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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.