Small Wars Journal

Does Design Help or Hurt Military Planning: How NTM-A Designed a Plausible Afghan Security Force in an Uncertain Future - Part II

Mon, 07/16/2012 - 5:55am

Authors’ Note: many military professionals and academics ask for tangible examples in a combat environment of what design theory brings to a military organization conducting planning and decision-making.  As an operational-level planner in NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (NTM-A/CSTC-A) in 2011, I had a unique opportunity to lead a planning team that fused design theory and other non-standard planning techniques into the military decision-making and wargame process. Those results, and our team’s precise recommendations, were eventually briefed and approved at the strategic level for our Coalition to implement a change in direction of long-range planning for Afghan security forces.  This is part II of a two-part series on how design practitioners produced an output that may shape the future form and capacity of the Afghan forces.[1], [2] 

In part I of this two-part series, we explained the first half of our planning team’s journey to fuse design theory with military decision making. Our diverse planning team comprised of Coalition military professionals were on a journey of discovery and creation instead of aiming for pre-established expectations. Working with an ill-structured problem on how to determine a size, capacity, and cost of future Afghan security force for senior leadership to make strategic decisions, our NTM-A planning team used a variety of design-military planning hybrid approaches leading up to this wargame requirement. Starting with our first phase covered in the first article, we reflected critically and creatively and attempted to make sense of the problem from an abstract level. Moving into our ‘CONTEXTUALIZATION’ phase, we bounded our larger environment and explored core tensions within the Afghan system. After contextualizing the environment and framing it, we used a variety of design theory and non-standard scenario planning approaches and fused them with traditional military decision making to generate Afghan security force options. 

Part I of this series ended upon completion of this ‘PROBLEMATIZATION’ phase. For Part II, our planning team entered the fourth phase, ‘IMPROVISATION’, where we shaped an operational approach that also featured our team reflecting back upon all earlier phases for reframing and adapting. Taking traditional military wargame methodology, we fused it with both design and swarm theory to incorporate the necessary mix of concepts to accomplish our planning objectives and produce a logical design deliverable. While swarm theory often evokes visions of bee swarms and ant colonies, their non-military logic nested well within our wargame requirements, despite the apparent conflicts between swarm organizational function and the traditional military hierarchical decision making structure.

At this point, our planning team had used design theory to gain a deeper appreciation of a wicked problem where traditional military decision-making was insufficient. Drawing from professionals across our Coalition in military and law enforcement fields, our team used abstract concepts from design theory to help us discover tensions within the complex Afghan system that we might not have even recognized with traditional military decision making alone. [3] In the earlier three phases, design theory clearly contributed to our planners appreciating the complexity of the problem, and helped us generate viable planning logic that rested upon the fundamental issues confronting the Afghan government and Afghan people.

Working along a parallel yet separate planning path, service planners developed a menu of possible force structures that reflected the tangible resources, numbers, and capabilities of a variety of security force packages. Together, the planning team fused these concepts to choose the five sufficient force structures to continue the wargame process. The challenge now was to identify which force structure was best. We had no way of knowing which future threat scenario was more likely, so we had to apply each force package in a wargame model against each threat scenario. This meant that multiple wargames would occur and each force package would perform against the whole range of future threat scenarios, not just the one it was initially developed against.

How Swarms of Bees Inspired Hybrid War-Gaming:

Conventional decision-making doctrine recommends a turn-based structure where the combatants describe their actions during each turn, with adjudication decided by the referee. [4]  We did begin with this methodology, but quickly abandoned it when it demonstrated a lack of utility. Furthermore, while military decision-making doctrine stresses the presence of the commander at the center of these planning and wargaming efforts, there simply was not enough time or resources for senior leadership to interface with every planning team and effort within their command. Although we did regularly update senior leadership and receive guidance, their absence from wargaming sessions helped flatten our hierarchical structure. In two critical ways, traditional wargame procedures were not suited to our conceptualization of the future environment nor was traditional wargaming suited to assessing the effectiveness given the strategic objectives under consideration.           

Thus, we improvised non-doctrinal approaches due to these circumstances, as well as the highly ambiguous threat environment presented in the original strategic question. Unlike traditional wargames where the threat environment and fielded forces had higher levels of certainty and structure, this entire process considered the success of Afghan security forces years from now and dealt with national security forces under entirely Afghan political and tactical control. Despite these challenges, we drew from several asymmetric sources for inspiration. Along with design, swarm theory offers a fundamentally different methodology that breaks from the preferred military hierarchical structure of our western institutions. [5] However, swarm theory is relatively unknown and often misunderstood.

This illustrates a disadvantage to integrating some design aspects into certain military planning situations. In this case, we chose to frame the swarm theory inspiration within the traditional military decision-making language and structure associated with military doctrine. The wargame process worked, and used similar language, concepts, graphics, and structure that followed traditional military doctrine and procedure. In retrospect we can ask whether design theory and other concepts function better within military planning when the majority of the participants are unaware of the deeper organizing logic used by core planners?

Bees represent collective or ‘swarm intelligence’ where each individual bee does not have any understanding of the big picture, and reacts only to local conditions. One fascinating thing about swarms is that the organizational intelligence, comprised of many simplistic individual entities, collectively generates a group intelligence that regularly adapts to complex problems without any reliance on hierarchical or central decision-making. The queen bee does not direct her forces the way a General Officer or CEO does, nor does she have any understanding of what the colony is doing. The queen conducts no strategy; she exists to serve the sole purpose of laying eggs. Each ant acts on their own accord, based on the local conditions and without any understanding of what any other ant outside their view is doing- there is no hierarchy and no central command post for the ants. In swarms, instinct and collective intelligence of the colony drives decision making based on local conditions- clearly a very different organizing logic when contrasted with military centralized plans and operations.

In this unique planning group, we felt that the circumstances were better suited for collective decision-making or some peer equal voting method. Furthermore, the asymmetric nature of the future threat environment concept made linear causality (if ‘a’ plus ‘b’ leads to ‘c,’ then ‘c’ leads to ‘d’…) impractical for over-simplifying the wargame process in a traditional turn-based methodology. Instead, we applied several wargame rules that stimulated swarm behavior. Swarm theory is an often misunderstood and misinterpreted concept our military frequently becomes enamored over. We usually misapply it and subsequently reject it. [6] In this case, we were careful to fuse the right balance of swarm theory without dismantling those useful components of military wargame methodology and doctrine. We modeled our wargame process on research explained in National Geographic Magazine and a RAND study on swarm theory, along with other academic sources. [7] In those sources, non-hierarchical decision-making process and individual actors comprising groups used local conditions and collective intelligence to make highly adaptive decisions within complex environments.

In the National Geographic article, Peter Miller described how Thomas Seeley, a Cornell University biologist, did experimentation on a bee colony where all of the bees were marked, and the hive was over-populated, which forced the collective intelligence to trigger scouting for possible new colony sites. Seeley already established five locations on the deforested island with one meeting all primary bee colony requirements, and the other four possessing some of the necessary traits. Quickly, scouts from the main colony found all five locations, and as each scout returned to communicate through their bee-dances the importance of their find, each scout had no idea that other bee scouts had found other sites. Non-hierarchical decision-making process and individual actors comprising a group used local conditions and collective intelligence to select the proper new hive location.  This was useful to our planning team because prior to the team assembling, many professionals across the NTM-A and ISAF organizations had come to separate conclusions that the future Afghan security force needed a large police element, presumably due to the strong influence of western counterinsurgency theory and doctrine. [8]  Although our planning team was aware of these positions, we set them aside and discovered through the wargame process that when it comes to the police force, it is not as much about the size but how well you apply those capabilities. Like bees, we would rely less on central control to drive the wargame decisions and emphasize small groups with decentralized processes.

As the best site generated more interest, the bee numbers increased at that site until enough bees at the location triggered an instinctual control mechanism for the other bees to abandon their scouting; the decision was made. The bee colony selected the best out of the five locations without any individual bee visiting more than one site, and without a ‘king bee’ directing the decision for the group. How does this relate to a military hierarchy selecting Afghan security force compositions against a variety of possible future threat environments?

Just as there were five new colony locations with some positive traits in Miller’s article, each security force course-of-action (COA) also had positive traits. Unlike the bee colony that relied on instincts to trigger based on certain set criteria, we instead had our COA evaluation criteria and our group experience in military and police environments. [9] For our military organization, they function similar to how instinct organizes swarm intelligence in hives by establishing basic principles that apply to all of the wargames just as instinct applies to all bees regardless of the local circumstances. Like the bee scouts, we did not know which COA was the best one, and due to how we structured our wargaming, each team of planners only dealt with local conditions as they wargamed each of the five selected possible force structure COA through each of the four future threat scenarios. [10]  Like the bees, we did not allow hierarchy to disrupt the selection process, and instead used collective voting from across the entire planning team. Over time, just as one hive location gathered popular support, our swarm-theory structured wargame methodology drove two particular COAs to the top, with the rest performing adequately or sub-par, and one COA performing poorly. Each COA was evaluated with a hybrid methodology fusing Marine Corps, Joint, and US Army wargame approaches. This included a ‘red team’, ‘green team’, and ‘white team’ for rival, population, and ‘black swan’ events applied to each threat environment. [11]

Essentially, like the bees, we were swarming each potential ‘new hive’ location and applying a fusion of professional experience, extensive discussion, design theory, and military doctrine to determine wargame performances for each COA each of the four future threat environments. Only at the end did we return to the traditional hierarchical structure for senior leadership approval. Figure 13 illustrates an unclassified simplification of our wargaming process by employing the beehive metaphor. In that graphic, the wargame results of each COA illustrated performance within a threat environment with a green, amber, or red arrow. [12] This mimics the methodology and process for our group. Although swarm theory helped establish a different organizing logic for our planning team to conduct this wargame, we did maintain and use traditional planning tools such as a decision support matrix and a series of well-structured decision criteria which proved essential in recording our actions and later analyzing our findings. We stressed the importance of clear and definable measures and the language to articulate in, such as what ‘red’ meant compared to ‘green’ in evaluation. [13] Ultimately, this was not a wild band of planners spouting poetry and reading tea leaves without senior leadership in charge, but a group of military professionals that understood the limitations of the traditional military decision making doctrine, and modified them to meet the improvisational and adaptive nature of design theory to generate discourse that led the team down the best paths of discovery. [14] Design theory fusion with military planning doctrine requires the right balance, and the inherent nature of complex systems demands a uniquely tailored approach every time.

In many ways, our COA wargaming teams featured swarm theory in application, while our collective back-brief and recommendation process followed the traditional military hierarchical structure, albeit with collective group voting and group consensus on all COA recommendations to our senior leadership. Only in the final phase was a senior decision maker briefed all of the COA wargaming results in a traditional COA recommendation briefing in which they approved our recommended COA.

In this sterilized example, COA 1 performed better in more of the four threat environments than the other COAs, however the actual classified wargame employed highly specific and extensive techniques that are irrelevant to demonstrating the process for this article. COA comparison fused swarm theory with collective intelligence of our planning team without employing traditional hierarchical structure or facilitating personal bias of a particular COA due to the localized effects of independent wargame teams. Unlike true swarm theory, our individual planners did brief the results of all wargames for all COAs in a group forum. [15] The results were meticulously recorded on a decision support matrix, with extensive briefing products on the wargame generated for senior decision makers. This hybrid approach appeared to produce benefits from collective and hierarchical based organizational processes. After consolidating our results, we produced a final COA recommendation briefing that formed the core graphics and framework for the subsequent narrative. [16]

‘Tightening Our Shot-Group: Building the Design Deliverable’

This marked our team’s journey into the FINAL DESIGN phase; the swarm inspired wargame resulted in tangible outputs that were presented in a format for senior leaders to support or refine. After being briefed, our leadership accepted the wargame results and submitted them to yet higher levels. After some further guidance and questions, we reassembled the planning team and returned to wargame the process with two additional directed COAs based on subsequent higher refinement and additional questions. [17] After completing the last additional wargame sessions, we maintained our primary recommendation, and our design deliverable was committed to a final narrative with additional sections explaining the additional COA results. [18] Some more controversial applications of design such as the swarm theory fusion into the wargame were kept to select individuals and the language was often simplified to avoid rejection of design approaches. In my experiences with design theory and the military, the greater the divide in vocabulary and concepts, the more likely that the design deliverable will require significant revision prior to organizational acceptance. 

Each of the wargamed courses of action functioned within a future threat environment that reflected a combination of the core tensions. As we explored these environments and developed a deeper understanding of them, our planning team continued to refine the COAs and considered each security force composition not only within its original threat environment model, but also within the other four other variations.  Thus, each tailored composition of Army, Air Force, and Police forces was evaluated in the five different potential threat environments with an overall assessment subsequently performed with established evaluation criteria. In this way, the wargaming process and evaluation criteria represented the formal planning doctrine associated with the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) and the Joint Operational Planning Process (JOPP).

The swarm theory application yielded some useful outcomes for our planning team because it broke with the traditional hierarchical and centralized decision making in military doctrine, and opted for a fusion of collective intelligence, local-condition decision making, and social production of knowledge through independent wargame groups as they simulated various Afghan security force packages through the various threat environments.[19] The collectively agreed upon terminology, language, and organizing logic that the group established prior to the wargame proved critical in maintaining order and structure for the right balance of swarm theory with military planning logic. As mentioned earlier, many professionals in NTM-A assumed that a larger police force would be necessary in the Afghan future threat environment due to counterinsurgency theory and doctrine. Although one of the force packages featured this large police force, it did not perform as expected which was both a surprise and a testament to the effectiveness of swarm theory in marginalizing institutional bias within an organization. As our planning team reflected on the wargame results, we learned that the quality and capability of the Army, Police, and Air Force elements within each force package mattered more than size alone. Furthermore, how each element balanced the other in each threat environment helped the planning team appreciate the complexity of the system as well as the emergent tendencies as the wargame progressed. Unlike a rigid turn-based wargame procedure that was susceptible to both group-think and centralized control, fusing swarm theory with a modified wargame approach led the team to a FINAL DESIGN that they deeply understood, and could articulate to their organization and senior leadership to convey that understanding effectively. [20]

Conclusions: Design Theory May Help, or May Hurt Our Current Force

Although the details and results of the planning team’s FINAL DESIGN recommendation reflect ongoing military operations and are unnecessary for this article’s purpose, the examples and concepts provided in this chapter help illustrate an example of applying design theory to a real-world combat application. While the logic for demanding evidence that “shows how design works” has little bearing on whether design theory has potential for military professionals, our own military institutionalism may need design practitioners to offer up articles like this to stimulate valuable discourse. The more pressing issue for this article is whether design helps or hurts the military decision making process for the current force. [21]

When faced with an uncertain and vague problem that senior leadership required to be answered within the formal deliverables associated with military decision-making processes, this planning team applied design theory and adapted military doctrine to produce a unique and tailored solution. We first used critical thinking to reach highly abstract perspectives to gain valuable insight on the environment, which then aided them in identifying core tensions.  From these tensions, our team used a hybrid application of scenario planning to relate multiple tensions within a context that made sense to the team, while generating deeper understanding beyond what military doctrine offered alone. Yet we withheld some design concepts from the larger planning group, and we modified or re-packaged many design terms, language, and concepts for group acceptance.[22]

Is it healthy for a military organization to conduct planning exercises where some or even many members of a process are unaware of the organizing logic driving their progress, or does our results-oriented institution accept swarm theory fusion into traditional wargaming? Must the military hierarchical structure endure in all environments, or can we marginalize it at times to promote collective intelligence and collaborative thinking regardless of rank, position, and experience? A more demanding question might be whether our professional military education system is willing and able to implement any of these concepts across the full spectrum of military planning. This would include the critical staff training elements such as the Mission Training Complex, National Training Centers, and all professional military schools that teach planning. Design theory requires more than a few classes on the limited design doctrine and a PowerPoint presentation by an instructor that may not fully understand design theory either. [23]

Some elements used in the design bricolage by our planning team were either discarded later or eliminated due to conflict with the larger military organization.[24] Others were accepted, although much of the conceptual work remained in the “back room” or draped with traditional narratives and doctrinal terminology in order to remain palatable to the broader operational and strategic audience.[25]  Many of the graphics within this two-part series are difficult to explain due to their primary function as process-oriented graphics for a small design team. At a minimum, readers should consider these graphics within their context, and by no means be mistake them for a ‘paint by numbers’ approach. This risks making design application assimilated into standardized military planning.[26]

If our military institution is unable or unwilling to adapt our professional military education system to incorporate design theory in ways that critically and creatively challenge how we fundamentally think, and think about thinking, then design theory may actually hurt our planning efforts. Even temporarily marginalizing or disassembling core tenets such as our hierarchical structure and preferred logic may be too risky for many military organizations. [27]

Introducing innovations that pull from diverse and eclectic theories such as post-modern philosophy, swarm theory, and scenario planning might create more confusion in the hands of young and inexperienced planners at all levels. With our preference to seek indoctrination of useful concepts and our penchant for mass-producing trends and buzz-words into bureaucratic lexicon, we might be our own worst enemies unless we critically think about how we think, and why. [28] Perhaps with critical introspection, subsequent educational and professional reform might occur that supports appropriate design theory fusion with hybrid military planning concepts.[29]

Over subsequent months the results of our design theory inspired analysis continued to pay dividends and demonstrate that our planning team had really gained valuable insight and understanding by exploring abstract considerations and holistic tensions at the beginning of the journey. We had not only made a recommendation based on sound logic and a deep appreciation of a complex and dynamic system, but we generated a design deliverable that resonated with the military organization as well as at the strategic, national, and international levels.[30] The preferred course of action prevailed even when tens of ‘alternate COA’ were suggested by outside observers as better solutions to the problem. Each of these suggestions were subsequently put through the same process and organizing logic of the original wargame and did not perform as well as the recommended force package. This robustness stems from the deeper understanding of the future operating environment gained from abstracting the complexity, and from the ability to articulate ‘why’ the preferred COA is best able to address the fundamental challenges facing the security of the Afghan government and its people. Although undoubtedly over time, the COA will evolve and change as subsequent planning teams move it from the conceptual to detailed planning with all necessary branch plans and sequels, the fundamental organizing logic and ‘why’ will endure in future modifications.

With the conclusion of this two-part series, as Coalition Forces coordinate with Afghan partners on the next step forward in Afghan security force considerations for the future.  Our team produced design deliverables that established a narrative and conveyed a recommendation that had a structured organizing logic associated with its creation. For better or worse, military planners applied design theory to military decision making in a hybridized approach. Those results form the foundation for subsequent dialogue and many more planning efforts for the Coalition and Afghan leadership alike.  

Our design effort took a highly ambiguous and complex question from strategic leadership and through hybrid design and military planning approach; we generated a deliverable that provided the necessary military decision making to move Coalition and strategic discourse forward on a challenging issue. We did not design any final answer for Afghan security forces but our work moved our organizations toward the next series of engagements and subsequent planning efforts. Those next efforts will build upon the existing results, and more detailed planning should emerge as a subsequent output. This entire design process, like the results themselves, is entirely unique to this particular wicked problem. Readers should not attempt to codify any of the processes in this article series nor should they force similar approaches against other unique and complex scenarios. Complexity demands an appreciation far beyond generic or codified procedures. This problem set for establishing a viable future Afghan security force was like a client in need of a new suit. Instead of reaching for an ‘off the rack’ solution, our planning team tailored a unique suit that fit the client, but will likely be ill-fitting for others. Future military problems will likely require more custom tailoring, and fewer mass-produced ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches.

[1] The author would like to thank Dr. Christopher Paparone (Colonel, retired, USA), Colonel Ricky Nussio (U.S. Army), Lieutenant Colonel Alistair Dickie (Australian Army), and Major Jason Galui (U.S. Army) for their editing and assistance in preparing this article series.  

[2] The examples provided in this article are devoid of any tactical or operationally sensitive material and only provide the conceptual applications of design theory for academic considerations.  This is an unclassified account of that planning team’s actions, improvisations, and journey to fuse design theory with traditional military decision-making to create a useful output for execution.  This article shows one way of applying design theory- one of an infinite variety that transform as our organizational knowledge continues to expand. 

[3] On understanding complex systems, see: Ludwig von Bertalanffy, General System Theory; Foundations, Development, Applications, (New York: George Braziller, 1968 ).  See also: Donald A. Schon, Educating the Reflective Practitioner, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987 ); See also: Peter Checkland and John Poulter, Learning for Action; A short Definitive Account of Soft Systems Methodology and its use for Practitioners, Teachers, and Students, (England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2006).

[4] United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Field Manual 5-0; The Operations Process (Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2010). See also: United States Marine Corps, Department of the Navy, Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication (MCDP) 5, Planning  (Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, Washington D.C. July 1997). See also: United States Department of Defense, Joint Publication 5-0; Joint Operation Planning (26 December 2006).

[5] John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, Swarming and the Future of Conflict (RAND National Defense Research Institute, 1996), 31. “For professional military organizations and officers almost everywhere, the decisive incentives accrued to the development of bigger institutional hierarchies and weapon systems, in eras when information and communication systems were improving but still remained quite slow, centralized, and cumbersome- all of which favored the continued development of mass and maneuver approaches to warfare.” Current wargame methodology still supports this mass-maneuver logic for military decision-making.

[6] Andrew Kubik, Swarming: the Art of 21st Century Warfare (Small Wars Journal, January 2012); last accessed: 22 February 2012). Kubik provides an example of a military author interested in swarm theory applications, but does not appear to articulate swarm integration effectively based on the reader comments. This footnote directs readers to both Kubik’s article and the associated comments for consideration on the tension regarding swarm theory and tangible military applications.

[7] Peter Miller, The Genius of Swarms (National Geographic Magazine , July 2007). Miller cites the work of Thomas Seeley, a biologist at Cornell University. Seeley’s team marked each of the 4,000 honey bees and ran several experiments on new hive selection. See also: John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, Swarming and the Future of Conflict (RAND National Defense Research Institute, 1996). The RAND study provides insight into Swarm Theory, but also warns against the military taking too aggressive a stance in making organizational changes. They present several military applications for Swarm Theory.

[8] United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Field Manual 3-24; Counterinsurgency (Headquarters, Department of the Army June 2006). FM 3-24 links securing the population with other lines of effort such as economic recovery and government legitimacy.

[9] Specific COA evaluation criteria are not included in this discussion; however, any example criteria are sufficient to apply within this overarching wargame process.

[10] Although we had begun the analysis developing five possible force structures against five possible threat scenarios, we ended up analyzing the five force structures against four of the future threat scenarios due to one of the future threat scenarios later being considered unfeasible.

[11] United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Field Manual 3-0; Operations, (Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2001 and Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations, II-2 as well as FM and JP 5-0 for US Army and Joint planning doctrine. For USMC planning, see also: United States Marine Corps, Department of the Navy, Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication (MCDP) 5, Planning, (Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, Washington D.C. July 1997); See also: John Brown, (Edited by Michael Krause, Cody Phillips), The Maturation of Operational Art; Historical Perspectives of the Operational Art, (Center of Military History, United States Army, 2007; For ‘black swan events’, see also: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan, (New York: Random House, 2007).

[12] In the actual war-game we considered not just an overall level of performance for each COA in each threat environment, but a consideration of how the COA performed across all of the strategic tasks or roles that Afgan security forces will face. In this way, we fused swarm theory with the traditional structure of military decision making doctrine.

[13] Gary Jason, Critical Thinking: Developing an Effective System Logic, (San Diego State University: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2001) 83. Jason discusses the pitfalls of language by exploring ‘verbosity and jargon’ in chapter six. Planning teams must all agree upon terminology and what words mean, even if they must create a new lexicon.

[14] Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse; Essays in Cultural Criticism, (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1978) 4. “A discourse moves “to and fro” between received encodations of experience and the clutter of phenomena which refuses incorporation into conventionalized notions of “reality,” “truth,” or “possibility”…it is always as much about the nature of interpretation itself as it is about the subject matter which is the manifest occasion of its own elaboration.”

[15] Had individual wargame teams merely submitted their results without knowing other wargame outcomes, they would be closer to achieving actual swarm theory in practice. This was impractical for our objectives and team dynamics.

[16] There were several additional wargames with new force compositions after the initial results based on further engagements with senior leadership; however, the details of those classified results do not alter the design process of the original wargame or the intent of this article series.

[17] We immediately considered one directed COA as unfeasible due to a high number of planning assumptions required. We explained the conditions, framed the logic supporting our conclusions, and requested these multiple planning assumptions to be answered in order for any future wargaming.

[18] This narrative included as attachments our scenario methodology and our wargame process, although much of the design theory reduced to streamline the narrative. On the concepts of narratives and language, see: Paul Ricoeur, (Translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer) Time and Narrative, Volume 3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); See also: Peter Novick, That Noble Dream (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988); See also: Hayden White, The Content of the Form (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1987).

[19] Paris Tech Review Editors, “It’s a Wiki Wiki World, Wikipedia and the Rise of a New Mode of Production,” Paris Tech Review (February 2011; accessed March 20, 2012). The editors of this article use the term ‘social production model’ and relate it to decentralized social knowledge collaborations such as Wikipedia.

[20] Richard Hughes, Robert Ginnett, Gordon Curphy, Leadership; Enhancing the Lessons of Experience, Fourth Edition, (McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2002) 298. “Preserving a comfortable, harmonious group environment becomes a hidden agenda that tends to suppress dissent, conflict, and critical thinking.” If traditional wargame structure prevents dissent due to our hierarchical structure, swarm theory offers one possible solution.

[21] The current force has limited practical and academic awareness of design due to it only being explored at PME institutions such as the U.S. Army School for Advanced Military Studies (SAMs) which comprises a fraction of all available PME curriculums. For SAMs Design curriculum information, see: Stefan J. Banach, Educating by Design; Preparing Leaders for Complex World (Military Review, March-April 2009) last accessed: 06 March 2012.

[22] Mats Alvesson, Dan Karreman, Constructing Mystery: Empirical Matters in Theory Development (Academy of Management Review; 2007, Vol. 32, No. 4, 1265-1281) 1265. The authors frame theory development with the assumption that “something is going on out there and there may be better or worse ways of addressing things, but also that the frameworks, pre-understandings, and vocabularies are central in producing particular versions of the world.” When the frameworks of your organization resist your design approach, it likely involves each of the components the authors describe.  

[23] In both my own experiences with professional military education, national training centers, and the Mission Training Complex (formerly known as the Battle Command Training Center), design theory is largely ignored or taught in a very superficial and cursory manner. Many trainers exclaim that “teaching a staff MDMP is hard enough, and now you want to add design?”

[24] Mats Alvesson, Jorgen Sandberg, Generating Research Questions Through Problematization, (Academy of Management Review, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2011), 259. Alvesson and Sandberg ask “how can assumptions be challenged without upsetting dominant groups, which hold them so strongly that they ignore the critique or even prevent one’s study from being published?”

[25] Mail Foreign Service, 'When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war:' US generals given baffling PowerPoint presentation to try to explain Afghanistan mess’ Mail Online News ( Last accessed: March 23, 2012).  The infamous ‘Afghan Mess’ slide represents exactly the sort of planning product that must remain behind closed doors and never briefed to decision makers or an organization.

[26] Jeff Conklin, Wicked Problems and Social Complexity, (CogNexus Institute, 2008. , 8. Conklin explains how no two complex problems are alike, and each understanding and approach to them must be customized to the environment.

[27] Richard Hughes, Robert Ginnett, Gordon Curphy, Leadership; Enhancing the Lessons of Experience, Fourth Edition, (McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2002) 298. “Preserving a comfortable, harmonious group environment becomes a hidden agenda that tends to suppress dissent, conflict, and critical thinking.”

[28] Gary Jason, Critical Thinking: Developing an Effective System Logic, (San Diego State University: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2001) 83. Jason covers ‘verbosity and jargon’ and how organizations communicate.

[29] United States Marine Corps, Department of the Navy, Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication (MCDP) 5, Planning, (Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, Washington D.C. July 1997), 25. In their own conceptual planning doctrine, the Marines warn that a detriment to planning for military organizations is “the tendency for institutionalized planning methods to lead to inflexible or lockstep thinking and for planning and plans to become rigid and overly emphasize procedures…attempts to [institutionalize planning] will necessarily restrict intuition and creativity.”

[30] AFP, ‘West to Pay Afghan Military $4bn a Year’ The Times of India (March 22, 2012) last accessed: March 22, 2012).  Although the article confirms that nothing was final about the future ANSF, President Karzai’s public acknowledgement of the plan to build a sustainable and affordable security force demonstrates a critical international first step.


Categories: NTM-A - MDMP - MCPP - JOPP - design - Afghanistan

About the Author(s)

Ben Zweibelson is the Program Director for Design and Innovation at the Joint Special Operations University and is a doctoral student at Lancaster University. A retired U.S. Army Infantry officer and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Ben has provided design education across USSOCOM, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Government, academia and industry as well as internationally. He was named “design conference ambassador” for the second year in a row for the upcoming IMDC, and has recently lectured on design at the Polish and Danish War Colleges, the Canadian Forces College, NATO Schools at Oberammergau, the National Counterterrorism Center, the IBM capstone SPADE conference for NATO in Copenhagen, as well as numerous Special Operations and strategic level defense assets in 2018. He resides in Tampa, Florida with his wife and three children. He can be reached at