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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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