)  On being certain: believing you are right, even when you are not. New York: St. Martins Press.


Baron, J (2000)  Thinking and deciding. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Checkland, P. (1981). Systems thinking, systems practice. Avon, UK: John Wiley & Sons.


Gigerenzer, G., (2005).  I think, therefore I err.  Social Research, 72(1), 195-218.


Gosling, J., & Mintzberg, H. (2004). The Education of Practicing Managers.   Sloan Management Review, 45(4), 18-23.


Henrich, J., ALbers, W., Boyd, R., Gigerenzer, G., McCabe, K., Ockenfels, A., & Young, H. (2001). Group report: What is the role of culture in bounded rationality. In G.Gigerenzer, & R. Selten (Eds.), Bounded rationality: the adaptive toolbox. (pp. 343-359) Boston: First MIT Press.


Klein, G.,(2001). The fiction of optimization. In G. Gigerenzer, & R. Selten (Eds.), Bounded rationality: the adaptive toolbox. (pp. 103-121). Boston: First MIT Press.


Mintzberg, H., (1993).  The pitfalls of strategic planning. California Management Review, 36(1), 32-47.


Schein, E., (1996).  Three cultures of management: the key to organizational learning.  Sloan Management Review, 38(1), 12-20.


Schon, D. (1990). Educating the reflective practitioner: toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc, Publishers. 


Simon, H. (1997). Administrative behavior.  New York: The Free Press.


Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (2000). Rational choice and the framing of decisions. In D. Kahneman, & A. Tversky (Eds.), Choices, values, and frames. (pp. 209-223). New York: Cambridge Press University.


Weick, K., & Putnam, P. (2006). Organizing for mindfulness: Eastern wisdom and Western knowledge.  Journal of Management Inquiry, 15(3), 275-287.

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