Small Wars Journal

A Conceptual Framework of Organizational Capability Assessment for Advisors

Wed, 02/02/2022 - 12:15pm

A Conceptual Framework of Organizational Capability Assessment for Advisors


Aaron R. Byrd, Ph.D., PE, M. Qasem Amiry, Eng.



A key task of advisors is understanding capabilities and capacity of the organizations whose leaders we are advising. In a ministerial context, there are generally a set of strategic capabilities that each functional directorate is responsible for. Similarly, each functional directorate has a set of organizational capabilities. Organizational capability is a composite of individual capabilities that are woven together to create a cohesive functional role at the organization level. While individual functional area leads are responsible for managing and ensuring the functionality of individual capabilities, the executive/strategic leadership of the organization is responsible for creating the appropriate composition of capabilities.

In order to understand how to assist our counterparts with managing and creating organizational capabilities, we first need a conceptual framework of a capability assessment that can assist advisors in framing the multiple components of what constitutes a capability. A SIGAR report also commented on this lack of a common understanding:

“The U.S. government was ill-prepared to conduct [Security Sector Assistance] programs of the size and scope required in Afghanistan. The lack of commonly understood terms, concepts, and models undermined interagency communication and coordination, damaged trust, intensified frictions, and contributed to under-resourcing of the U.S. effort to develop the [Afghan National Security Defense Forces].” (SIGAR 2019)

There is a strong need to create a conceptual framework for organizational capability assessment that enables a common understanding and language of what is an organizational capability and the elements that create the capability. The challenge is to define this framework in terms that result in meaningful methods and metrics for Train, Advise and Assist (TAA) efforts.

Elements of the Capability Assessment Conceptual Model

The conceptual framework presented here has 14 components. It is built around, but expands on, the DOTMLPF-P concepts outlined in the United States Department of Defense’s Joint Capabilities Integrated Development System (JCIDS). While it uses these concepts from JCIDS, the focus here is on a conceptual framework for critical thinking, not forms and formal process documentation.

Organizational Lead – The component seeks to clarity the most critical aspect of the organization – the organizational lead responsible to oversee and deliver the capability. Who is THE person (organizational position) responsible for the organizational capability? Without a clearly identified lead, the capability will always lack a clear and guiding leadership direction. In many organizations the individual is referred to as the sponsor or champion.

Organizational Support – This component seeks to clarify and identify organizational dependencies and clarify supporting vs. supported roles. Who are the supporting elements of the organization? For example, if the capability depends on supplies from the logistics directorate, the logistics directorate is one of the supporting organizations. Define both the supporting organizations and their responsibility in the delivery of the capability.

Advising Lead – This component looks at the advising environment and determines who is has the TAA responsibility to ensure the generation of the capability. Who is the lead advisor for the capability? Which organization (albeit military/coalition, international/civilian, academia, or non-profits) or is responsible for training, advising, and assisting the capability?

Doctrine – This component seeks to understand and clarify the purpose and role of the capability. What formal strategic guidance and vision has been created to formally state the need for the capability and lay out the intent of the capability that meets the needs of the government or citizens? This may range from a ministerial cipher to a formal strategic document. This formal doctrine should define the scope of the capability, and what is outside the scope, to ensure clarity of intent and to limit scope creep.

Organization – This component examines the structure of the organization required to deliver the capability. What is the organizational structure needed for capability? What are the sub-units and the leadership structure? This structure enables tasking cohesion and manpower needs. There are multiple types of organizational structure. Flat organizations have minimal structure and depend on individual efforts at forming teams and solving problems. Functional organizations are organized by functional specialties. For example, a facilities directorate could have mechanical engineers as one team and civil engineers as another team. Divisional organizations are composed of multiple similar sub-units that typically have a geographic span of control. There are a wide number of permutations and combinations to these forms – matrix, team, project, etc. It is helpful to think through key principles related to organizational design – job design, departmentation, delegation, span of control, and chain of command – and how those impact the function of the organization.

Training – This component examines skill development and currency.  How are personnel trained to do their jobs? Is specialized training needed? How well trained are the current team members? Are there specialized software and information technology systems that the staff need to use? Where and when in the career of the staff can or do they receive the necessary training? If team members are not trained, are there opportunities for them to be trained?  How is training tied to career advancement?

Materiel – This component looks at the ongoing material needs to keep the capability up and running. What materiel support is needed? Food? Clothing? Ammunition? Transportation? Office Supplies? Computers? Radios? Network access? Internet access?

Information Technology – This component looks at the information needs of the capability. What information is generated, what information is stored, and what information is used for decisions? Where and how is the information stored? Is it in paper form or in digital form? Is it on a server or on individual computers? Is there a need for an enterprise IT solution to support the capability? How is the data and systems secured? What are the backup, disaster recovery, and continuity of operations plans? Are the information technology platforms compatible with the skill level of the personnel using them? What information is needed to inform decisions, but not available?

Leadership – This section is about leadership skills as well as the development of the next generation of leaders. How are leaders selected? What are the skill sets the leaders need? What skill sets are needed by the leadership staff? How and where is the training done to develop new leaders? How is the next generation of leaders developed? Are the deputies being trained on organizational leadership? Can the deputies continue to keep the organization going in the absence of the organizational leader? In a national context where organizational leaders are politically appointed, it is very unlikely that new leaders will have the ability to quickly take lead of the organization in a meaningful way that creates continuity. In this case, the leadership capabilities of the deputies are even more critical. A good resource to assist in assessing leadership skill is the article “A Culture-Independent Conceptual Model of Organizational Leadership for Advisors”.

Personnel – This section is about managing human resources and is focused on employees’ career cycle (hiring to post retirement.) Does the organization have enough personnel, whether they are currently trained, and how new personnel will be brought onboard? If specialized skills are required, how will people with those skills be recruited? What is the impact on the organization or capability in terms of institutional knowledge and capability if it was to lose any one person? How long does it take to fill vacant positions? A capability without sufficient personnel is a hollow organization that will not be able to make meaningful progress across the breadth of its assigned activities.

Facilities – What facilities are necessary to enable, deliver and maintain the capability? Is it just some office space for staff, or are there specialized equipment that need a dedicated space, storage space for materiel (used or produced), dedicated functional spaces, or other infrastructure that are needed? If there is a requirement for IT servers, where will they be housed? What security, IT, gender, storage, etc. needs do the facilities need to include? Do the current facilities provide sufficient space, power, heating/cooling, water closets/bathrooms etc.? There are generally three types of facilities operational efforts: A) operations, maintenance, and repairs (keep the facilities working as they are); B) renovations (upgrades to the facility, either small or large, that modify the facility to meet changing functional needs); C) new construction (build entirely new facilities, either to replace aging facilities that would be cost-ineffective to repair/renovate, or to meet dramatically changing functional needs.)

Processes, Policies, and Procedures – How are current processes, policies, and procedures documented and shared so they can be learned quickly and improved on? Are there formal documents? How are policies and procedures reviewed and updated? A sub-section of this component is cyber security polices, processes, and procedures related to the IT requirements.

Intra-Organizational Integration – How does the management of the organizational unit enable the sub-elements to work together? How does formal and informal communication happen within the organization? What battle rhythm events does the management use to synchronize and align the members of the organization? How well does the leader establish priorities and intent, manage roles and responsibilities, and enable the team to grow through the stages of team development into a high-performing team?

Inter-Organizational Integration –This element looks at the capability in terms of the other organizational capabilities. What is the role this capability plays in relationship to other organizational capabilities? What are the key outputs of this capability that are inputs to other capabilities? Likewise, how do other organizational capabilities provide inputs into this capability? If this capability can change and improve how it works and what it does, how does that impact other organizational capabilities? How is internal competition for resources managed?

Example of Organization Capability Assessment

To illustrate the organizational capability assessment framework, we would like to apply it to creating a capability for generator repair within the previous Afghanistan Ministry of Interior Affairs (MOI). Prior to the fall of Kabul, the MOI had an estimated 1200-1800 generators in its fleet of generators across the country. It did not, however, have the capability of repairing their generators and was dependent upon the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A) for generator repairs.

The assessment framework assists in framing the questions that need to be thought through to create the capability. For this example, we will lay out the questions that would then need to be posed at a capability design workshop that involves the relevant MOI stakeholders. This paper was developed prior to the fall of Kabul, so the questions are posed in that context.


Capability Assessment Element

Generator Repair capability

Organizational Lead

Who is the person who oversees the generator repair program and coordinates the activity of the various parts?

Organizational Support

Which organizations provide information on generators? Which organizations are responsible for overseeing the actual repairs?

Advising Lead

Which advisors can provide training and insight on generator maintenance? Is there a dedicated advisor or is there an advisory reachback capability to find someone who can provide advice on generator repairs?


What formal documents are needed to create the organizational capability and formalize the relationship between the supported and supporting elements? This is where roles and responsibilities are formalized. A key question the doctrine needs to answer is how centralized vs decentralized of generator repair. Will the subordinate units be responsible for identifying generators in need of repair and working with whoever is responsible for the repair mechanism, or will the identification and prioritization of generators to be repairs be a centralized function? Will there need to be a set of spare generators that can be used in place of generators being repaired?


Once the management style (centralized vs decentralized) is identified, then the organization framework can be mapped out. Who will be responsible for identifying and managing information about the generators? Who will be responsible for managing the repair efforts? Will the repair efforts be contracted out or will there be a staff at MOI responsible for generator repairs?


The central skill needed is generator repair of all makes and sizes. How strongly the MOI leadership feels they can create and sustain a cadre of trained generator mechanics will strongly impact the doctrinal approach to generator repairs. Related skill sets include the ability to assess generators to determine if minor or major repairs, a top-end or full overhaul is needed, or if it is more economical to replace the generator. Will MOI want to organically build these capabilities, and if so, where will the training on generator assessment and repair come from? Ancillary training will need to occur for generator identification and reporting as well as initiating the generator assessment and repair process.


If an organic capability is desired, then the replacement parts and materiel to run a repair shop will be needed. If MOI needs to move generators, then flatbed trucks with cranes that can lift and transport the largest size of generators will be needed

Information Technology

How will the generator inventory and assessments be stored so they can be used for decisions on generator repairs? Will there be a database, spreadsheet, or will paper forms be used? If a database, who will need access to the database? How will the database/spreadsheet/paper forms integrate into existing database inventory IT solutions? Will information on generator maintenance factor into repair decisions, and thus need to be recorded? If so, how will that information be stored?


Managing the flow of information and the repairs needed will require someone who can integrate a range of team members’ skills. Project management, budgeting, cost assessment and auditing skills will be useful. Who will see how the processes will run, so that someone can step in if need be?


Who are the people who will need to fulfill the various organizational components created above? If the provincial level units need to work with the central level units, who at those units will be responsible, and how much time/capacity do they have to work this new capability? At the central level, who will fulfill the various functional components? If it requires contracting, who will manage the contract? If it requires organic generator repair, who will oversee and manage the staff doing the repairs? How many mechanics are needed? If MOI needs to transport generators, who will drive the trucks? Who will manage the information and the information technology system? Who will enter the data on the 1200-1800 generators? Who will make the decisions on which generators to repair, and which are lower priority? If a generator yard is needed to supply backup generators, who is managing that capability?


The facilities needed will vary with the doctrinal approach taken to the capability. If an organic capability is required, then facilities for the repair of the generators will be required. Could existing logistics/maintenance facilities be improved to have the required capability? Similarly, if a contracted generator repair is the desired approach, the contract should consider how facilities play into the ability of the contractor to repair the generators. For example, would a contractor be able to transport a generator from Helmand to Kabul for repairs, or would Helmand’s generators never be repaired?

Policies, Procedures, Processes

What is the process (flow chart style) for a generator to be identified, assessed for repairs, and then repaired? What are the decision points? What policies and procedures need to be put in place for the process to work? For example, how will a unit know when someone who shows up with a flatbed truck with a crane is actually contracted to remove and repair the generator?

Intra-ogranizational Integration

Building on the procedures outlined, how does information flow between the functional units? For example, how does an assessment that a generator needs to be repaired inform the process to repair the generator? Who is overseeing the communication between the functional units so that generators are appropriately prioritized and not forgotten? Who is ensuring the assessments occur over the breadth of MOI’s generator inventory across the country?

Inter-organizational integration

What is the process or mechanism for generator state of repair (or disrepair) to impact fuel distribution? What about using generator usage and repairs to inform priorities for grid connections?



The framework presented in this paper is an outline on how to assess organizational capabilities. There are wide variety of elements that go into constructing and adapting an organizational capability.  The elements of the framework are useful to guide critical thinking about organizational capability, whether it is an existing capability, or a new capability is being developed. The critical thinking about these capabilities is what will enable clarity on points of need. This clarity will better enable advisors to TAA and ministerial counterparts to utilize the TAA enabling efforts to improve their organization.



Byrd, A., and Braden, M. (2020) “A Culture-Independent Conceptual Model of Organizational Leadership for Advisors.” Small Wars Journal, Accessed 25 February 2021.

Defense Acquisition University (2021), “JCIDS Documents”. Accessed 25 February 2021.

SIGAR (2019). “Divided Responsibility: Lessons from U.S. Security Sector Assistance Efforts in Afghanistan.” Accessed 11 August 2020.

SHRM (2015). “Understanding Organizational Structures.” Society for Human Resource Management, Accessed 6 May 2021.

About the Author(s)

Mr. M. Qasem Amiry was the General Director of the MOI Facilities Directorate. He led an engineering staff of 360+ to maintain, repair, and renovate 1100+ facilities across Afghanistan. He was responsible for the facility master planning for MOI and oversaw an annual construction program of approximately $30M.

Dr. Aaron R. Byrd, P.E., was a Ministry of Defense Advisor (MoDA) with the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan. He was advising for over two years as the lead engineer advisor for MOI.