No MBA mumbo-jumbo, just stuff that's worked through 30 years of team-building in business and the military.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Flexibility Requires Planning

The Army uses an extremely effective technique that I haven't seen done anywhere else: It issues Operation Orders for every mission. 

OpOrds detail the overall mission and all subordinate missions - everyone knows their and everyone else's job. While it seems rigid, the OpOrd actually permits flexibility that borders on spontaneity, because it's the basis of Fragmentary Orders, or Fragos.

A Frago is an on-the-fly modification of a single part of the overall operation in response to changing circumstances. It can be as simple as "Main element divert to secondary route," or "First Platoon block Highway 6; the reserve will assume First's mission." Something changes, the commander adapts, the mission continues with barely a pause.

There are a couple of key ideas here for leaders in any kind of organization.

First, organizational flexibility requires a good plan. The Frago doesn't work without the original OpOrd, which has already put everyone in the right place doing the right things. In the same way, you can't make on-the-fly changes if your people aren't already following a mutually-understood course of action.

Second, don't get too invested in your plan. Expect it to change; in fact, actively monitor so you quickly see the needed changes. Mindlessly pursuing the plan is almost as bad as not having one, because as soon as something changes, your plan isn't the best way anymore.

Example: Assuming I have a good production plan, then when a truckload of raw materials is delayed, I can just say, "Pull up the batch of such-and-such instead." An employee goes home sick, "Shut down Mill 11 and put the operator on Mill 8." Things change, and at the end of each day what we actually did can be quite a bit different than what we planned. 

But, and this is the power of it all, despite all the changes in circumstances and activity, the work we wanted done got done. That's the power of planning, and the power of the Frago.

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