The U.S. Navy recently released its Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority (DMMS) 2.0 document that calls for the 243-year-old bureaucratic organization "to act with a sense of urgency" and become more agile. Here are some of my thoughts on how the U.S. Navy can achieve some level of agility through the OODA loop, Cynefin framework, and Complex Adaptive Systems thinking.
“Our competitors see the landscape as continuous; we will do so as well. Restoring agility means realizing that operating in the spectrum can be non-linear and simultaneous. We will not let rigid thinking or self-imposed structures prevent us from operating in creative ways.”
The OODA loop is a non-linear, individual and organizational-level learning and adaption process. Considered a paradigm for survival and growth, the OODA loop is the foundation of maneuver warfare, Scrum (non-linear team framework), the Lean Startup, the Agility Loop (Don Sull), and is commonly applied in firefighting, cyber defense, big data, and healthcare.
The Cynefin framework, which has DARPA roots, is a decision-making framework that improves OODA loops. With five domains defined by the nature of the relationship between cause and effect, the Cynefin framework provides leaders a way to understand context and apply the appropriate management or leadership response.
The DMMS calls for leaders to “Invigorate and continually reinforce our culture of mission command, which is an enduring advantage against any adversary.” Auftragstaktik (mission command) is already baked-in the OODA loop and a preferred leadership approach in the Complicated and Complex domains of Cynefin.
Less Systems Thinking
Complex Adaptive Systems thinking moves leaders away from thinking in terms of closing the gap between a desired future state and the present, towards attempting multiple safe-to-fail probes. Why? Complex adaptive systems are dispositional in nature, not causal. This shift in thinking has huge implications on how Navy leaders address safety, agility, and innovation. Safety, for example, is an emergent property of a Complex Adaptive System and is not something that leaders “drive” through “zero incident days” reporting.
Innovation and agility are emergent properties of teams—a team is a Complex Adaptive System—were the quality of interactions matter more than the quality of the individual (agent). The DMMS attempts to improve the quality of interactions by “upgrading” the Plan-Brief-Execute Debrief (PBED) cycle, explicitly calling out the need to use a Red Team, analyze planned outcomes versus actual performance, and promulgate lessons learned.
Overall a good document. However, I have some reservations with upgrading the PBED cycle simply because the suggested upgrades fail to address the most important need: All leaders must learn how to debrief. But I am sure the "Expertly Upgraded the U.S. Navy's PBED Cycle with the Obvious" FITREP bullet is worth a star.