Commentray by Lt. Col. John Giles
50th Network Operations Group deputy commander
“Strategy is the use of the engagement for the purpose of the war. The strategist must therefore define an aim for the entire operational side of the war that will be in accordance with its purpose. In other words, he will draft the plan of the war, and the aim will determine the series of actions intended to achieve it: in fact, shape the individual campaign and, within these, decide on the individual engagements.”
– Carl Von Clausewitz, On War
I’ve encountered a number of situations recently that presented a planning challenge. That is, there was a major project or task to be completed, but it was clear there was no roadmap to convert good intentions into tangible results. As a mid-level captain, I was assigned to a combat plans squadron at a numbered Air Force and learned about the planning processes documented in Air Force doctrine and joint publications. Although these processes are geared toward campaign planning for a contingency environment, the logic behind the processes presents a powerful principle, similar to that described by Clausewitz in the quote above, which can be applied to many situations. To achieve desired results, an individual should take the time to carefully define what he wants to achieve, think through and create a list of objectives needed to achieve it and finally break those objectives into actionable tasks that can be accomplished systematically to achieve each objective.
According to Joint Publication 1.02, end state is the set of required conditions that defines achievement of the commander’s objectives. Defining what you want to achieve and turning that into words to communicate to others can be a more difficult task than it might at first appear. However, if you take time to think through and carefully document an end state, it will clarify and define what you want to achieve. The wording of the end state is also significant because it allows you to communicate clearly what you intend to achieve to others who may be working the project. In my experience, too often individuals skip this step in their desire to get started, only to get into the middle of the project and experience confusion concerning what they intended to accomplish. So, to sum up this first step, press beyond a vague concept and develop it into something more specific that you can understand and communicate effectively to others.
Although a carefully worded end state communicates what you want to achieve, there is still a lot of work to be done to translate it into a plan of action. The starting point for a plan of action is defining objectives. Joint Publication 1.02 defines an objective as the clearly defined, decisive and attainable goal toward which every operation is directed. Like the end state, thinking through and carefully choosing wording for the objectives is important not only for the next step in the planning process, but also to communicate effectively what you want every person associated with the project to achieve. The list of objectives should cover the entire spectrum of what needs to be achieved to meet the end state. In other words, if you can come up with a good plan to accomplish each objective, you should be confident you will be able to complete the project or task.
With a well-defined end state and clear objectives, you should then attempt to break each objective into actionable tasks to accomplish that objective. Joint Publication 5.0 captures this when it states, “Objectives and their supporting effects provide the basis for identifying tasks to be accomplished.” The list of tasks needs to be comprehensive, and each task needs to be written so that you or those working with you can clearly assess when each task has been completed. Given the tasks amount for all of the objectives, it may be necessary to accomplish some or all of the tasks in a particular order or manner to be successful. However, if the list of tasks is good, successfully completing them should achieve the desired end state.
The planning process in Air Force and joint publications is called joint operation planning. According to JP 5.0, joint operation planning is the overarching process that guides joint force commanders in developing plans for the employment of military power within the context of national strategic objectives and national military strategy to shape events, meet contingencies and respond to unforeseen crises.
Although the three steps outlined here are a major simplification of the joint operation planning process, they are a systematic means of tackling the variety of planning tasks we encounter on a daily basis. To apply this principle, take time to flesh out the aim and purpose of what it is you wish to accomplish, translate that aim into a short list of objectives that clearly define goals and then break those objectives into smaller scale actionable tasks required to accomplish each objective. Making use of this principle will help you translate what you want or need to achieve into action and be more successful in future endeavors.