Category Archives: Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is an anticipatory decision making process that helps teams and organizations cope with complexities.

How to Develop a Family Hurricane Checklist Using Military-Grade Planning

Concepts Applied in This Post: Red Teaming; complex adaptive systems; Sensemaking; High-Reliability Organizing; Mindful Organizing; Principles of Anticipation; Situational Awareness; Anticipatory Awareness; Mission Analysis; Shared Mental Models; Mission Command; Commander’s Intent; ; Cynefin; vector-based goals; challenge and respond checklists; and establishing a sense of urgency.

This post outlines how families can apply some elements of military-grade planning to develop a hurricane checklist. Moreover, this post also applies to business leaders interested in real agility, innovation, and resiliency.

The Rivera girls reviewing the plan

Background

With last week’s devastation in Houston on our minds and the looming threat of Hurricane Irma in the Atlantic, I thought it would be prudent to take my family through some basic hurricane preparedness planning. To do this, I decided to take my wife, six-year-old and soon-to-be eight-year-old daughters through the same military-grade agility, innovation, and resiliency lessons that I coach to FORTUNE 100 companies and startups. After all, a family is a team and a hurricane is a complex adaptive system, right?

This activity ended up providing valuable lessons for the entire family and as a result, we delivered a challenge and response checklist, reviewed and re-supplied our emergency kits, and more importantly, we became more aware of capabilities and limitations of the socio-technical system we call our home.

Feel free to apply the approach to your household or business.

Focus on Outcomes

To start the activity, begin with a basic statement, a vector-based goal that inspires action. The outcome statement I used:

Survive for five days in our house during and following a major hurricane

Notice that my Commander’s Intent does NOT contain a clear, measureable, achievable objective or SMART goal. Why?  Because we are dealing with complexity; we cannot predict the future in the Complex domain. When dealing with increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), emergent goals are fine, as you will see.

Effective Planning

Knowing that plans are nothing and that planning is everything, I used a military-grade planning approach to help the girls understand the system we live in, the wonders and dangers of a hurricane, and their roles in the event of a hurricane. To do this, I asked the girls to write down those things that may happen during a hurricane.

Anticipate Threats

Complex adaptive systems and high-performing teams anticipate the future. One of the common planning problems I see with executive and development teams is they fail to identify threats and assumptions (do not anticipate the future) prior to developing their plan. To help the girls understand this critical step, I asked the them to write down “what” can happen in the event of a hurricane.

Having watched the news on Hurricane Harvey, they were able to identify a few threats associated with hurricanes (e.g.  flooding, no power, damage to windows). However, just as adult team members do when they have meetings, my girls went down many rabbit holes to include discussions about Barbie and Legos. The best approach to overcome this natural phenomenon (cognitive bias) is to use the basic Red Teaming technique of Think-Write-Share.

With some steering help from mommy and daddy, our girls where able to get back on course and capture several more “whats” before moving on to the next step.

Red =Threats; Blue = Countermeasures; Green = Resources Needed.

Identify Countermeasures and Needed resources.

With the threats identified, we began to write down possible countermeasures and needed and available resources that overcome those threats.  As we were doing this, we noticed the emergence of a what appeared to be a checklist (see our blue notes in the above picture). Although not explicitly stated in the Commander’s Intent, we decided that we should add “build a checklist” –an emergent objective– to our product backlog (more on this later).

Apply Lessons Learned

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Knowing that there are many lessons learned from people who have lived through hurricanes, I went online to find and apply those lessons learned to our countermeasure and resource backlog. I used the Red Cross as a source and discovered we missed a couple of minor items in our growing backlog.

*I recommend using external sources only after you develop countermeasures to your identified threats. Why? Because planning is about understanding the system; it is how we learn to adapt to change.

After we applied lessons learned, we used a green marker to identify those needed resources (see picture). These resources became part of our product backlog.

Build a Prioritized Product Backlog

A product backlog should be prioritized based on value. Since I was dealing with children who have a low attention span but were highly engaged in the current activity, I decided to prioritized our backlog in this order:

  • Build a Hurricane Checklist
  • Review with the team (family) what is in our current emergency kit
  • Purchase needed resources
  • Show the kids how to use the kit
  • Build a contingency plan –our contingency plan details are not covered in this post.

“Scrum” It

Since I coach Scrum as a team framework, and our family is a team, I showed my children the basics of Scrum. If you are not familiar with Scrum, you can find the 16-page scrum guide here.

We used a simple Scrum board to track our work and executed three short Sprints. As a result, the girls were able to pull their work, we were able to focus on getting things done, and we identified pairing and swarming opportunities. They also learned a little about what I do for a living.

Key Artifact and Deliverable Review: Challenge and Respond Checklists

With a background in fighter aviation, and having coached surgical teams on how to work as high-performing teams, I know from experience that checklists work in ritualized environments where processes are repeatable. To create a ritualized environment, we can do simple things such as starting an event at a specified time with a designated leader. Another option is to change clothes or wear a vest—by the way, kids love dressing up.

One advantage of a challenge and respond checklist is it can be used to create accountability and provide a leadership opportunity for a developing leader–perfect for kids and needed by most adults. For example, the challenge and respond checklist we developed (above) can be initiated by one of my daughters.  If we needed to run the checklist, one of my daughters would simply read the items on the left  and mommy or daddy would respond with the completed items on the right. Giving a young leader an opportunity to lead a simple team event and recognizing their leadership accomplishments energizes their internal locus of control and utimiately builds a bias toward action.

Feel free to use our checklist as a guide but remember, planning is about understanding your system.

The Most Important Step: Debrief

Yes, a debrief with a six and seven-year-old is possible. Remember to create a learning environment for them, ask them about the goal(s) they set out to achieve, and ask them what they learned. Walk them through the planning steps they just went through to reinforce the planning process. Also, ask them what they liked and what they didn’t like about working on the plan with mommy and daddy. Bring snacks.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, LLC, and co-creator of High-Performance Teaming™ – an evidence-based, human systems solution to rapidly build and develop high-performing teams and organizations.

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Planning is Everything… If You Know How To Plan (Part 1)

In the next two minutes, you will learn what planning is and why it is a critical enabler in today’s VUCA world.

The above General Eisenhower quote and similar ones by Perter Drucker, Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, and Mike Tyson, are peppered in leadership and team-building presentations at conferences, company off-sites, and in blog posts. Although powerful—just as strategically hanging posters of your company values above water coolers does nothing to change your organizational values—sharing a planning quote at the beginning of your planning sessions does nothing to improve your organization’s planning capability.

Background. As an Agile Coach with a military strategic and operational planning background, I’ve noticed that very few organizations and coaches know how to plan. A common planning mistake organizations make is throwing a group of people into a room for one, two, or three days to “plan” without showing them how to plan. As a trained and experienced military planner, I know that the science and art of planning (knowing how to plan) must be learned, practiced, and reinforced at every level of an organization.

Knowing how to plan is a human interaction skill and when combined with other cognitive and social skills such as closed-loop communication, the emergence of a collaborative and innovative organization becomes possible. 

What is planning? 

  • The primary goal of planning is not the development of detailed plans that inevitably must be changed; a more enduring goal is the development of teams and organizations who can cope with VUCA
  • Planning provides an awareness and opportunity to study potential future events amongst multiple alternatives in a controlled environment. Through planning, we begin to understand the complex systems we are trying to modulate.
  • Planning is an anticipatory decision making process that helps teams and organizations cope with complexities
  • Planning is continuous.
  • Planning is Fractal. A stand-up is a fractal of a sprint planning session. A meeting should be a fractal of a strategic planning session.
  • Planning is part of problem solving.

Why Plan? 

  • Builds individual and team situational awareness and the organization’s sensemaking capability
  • Helps build leadership skills
  • Planning helps individuals, teams, and leaders anticipate the future
  • Planning helps organizations navigate complexity
  • Planning helps individuals, teams, and organizations understand the system (operational environment) 

How to Plan?

For how to plan, I will save that for another day. There are great planning processes out there that an organization can start practicing today. In Part 2, I will provide a Rubric that will inform your planning how.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, LLC, and co-creator of High-Performance Teaming™ – an evidence-based, human systems solution to rapidly build and develop high-performing teams and organizations.

References 

Norman M. Wade. The Battle Staff Smartbook: Doctrinal Guide to Military Decision Making & Tactical Operations. Lightning Press, 2005

JP 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, 11 August 2011

Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), March 2015. http://usacac.army.mil/sites/default/files/publications/15-06_0.pdf

Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

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Planning is Everything… If You Know How to Plan (Part 2)

In Part 1, I provided the “What” and “Why” of planning. The intent of Part 2 is to provide organizational leaders a planning Rubric, one that organizations can use to evaluate the adoption of a third-party’s planning process or to help leaders in the development of their organization’s planning “How.”

Based on my experience, training, and education in iterate planning, here are 10 criteria I find essential for any planning process:

  1. Context
  2. Goals | Objectives | Commander’s Intent
  3. Anticipate the Future
  4. Mitigate Cognitive Biases | Challenge Assumptions | Reduce Risk
  5. Low-Tech, High-Touch
  6. Contingency Plan
  7. Retrospective… Part of the Plan
  8. Simple
  9. Iterative
  10. Designate/Rotate the Facilitator

1. Context

You must understand your operating environment (system). Is your operating environment ordered, complex, or chaotic? Not sure? Use the Cynefin framework to help make sense of your context before developing your mission goals, objectives, or Commander’s Intent.

2. Goals | Objectives | Commander’s Intent

If you are operating in an ordered system, then you should be able to establish clear, measureable, and achievable objectives (SMART goals/objectives are okay if you like redundancy). However, this is an unlikely scenario given the amount of VUCA in most operational environments.

For organizations and teams that operate in a complex system—which should be most organizations and teams—using a defined outcome such as SMART goals is not so smart. Why? You cannot predict the future in complex environments. Since complex environments are dispositional, we need to start journeys over stating goals. Vector-based goals are fine—wanting more of X and less of Y is a good example of a vector-based goal and also serves as a decent Commander’s Intent.

3. Anticipate the Future

Complex adaptive systems anticipate the future. Your planning process should include a step that allows team members to identify potential threats to the goals, objectives, or Commander’s Intent. Threats include things such as holidays, days off, system availability, weather systems, outbreak of the flu, multiple futures, etc.

Anticipatory planning also includes identifying resources and people—both available and needed.

4. Mitigate Cognitive Biases | Challenge Assumptions | Reduce Risk

Use Red Teaming, liberating structures, or complex facilitation techniques to mitigate cognitive biases, challenge assumptions, and reduce risk. These tools also help identify weak signals—where innovation comes from—and serve as a check against complacency.

5. Low-Tech, High-Touch

Use a large canvas or board to plan. Sending PowerPoint decks back and forth is a horrible way to plan (Conway’s Law). PowerPoint is a presentation tool, not a planning tool. A high-touch, low-tech approach to planning requires people to be present, both physically and mentally, in a room or rooms.

6. Build a Back-Up or Contingency Plan

You cannot plan against every contingency—those items that you identified as threats or impediments—but your planning process should include a step where the team looks and plans against some of the known unknowns from the complicated domain. Do not spend too much time on unknown unknowns—an organizational adaptive mindset, partially developed from learning how to plan, is a great tactic for protecting against risks in the complex domain.

7. A Retrospective… Part of the Plan

Planning is part of problem solving and building situational understanding; however, a retrospective is far more important than planning and must be included in your plan. Daily re-planning sessions (stand-ups) should also be included in your plan.

8. Simplicity

You should be able to use your planning process as a way to lead a meeting or a stand-up (a re-planning session).

9. Iterative

Planning is not sequential, it is iterative. It is okay to go back and revisit a previous idea, assumption, objective, etc.

10. Designate a Facilitator

If your team and organization knows how to plan, you can eliminate the need to follow a coach who is an expert at putting planning quotes on the board. Leading a planning session builds leadership capability. It also creates team and organizational accountability.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, LLC, and co-creator of High-Performance Teaming™ – an evidence-based, human systems solution to rapidly build and develop high-performing teams and organizations.

References

Norman M. Wade. The Battle Staff Smartbook: Doctrinal Guide to Military Decision Making & Tactical Operations. Lightning Press, 2005

JP 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, 11 August 2011

Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), March 2015. http://usacac.army.mil/sites/default/files/publications/15-06_0.pdf

Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

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