Wednesday, May 29, 2013

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy...

First, I should provide a disclaimer that I pulled together from a series of articles written by Steven B. Levy from his blog Lexician.  This is greatly still his copy-written work…however I have substantially edited it, paraphrased it and condensed it for my purposes. I created it to be delivered as a speech as part of our Toastmasters Club. I include it here…because I fully agree with its sentiment and try to align my leadership style to these principles and I thought it could be of interest to the people who find it here. Thank you Mr. Levy for your original articles.



German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke said... “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

When your plan meets the real world, the real world wins. Nothing goes as planned. Errors pile up. The most brilliant plan falls apart at the seams.

We have all heard…“The best-laid plans o’ mice an’ men, oft go awry. ” I say —not oft... they invariably… always go awry.

Today…we are talking about Planning Problems.

Planning Problem #1: Relying on a Plan Leads to Failure.

Now, I didn’t say “planning leads to failure.” However, the reliance on a plan — especially when the plan is not based in absolute reality…leads to failure.

We have all heard that "Failing to plan is planning to fail"...

But when a plan meets the real world, it’s not the real world that yields; we must adapt whatever we’re doing to the circumstances at hand.

There is another saying...  “The view from behind your desk is blurry at best.” ...or at least I thought that was a saying.... But when I Google’d it... I couldn’t find it at all. So I guess I must have coined that.... but, I did find another phrase from British novelist John le Carr√©. “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”

In other words... Being caught up in your plans is like being caught up in data and reports and details. Sometimes you have to get out from behind the desk... Get your boots on the ground...get your hands dirty...  And see what is going on for yourself.
So… if all plans fail, is the time spent making those plans wasted? ... Just because “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”  That doesn’t mean that we should never plan, does it?

One of the greatest planners in history was General Dwight D. Eisenhower who laid out — and got right — the incredibly complex Operation Overlord, better known as the D-Day landings during World War II. Gen. Eisenhower, who was responsible for that amazing operation also, said something very interesting...  “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Planning Problem #2: Lack of planning leads to failure

Most people will state their agreement with this… yet in the press of action, it’s amazing how many will jump right to execution, either skipping planning entirely or paying it lip service. In fact, there is a phrase that encapsulates this problem. “Ready, fire, aim”  ...

Sometimes, you must act before you plan. Sometimes for tactical reasons you just want to “get something in motion.” Or in an emergency, often you must respond immediately. If you’ve planned for that emergency, of course, your response is likely to be easier, but not even the best planning covers every contingency. However, not everything in a project is an emergency… nor should every change of plans feel like a crisis.

An obscure scientist Alfred Korzybski is credited with coining the phrase  “the map is not the terrain.”

Planners apply plans not to the actual environment but to a simplified model, or map, of the environment. Think of planning to go from Springfield to Kansas City, for example. At the highest (most simplified) level, you’d say, “Go North on 13.”

However, 13 doesn’t actually go to Kansas City. So you modify the plan: “Take 13 to Clinton, then Get on 7.” However, you’re still omitting some key elements. So you assume the listener knows how to get to Hwy 13… So you add instructions for getting to Kansas Expressway (Hwy 13), a warning about a ‘diverging diamond intersection’…and your starting to get the picture. Think of all the times you turn the steering wheel during a trip like that. To totally and fully plan, you’d need the plan to be exactly as complex as the event itself; otherwise, you’re abstracting the plan, creating a map or guide. But remember…the map is not the terrain.

Should you for some reason be able to construct a plan of this level of complexity, it still wouldn’t cover von Moltke’s maxim. You’d be out of luck with the first wrong turn. Say… at the Ozark Empire Fair Ground’s direct-express-exit-ramp…for example.

Even if you type it in your GPS... It wants to take you to Joplin first. But... interestingly enough, this is why I love a GPS... recalculating. Even though it routed me to Joplin, when I didn't go that way at a certain point it recalculated the plan, because it knows two critical factors. Where we actually are (boots on the ground) and where I want to end up. Something called "Commanders Intent". We will delve more into that in a moment.

Mistaking the map for the terrain is Planning Problem #3: Oversimplifying Reality Leads to Failure

We will be frozen in place if we attempt to detail the plan to actual reality, because it will take as long to plan as to act out the plan — and possibly longer.

We omit key details when we oversimplify the plan and expect the team to stick to it. We get details wrong because we cannot truly equate map and terrain from a distance.

So what’s the solution?

Go back to the example of driving from Springfield to Kansas City... Lets assume you’re an experienced driver but not really familiar with the trip — in other words, just like any of us approaching a new project.


“Just take 13″ won’t get it done. Neither will 500 pages of detailed instructions noting every curve in the road. In other words, you create a plan-as-an-outline or ‘flexible plan’ with the assumption that the person behind the wheel will modify as needed to adjust to actual conditions.


You can't shoot a rocket to the moon, and stick the landing... But you can shoot a rocket toward the moon... And make a million minor adjustments until you stick the landing.     
  • “The plan must have a concise expression of the purpose of the operation.”     
  • “The plan must be understood two echelons below the issuing commander.”  
  • “The plan must focus subordinates on what has to be accomplished even when the plan and concept of the operations no longer apply.”
In other words we must, trust the person behind the wheel to make the right decisions.

Start with the plan, but don't end with the plan— you must get where your going... you must succeed in the fog of war, in spite of surprises and your own inevitable errors and wrong turns. Results are what matters.

The U.S. military has a concept called “Commander’s Intent.” Any plan needs to be accompanied by the Commander’s Intent, which is summed up by these three points:



Planning Problem #4: Lack of a Clear Commander’s Intent Leads to Failure

Every project needs Commander’s Intent. It need not be formal. It may not even be stated as such. But the team needs to know what it is.

“Why are we doing this project? What is the customer’s goal? What does success look like?”

Not the “how.” Not even the “what.” But the “why.” The goal. The intent. When stuff goes bad — and it will go bad — the team needs to understand the right thing to do in the changed circumstances.

We cannot plan to a sufficient level of detail in a reasonable amount of time. By understanding the end goal. Your team will make-it-up... freelance it. And in a fast-moving business environment like ours, this is essential. Remember results are what matter.

As soon as that specially adapted Black Hawk helicopter crash-landed into the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan... The "Plan" was off... what the members of Seal Team Six later called "playing pickup basketball" (something that anyone that has played neighborhood basketball can identify with.) They had practiced the “Plan” over 100 times, but the “plan” was abandoned in the first critical minutes. They had a clear understanding of the end goal... And with little or no communication amongst themselves... They free-lanced a successful mission. They made-it-up as they went along. In reality it was the most important mission of their lives and because of proper planning... they were successful in the face of adverse conditions and a dynamically changing environment.

A clear vision, backed by a shared understanding of the goal, the Commander’s Intent, is the compass that will guide your team when they discover that the map is not the terrain, that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and plans themselves are useless.





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