“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.” Sun Tzu
Step 5: Do a detailed situational estimate
Rational, deliberate decision making and planning nearly always trump intuition, instinct, and automated response patterns. Too often, leaders and managers default to habit and existing reactions when they should be analyzing the situation in detail to determine new threats and opportunities.
When I consult with executives and entrepreneurs, I frequently hear, “But that’s the only way to do it!” Even worse, I often encounter claims that “we’ve always done it that way,” or “that’s not the way we do it here.” The problem is that the habitual pattern works, until it doesn’t. Also, in business you should be looking for the unusual and the novel, not what everyone else “knows” or does.
Whenever I come up against such resistance, I always frame the situation as indicated in the following diagram. To the exclamation that there is only one possible way, I ask what the aim is. Sometimes it’s the actual mission we’ve identified in the mission analysis process. But sometimes it’s something more mundane or inconsequential. Regardless, we need to know what our purpose is and why we are aiming for it.
Then follows the enumeration and consideration of all the various factors impinging on the decision. I give a full list in Brilliant Manoeuvres (pp. 170-1), but in sum, we must look at competitive, natural, human, temporal, and technological/technical considerations. Moreover, if we’ve maintained situational awareness and conducted a proper reconnaissance, most of that information will now be highly relevant.
From this analysis, we must, I repeat, must, develop several possible courses of action. Simply put, there is always more than one option for how to proceed, and refusal to consider a range of possibilities is irresponsible. So, at this point, the process requires the generation of at least three different options. We then compare them, using the factors and other decision criteria. The optimal course of action, i.e., the best one given the situation and our goals, then becomes the basis for detailed plan development and execution. A big advantage is also that, having considered various scenarios and options, we have also made a start on developing sequel and contingency plans.
However, it’s important to note that part of the comparison of options and decision process are contingent upon their performance against potential scenarios and competitor/opposing courses of action. This is where the “war game” comes into play, but that is actually step 6 in the Business Readiness Process, which I’ll consider in the next newsletter.
Business Readiness Process (BRP)
- Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
- Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
- Activate organization or team.
- Conduct reconnaissance.
- Do detailed situational estimate.
- Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
- Perform risk management and contingency planning.
- Communicate plan and issue direction.
- Build organizational robustness.
- Ensure operational continuity.
- Lead and control execution.
- Assess performance.