Academic journal article Military Review

Fighting to Understand: A Practical Example of Design at the Battalion Level

Academic journal article Military Review

Fighting to Understand: A Practical Example of Design at the Battalion Level

Article excerpt


SINCE ITS BEGINNINGS as an emerging concept, there has been a great deal of debate and confusion about just what design is. That is not surprising. In some ways, any attempt to describe design is an attempt to describe the indescribable.

Design is, by its nature, a creative process that defies form or structure, an inherently free-form, creative process that allows a staff to understand, frame, and solve complex problems. Even its name has been hard to fix. Over time, adherents have called it "systemic operational design," "commander's appreciation and campaign design," "campaign design," and simply "design."

Before the publication of the new Field Manual (FM) 5-0, The Operations Process (March 2010) finally made Design a formal part of Army doctrine, there were only a few places to turn for descriptions of the concept. The first attempt to enshrine campaign design in Army doctrine came in FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency, which dedicated all of chapter 4 to campaign design. The first publication solely devoted to design came from the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center. After numerous draft versions, which were, for several years, the only detailed description of design, the center's efforts were finally published as TRADOC Pamphlet 525-5-500, Commander's Appreciation and Campaign Design (28 January 2008).

Several authors in past editions of Military Review have also produced solid explanations of design theory, including Major Ketti Davison ("From Tactical Planning to Operational Design," September-October 2008), Brigadier General (retired) Huba Wass de Czege ("Systemic Operational Design: Learning and Adapting in Complex Missions," January-February 2009), and Colonel Stefan J. Banach ("The Art of Design: A Design Methodology" and "Educating by Design: Preparing Leaders for a Complex World," March-April 2009).

This article will not tread ground these previous sources have ably covered. Instead, this article offers a case study for application of design to a real world problem, the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment's combat operations in the Tikrit and ad Dawr districts of Salah ad Din province, Iraq, from 2009 to 2010.

By applying the concepts of design to this complex, adaptive environment, we, the officers of Task Force Patriot, developed a deeper understanding and more appropriate solutions to the problems we faced than we could have achieved using a more traditional planning methodology. In the process, we learned a number of lessons and developed a number of techniques that leaders can easily transfer to any situation that calls for a design solution.

Which Design?

In mid-2009, without the benefit of the newest version of FM 5-0, the first question we had to answer was what design tools were appropriate to the problem we faced. We chose to borrow from all of the literature on the subject to distill theory into techniques we could integrate with the more familiar Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). This exercise yielded some core ideas that carried us through multiple iterations of design before and during our tour in Iraq. Surprisingly, the principles we finally settled on fit very closely with those in the new FM 5-0. The principles are as follows:

Understand the problem before seeking a solution. Traditional, systematic planning methodologies like MDMP rest on the underlying premise that analysis alone will identify the problem a military force is required to solve. Contemporary design theory, on the other hand, posits that, in a complex environment, there are many problems; some of them cannot be solved, others should not be solved. In design, problem identification is an end, in and of itself. (1)

Improve understanding through discourse.

Discourse, or "critical discussion" as it is called in FM 3-24, is the process by which military professionals, informed both by their experience and their independent investigation, arrive at a better shared understanding of an environment, a problem, and a proposed solution. …

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