4 February 2017

Random Thoughts on Practical Planning

Source LinK
evin Marcusk
For fifteen years I was a planner assigned to division, corps, army, joint task force and alliance level headquarters. In U.S. Army speak I was - therefore - a REMF. That's military slang for Rear Echelon and I'll let you imagine what 'MF' means. Still, I tried to be a good REMF; my years in tank battalions/brigades always left me with an appreciation for the impact that these senior headquarters' plans had on the tactical unit. While I didn't always produce good plans, I did learn a lot. As I look forward to a post-Army life, I'm taking the time to record some of my own random thoughts on how to better plan. While these are written from a military background, perhaps to some degree they can also apply to other spheres. 

Don't make it too hard: There are all kinds of books, pamphlets, web sites and blogs dedicated to strategy in many forms. Some will just make your head hurt. However, planning is just problem solving. Be it industry or a military combatant command, planning is about defining the problem (s), identifying required facts and assumptions, and developing ways to solve that problem. No matter the psycho-babble on 'strategic planning' that has emerged over the years (much good, some bad) the essence of planning remains this: identify the problem and practical ways to solve it. This is hard enough - don't make it too hard by getting lost in the process or its philosophical underpinnings. Be practical - focus on problem solving. 

Know why you're planning: There's a difference between planning to decide and planning to execute. Planning to decide is focused up: what must the decision maker know in order to decide? Planning for a decision relies upon identifying a range of end states and the inherent advantages/disadvantages, costs and risks towards meeting those. A plan to decide focuses on answering these questions: What should we achieve, how much will it 'cost' (e.g. time, authorities, forces, risks to other operations, money) and is it worth this cost? Planning to execute is focused down: what must the executor know in order to execute? A plan to execute focuses on answering these questions: How will we achieve our objective and how will all our units efforts work together to do so? The form of your plan depends on the purpose of your plan -- don't confuse planning to decide with planning to execute. Know why you're planning and let that shape your plan. 

Focus on a range of end states - not a range of tactics: All too often we tend to form one end state, get that approved in mission analysis, and then present the decision maker with a range of courses of action. The flexibility or options are found in the 'how' -- not the 'what'. Planners need to focus decision makers on a range of endstates: some are larger - and take more time - some are limited, but quicker and require less resources. A practical example: if the end state for OPLAN 1003V (Invasion of Iraq) had been to "Emplace an Iraqi regime, responsive to its citizenry, and capable of stabilizing the region in keeping with U.S. interests" vice "Remove the regime", the ways/means of the operation would have been significantly different. Both end states may be valid -- but both lead to fundamentally different operations. Focus plenty of energy on identifying, analysing and comparing a range of end states: focus the decision maker on deciding between them. The courses of action to achieve them -- the 'how' -- will come later. Focus on a range of end states, not a range of tactics. 

Don't get in the way of the plan: A few points here. First, its not YOUR plan. The plan is the organization's plan and the leader or commander has the right/responsibility to change it or scrap it or do anything else. You may have owned the staff process to create the plan but its not your plan; don't let your pride in ownership stifle the organization and leaders' rights to change it. Next, just because you know the plan - you don't everything. We often hear a mantra in the planner community of 'speaking truth to power'. I hate this. It presumes that a) there is a truth, b) that the planner knows this truth and implies that c) the decision maker does not. Don't let your own ego get in the way of listening. You may not have the understanding nor insights (especially those driven by highly classified intelligence or senior level personal relationships) of the decision maker or even other staffers. Planner ego can get in the way of a plan. Finally, don't let the way you communicate get in the way of communication. Speak carefully, thoughtfully and economically; use your words as if you had to pay for them. Never let your ownership, ego or presentation style get in the way of the plan. 

Add value to the operators: In a U.S. military staff structure of 7-9 different directorates, the 'planners' are only one of them. While we planners may be fascinated with the 5-10 year objectives, everyone else in the room is focused on what needs to be done THIS week in order to make NEXT week happen. There's just too much going on and things are just too hard. Planners have the luxury to think deep -- but don't burden the operators with your navel gazing. Focus on crafting plans that add value to the present by 'syntegrating' (synchronizing / integrating) ongoing actions thus making the current more effective and efficient. Your job is to plan for the future but those plans are only going to be valid if they add value to the present. 

If you lead planners - your most important function is to decide what to plan: Left to their own devices planners will plan; that's the reason you have them. You can't leave them to their own devices. Planning sucks -- and if you're going to do it, do it with purpose and do it well. This, in turn, relies upon focusing planner effort (only) on what must be planned, vice what they may have to time or desire to plan. If you're leading planners at any level, your job is not to be the best planner (although that helps), it is to create the best planners. The way to do so is to focus their energies on what has to be planned, and when, and start them at the right point. 

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