Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Is Army ‘Design’ methodology over-designed? There are trust issues, too

By Richard Buchanan Best Defense office of mission command Currently there is a raging debate in the Force over Army Design Methodology (ADM) which the field has shortened to simply "Design." Design is being currently taught to selected officers attending the School of Advanced Studies (SAMS), the War College, and in a general population Design ...


By Richard Buchanan

Best Defense office of mission command

Currently there is a raging debate in the Force over Army Design Methodology (ADM) which the field has shortened to simply "Design." Design is being currently taught to selected officers attending the School of Advanced Studies (SAMS), the War College, and in a general population Design training course developed and taught by Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH). There is currently not a single course teaching Design to NCOs and or Army Civilians other than the course offered by BAH. There is as well a ongoing debate as to whether Design is strictly for the Strategic and Operational levels and should not be used at the Tactical level.

If one researches ADM you will see it defined and explained in ADRP 5.0 in roughly eight pages complete with terms and charts which attempt to describe the process. In further research of ADRP 5.0 you will see that the discussion of Design and military decision-making (MDMP) takes all of two paragraphs. If you take the BAH course you will be struck by the sheer weight of terms and charts (and a very large Powerpoint slide deck) all trying again to describe Design. In ADRP 5.0 section 2-23 you will notice that by doctrine the Army now has a total of three standalone planning methods all attempting to address the scope of the problem the unit is facing, i.e. the Operational Environment (OE).

The result of all of the above is that the Force now perceives Design to be complex, highly technical (complicated terms and charts with its own language), and Design can only be conducted by those who have attended the Design training mentioned above and our Design doctrine has reinforced that perception.

If we look at the core ADM requirements mentioned in the eight or so pages of ADRP 5.0 one starts to see mentioned over and over; critical and creative thinking, collaboration and dialogue, framing (another term for simply communication), narrative construction, and visual modeling (simply another set of terms for communication/whiteboarding).

Now the over designing of Design kicks in — if in fact the concept of Design demands communication, dialogue, free flow of ideas, critical discourse — are we not suppose to be doing that already inside MDMP? Wait thoug,h as per paragraphs 2-61 and 2-62, Design is conducted independently, in parallel to or after MDMP by the Commander and selected Staff all under the guise of helping the Commander understand the OE. Literally a Catch-22 moment.

Just as we often discuss the Army values and what it means to the Force, Design to has one key critical element that is missing, just as it is missing in the Army Values. That is, trust. Steven Covey in his book Speed of Trust wrote that:

There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world-one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. Yet, it is the least understood, most neglected, and most underestimated possibility of our time. That one thing is trust. . . . It under girds and affects the quality of every relationship, every communication, every work project, every business venture, every effort in which we are engaged.

Likewise, Col. Tom Guthrie in his 2012 article said that, "If we intend to truly embrace mission command, then we should do it to the fullest, and that will require commitment to changing a culture from one of control and process to one of decentralization and trust."

I think (as I said in my previous BD article) that we in fact do have a serious issue in the Force — namely a glaring lack of Trust at all levels and between individuals.

If we look at the argument that Design cannot be conducted at the Tactical level — then we really do need to ask ourselves why is it not in the MDMP planning cycle? My answer is Design has always been in MDMP in multiple areas — Mission Analysis, COA Development/Decision, Wargaming, and even in the Rehearsal phase.

In Mission Command it is the "art of command" where the responsibility rests for the commander to lead the development of teams using Understanding, Visualization, Describe, Direct, Lead, and Assess UVDDLA). If the Commander is responsible for team building then why is he, per doctrine, supposed to lead Design independently, in parallel to or after MDMP? What staff officers are to be pulled out of the MDMP process to focus on Design robbing Staff sections of their own team leader, when is the Design plan to resynchronize back to the MDMP process, and which plan has precedence — the MDMP plan or the Design plan?

If the commander as the team builder and leader does his job effectively as a leader should — that is, building trust, and creating an open dialogue free of fear which automatically allows critical thinking/discourse — then Design will occur on its own and it is not a forced process full of terms and charts that no one seems to understand.

Secondly, the debate around Design has opened an interesting discussion — namely if we take a Command Post and or a Staff section, there will always be NCOs and/or lower ranking subordinates. Not a single one of them have been taught MDMP nor Design and yet they are handling data that has to be transformed into Information/Understanding as per the doctrinal concept of the Cognitive Hierarchy. Or they are substituting as reps to Working Group meetings where MDMP is in progress or should be in progress or they are contributing to running estimates which also feeds into the MDMP process.

I have often wondered while observing Command Post operations, WG meetings, or Staff meetings, what do the NCOs/junior subordinates think about during the ongoing discussions and do they really buy into the decisions made during those meetings or do they simply nod north and south and go about their business?

Now, we are having a Force discussion on whether Design does work or not work, what level should it be used at, should Design planners be additionally trained, should there be a separate Design planning Staff section, and the list goes on. To me, these are examples of over engineering.

My opinion is that Design is the way forward, especially when coupled with Mission Command, but it must be taught together with MDMP/Mission Command to all individuals working in Staffs at all levels and in Command Posts at all levels. In reality, they do a mini version of UVDDLA MDMP when performing their CP or Staff functions.

If everyone who works in a Staff section and/or in a Command Post fully understands MDMP, fully understands Design/Mission Command and the commander has in fact built his team using Trust in an open dialogue manner — then Design/ MDMP/Mission Command will be able to handle any future ill structured "wicked" problem set. Until then the Force will continue to tread water.

Richard Buchanan is mission command training facilitator with the JMTC/JMSC Grafenwoehr, Germany training staffs in the areas of mission command, MDMP/NATO Planning Processes, MDMP/Design, and Command Post Operations. The opinions here are his own and not those of U.S. Army Europe, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. government. But Bobby Valentine does agree, we are guessing. How did the Red Sox go so wrong in recent years?

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1