Small Wars Journal

The Logic and Method of Collaborative Design

Wed, 05/12/2010 - 1:14pm
The Logic and Method of Collaborative Design

by Brigadier General Huba Wass de Czege

Download the full article: The Logic and Method of Collaborative Design

The logic and method of design outlined in this paper is first and foremost a collective research methodology for considering the best available information to make sense of what is known in order to construct an explicit and shared hypothesis of the very unique, dynamic and complex power and influence networks that pertain to the mission and how to act through them to take best advantage of the inherent situational potential for change. It is also a collective methodology for continually refining the command's understanding of them, and for facilitating collective adaptation accordingly.

In a fundamental way, "design" is deciding what, in this particular mission case, is the "right" thing to do. In other words, it is imposing a logical structure over a very messy and hard to understand situation. When that logical structure is not self-evident it must be imposed on the situation by a conscious command decision, one that needs to be made before any deliberate, coherent or purposeful action can be taken, one that settles on an explicit formulation of the way the mission world is assumed to function and of how to exploit the potential for positive change within it. But modern military operational design is also a greater continuous collective and cyclical thought process for testing and transforming any and all previous "designs" as the mission context evolves over the span of a campaign.

It is increasingly difficult to write doctrine for the variety of mission situations that we can encounter today. Historical experience provides us examples that are often more different than similar to the mission contexts we face. For instance, an uncritical and formulaic imposition of the doctrinally prescribed aims and lines of operations drawn from the recently published COIN manual would be imposing a foreign logic upon a unique situation. We need a way to test the applicability of accumulated wisdom in all of its forms, and transform what we think we know into newer more applicable wisdom tailored to the mission at hand. A critical and collaborative design inquiry by the unit's command team does that.

Download the full article: The Logic and Method of Collaborative Design

Huba Wass de Czege is a retired U.S. Army brigadier general. During his career as an infantry officer, he served two tours in Vietnam and gained staff experience at all levels up to assistant division commander. General Wass De Czege was a principal designer of the operational concept known as AirLand Battle. He also was the founder and first director of the Army's School for Advanced Military Studies where he also taught applied military strategy. After retiring in 1993, General Wass De Czege became heavily involved in the Army After Next Project and served on several Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency v advisory panels. He is a 1964 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and holds an MPA from Harvard University.

About the Author(s)

Huba Wass de Czege, Brigadier General, USA Ret., an independent military theorist, is a veteran of ground combat in Vietnam, and command at all levels through brigade and assistant division command. He founded the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, KS. As a special strategic policy assistant to the NATO SACREUR and Secretary General, he helped formulate the strategy to end the Cold War.


MAJ Chris Isgrig

Thu, 05/20/2010 - 10:41pm

There is a lot wrong with this article. Anything that can't be explained in clear simple language just is not anything worth while. If it can be explained in a few lines of clear and simple words then why was it not?

Its a issue of semantics as well as if the semantics used will allow the document to become something that adds to the cumulative knowledge, that can be used to create a greater whole or if its is just a collection of pedantic purple prose (A lot of fancy talk about small trivial things)

oldpapajoe (not verified)

Thu, 05/20/2010 - 7:37am

Ken White

Thank you for the information and insight

Ken White (not verified)

Wed, 05/19/2010 - 8:59am


Yes on the bureaucracy, not sure on the NEA. If <b>Selil</b> isn't busy, he'd probably know. It's still fighting the bureaucracy -- in TRADOC among other places. Old DACs don't like their rice bowls threatened.

Plus OBTE is harder on and requires better qualified instructors. It will also will take more time -- time is money and we do not like to spend money on training; better to buy toys (sez the Congress...)

It is not a panacea, it is an improvement. Training is hard but we do it better in most senses than we used to. However, we still need to significantly increase the time and scope initial entry training, Officer and Enlisted. It would help to stop tabbing out the tasks that are time consuming and those with with low 'Go' rates to unit instruction in order to make the schools and centers look good and save them money.

/S/ Ken White the Unfortunately Anonymous on occasion...

oldpapajoe (not verified)

Wed, 05/19/2010 - 8:45am


OK got your point and passion for the subject. Thanks. I am correct in understanding that OBT&E was the rage in civilian education in the 1980s but failed to take hold because of the bureaucracy of the NEA?

marct (not verified)

Mon, 05/17/2010 - 4:50pm

Personally, I think it's a really good article, and I'm going to be assigning it this summer. Part of the reason is that it does set out why design is different from planning (Sorry MikeF!). The difference, at least as I understand his conceptualization of it, lies in the epistemological (and ontological) assumptions; they are assumed in planning and tested in design (at least in theory ;-)).

BTW, with all due respect, Bob, I wouldn't equate it, again in theory, with "paint-by-numbers" (PBN) so much as technical drafting using a grid system. PBN gives you both the picture and where to colour it, while grid training says "hey, there's a picture out there, this system will help you cut it into small, easily replicable pieces". As a system, i think it's more "grid" style, although my gut guess is that it is being taught as a PBN.

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 05/17/2010 - 3:38pm

Sigh. This EZ Access doesn't do well for old Dudes...

The 1435 Anonymous is me. :(

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 05/17/2010 - 3:35pm


I'm far more familiar with BTMS than I'd like to be. I was at a TRADOC installation when I retired from Active duty and later went to work there as a DAC. I was there at the birth -- and in fact, had talked to Dupuy about the fallacy of the idea then gestating when he had earlier visited Korea. I did mange to convince him that having track Vehicle Mechanics schooled at three installations was creating problems in that the same MOS was held by persons who knew only Infantry, Armor or Artillery vehicles, school dependent. He got that changed, they all went to Knox and learned all the vehicles.

Unfortunately, the bureaucracy and the many civilian educators (NOT trainers, a salient point) hired by TRADOC were off and running with a flawed system. In fairness, it was marginally appropriate for the recruits of the mid-70s and the remnants of McNamaras's Project 100,000. After Shy Meyer revamped recruiting and we started recruiting good people, it became a poor system. I have long contended that the BTMS model is good for a mobilizing mass Army with draftees. So shelve it for an emergency and let's do better today for the professionals we now recruit.

The problem is that it was not a good idea. It worked for civilian industry but did not and does not work for training smart individuals who see it as condescending and entirely too stultifying or, more importantly, a force -- and that's the objective of training, to get an employable and competent force. The system teaches discrete tasks well but it does nothing to train the integration of those tasks to accomplish a particular job or mission. the major flaws are the lack of developing an ability to combine 'tasks' and the fact that conditions can vary widely:

Clear a building. Mud hut? Concrete Warehouse? Office Tower? Winter or summer, rainy or clear? Got Flash bangs or not..

We could be considerably more competent than we are even though I acknowledge we're in some aspects -- not all by a long shot -- better trained now than ever before. However, that is solely due to good leaders and commanders doing <b>more</b> than the system says...

The system was yet another attempt to fix our inadequate training by gimmicks rather than paying the money and taking the time to do it right. All the flaws you mention that 'sickened' DuPuy cropped up during the mid and late Viet Nam periods due to abbreviating training. People trained by the Army before and early on during the VN War knew how to do those things. Cutting training time to speed replacements and save money was guilty of shortchanging the folks that exhibited the problems DuPuy noted. Anecdotally, a lot of good NCOs tell me that Joe in 2010 still isn't good at those things sorts of things because of inadequate training time.

The Army is its own worst enemy.

Combat failure in WW II, Korea, Viet Nam and elsewhere was and is due to abbreviated training, particularly inadequate initial entry training for both officer and enlisted. Probably half the deaths I saw in Korea, the Dominican Republic, Viet Nam and elsewhere were due to that flaw. An exacerbating factor is placing the wrong people in jobs due to a terribly flawed personnel system that does not well support the field. Those two factors account for about 80-90% of the problems, the other 10 to 20% are the old combat breaks. Not much can be done about that...

My point is that BTMS and the Task, Condition and Standard methodology is totally unsuitable for a small professional force -- and we have not adapted; are indeed fighting good adaptations like Outcome Based Training and Education.

oldpapajoe (not verified)

Mon, 05/17/2010 - 1:27pm

Task-conditon-standard was adopted to implement a concept called performance based training. The idea was that a soldier had to be able to actually do something to a specific standard (acceptable behavior) based on battle lessons learned. GEN Depuy, the man who brought this to the American army, was sickened by seeing soldiers going into combat that had not been taught a clear standard based on combat conditions for essential combat tasks (e.g. react to direct fire; clearing a jammed weapon, throwing a handgrenade, camouflaging, etc). He was not talking about tactical action based on task-condition-standard, although he thought much of combat failure in WWII and RVN was in part based on technical and tactical incompetence. Now, this analysis may have been based on some civilian idea, but a good idea, adapted to military conditions shouldn't be considered a sin.

Bob's World

Sun, 05/16/2010 - 1:12am

I agree with Ken that we need more artists in the military, but the system rewards technicians, so artists, which are always rare, are more rare still in the US military.

The guys who are working to codify Operational Design are trying to develop the "paint by numbers" version so that any competent technician can replicate something close to what an artist pulls directly from his mind. It is needed, but it is indeed paint by numbers.

As to operational design, I (inadvertantly, I assure you) drove Huba to frustration, and perhaps Shimon as well, as they worked to box me into a particular "logic and method" for doing something that I have been doing in my own way in my head for years. I'm no Michelangelo, but I do tend to stiffen when told to do paint by numbers, and to follow rules that are both strict, yet obtuse at the same time; all wrapped in a confusing new jargon. KISS anyone?

That said, back at our little "operational design studio" on the back corner of USSOCOM, the Commander put together a team of artists and technicians (always needed), gave us broad guidance, and then left us alone to simply think and create. A skunkworks. Amazing concepts and products came out of that back corner office. We had all read the original theories on design, but it was merely informational, not instructive, and certainly not prescriptive. Ironically, the sellers of OD used those products to show other what their methods could produce.

OD is best for creating a broader understanding, a clearer appreciation of the context in which one's operaitons will take place. If my mission is simply to defeat a particular force, or take a certain hill, the Mission Analysis products produced by the intel guys is enough. But if it is to stabilize Afghanistan, or develop a scheme of policy and engagement between the US and some country like Sudan; then the intel guys will lead you sadly wrong. This is where what one "understands" is so much more important than what one "knows".

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 05/14/2010 - 11:31am

<b>Surferbeetle:</b> Heh. We may disagree on the application of business practices to <b><i>combat operations</i></b> but we do not on their application to logistic, engineering -- and Civil Affairs -- among other efforts to include procurement. There is certainly applicability in many functions. However, in the application of armed force in combat as I said, I cannot think of a single business practice (other than hire good people and seek synergies :^) ) that has much use. If you can provide one or some, I'll cheerfully eat the Corvus.

My own experience with systemic rigor is that for some people it's beneficial while for others it is an impediment and that most people fall in between and need it occasionally (Verily, even I...). The issue to me is dictating what and how used as opposed to providing a tool for use as needed. The intent with Design may be to do the latter but the Army implementation is likely to trend toward the former.<blockquote>"...Art is good, and necessary, but it only takes one so far. Yin and yang my friend."</blockquote>Good Artists go further in art based endeavors than do science based artists in the same venue. The Yang is that great artists make poor scientists. There is a place for both Yin and Yang.

My point is that it is not wise to try to produce a Ying, little use for them... ;)

<b>Dave Doyle:</b> "<i>"really good and competent folks" are not ignoring design."</i> Agreed -- they do it intuitively and in their own processing mode. They may pick up an idea or two from the adaptation of it but if they weren't already applying most of the principles, they probably wouldn't be really good and competent.

Don't misunderstand me, almost no process or system is valueless. The issue is the value added by inclusion of the process. Thus my question, did anyone do a cost-benefit study...

<b>Mike F:</b> hits the nail. Commanders need design like thought processes to formulate an intent -- and to approve Staff plans -- they do not need that Staff to get bogged down in the weeds. Design will work, MDMP now works. Both do so at a cost.

The bill is affordable in the current campaigns. However the question is in higher intensity situations against a peer opponent will it still be affordable...

"Looking at design from a commander's perspective brings out even more utility"

That's exactly my interest. Many of us commanders would call that Design for Dummies :).


Fri, 05/14/2010 - 9:27am

The paper highlights many of the aspects of design that are useful for operational plannng. Much of what BG Wass de Czege wrote relates more to Battle Command than a staff level MDMP. Looking at design from a commander's perspective brings out even more utility. For Ken, "really good and competent folks" are not ignoring design.


Fri, 05/14/2010 - 2:29am


You writings are always appreciated, typos or no...and even distracted your grammar and clarity of thought are miles ahead of many of us.

As you know I disagree with your premise that Army, or DoD for that matter, does not benefit from the application of business practices (fad's in your words) in combat operations. I believe that there may be room however for some agreement as to the benefits of business practices that we enjoy in 'non-combat' operations (athough the concept of a rear area is subject to question). I would argue that the two, combat and non-combat operations, can only theoretically be separated. Yin and yang my friend.

Business is a particular human process subject to and hallmarked by change, inovation, and growth just as is an other human process. To walk in the shadows for a moment, I would ask you why are our weapons systems ever more efficient at bringing death? My answer is that business practices have a significant role in this outcome. Let's stroll through the logistics world for a moment; it is not just coinicidence that we are able to project combat power 24 hours a day 7,000 plus miles from our home for coming up on a decade....that result is due to a hell of a supply chain. As we survey the world I would ask you: who else fuses war and business to the degree that we do and who has done so in the past? My answer would include Rome, the Middle Kingdom, the Ottoman's, and....

I enjoyed the BG's paper. I don't claim to understand it all, but do I recognize the business and engineering influences and applaud the attempt at systematic rigour. Art is good,and necessary, but it only takes one so far. Yin and yang my friend.


Ken White (not verified)

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 11:25pm

Sorry for the typos -- I'm the world's most pathetic proofreader and my age and distractions don't go well together...

Ken White (not verified)

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 11:21pm

<b>Mike F:</b>

Very much so IMO. Douglas MacArthur allegedly told John Kennedy that "the Army is promoting all the wrong young officers." Precisely what he meant was not revealed but there was a consensus among many senior people at the time that there was <i>excessive</i> emphasis on advanced degrees and, particularly, advanced Business degrees. Harvard Business School, for example implies that minor fibs that spin the truth are simply good business according to some I've talked to who attended. I'm unsure how that squares with the word between Duty and Country...

We have consistently since Korea adopted the latest business fad. All us old guys recall Organizational Change, followed by Organizational Development and then Organizational Effectiveness. Of course there's also the ever popular and recurring Zero Defects. All these were adopted by the Army and / or DoD to one degree or another. All consumed numerous man hours and all really failed to achieve their announced goals.

So those things plus the Six Sigma bit are of small value. Take this from the Six Sigma Wiki:<blockquote>Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) [1] and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes[2]. It uses a set of quality management methods, including statistical methods[3], and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization ("Black Belts", "Green Belts", etc.) who are experts in these methods.[4]</blockquote>Notes:<br>
[1] The major causes of military error are personnel malassignment, poor training and the Enemy. The first two can be corrected but only to an extent and there is some Six Sigma applicability in the first, only. The third variable cannot be corrected for or even anticipated at all well. It also preclude absolute attainment of totally improving either of the first two simply because as astute enemy will skew them to his advantage. Even the best training can be used against its recipients under some circumstances -- as Sadr City showed.
[2]Armed combat is neither a manufacturing or a business process. The only product should be death and destruction regardless of what the Politically Correct would like to think.
[3]Armed combat is not one bit amenable to metrics and / or the use of numeric inputs or outputs. In fat, in my experience they are detrimental and often cause an improper focus.
[4]Uh, last I checked, that black Belt guy should be the <u>Commander</u>. Period...

There is no combat operation or combat training applicability for these civilian processes (as opposed to Armed Forces industrial, logistic and engineering operations where there may be slight merit).

The Task, condition and Standard stupidity is another prime example. It was adapted from Civilian industry and industrial education and training practices used to train Assembly Line workers -- <b>at a time when assembly lines were disappearing and the mass draftee Army was converting to a professional force</b>...

A prime consideration is that industry doesn't want to spend money training a person any more than is absolutely necessary. The Army corollary was to train people for their next job only. That works in the civilian world where a days run of Eastinghouse Widgettes can be spoiled, still sold if at a discount and also written off taxes.

It does not work in an Army where those remedies aren't available and screwups get people killed needlessly.

We should train every person not just for their next job but for jobs two ranks higher -- because they probably will serve in such positions before they return to school. In a major war, they absolutely will do that and do it in combat. Even in the minor wars of today, a good many do that.

I'm sure there is a civilian industrial or business practice that is applicable to combat operations -- but offhand I cannot think of a single one.


I've appreciated your explanations on the history of and need to revamp our personnel and training functions. I had one question about causal factors leading to where we are at today. Does part of our problem lay in our acceptance of the corporate business model and institutionalizing practices like Six Sigma?

Ken White (not verified)

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 5:14pm

The 1559 Anonymous is me. Grrr...

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 4:59pm

<b>Steve Leonard:</b>

Far be it from me to suggest that MDMP is part of the problem...

My point remains. Put the right people in jobs instead of perpetuating our current farcical personnel system by enabling marginal performers to survive. Yes, I know much of that system and its emphasis on 'merit,' equality and fairness is Congressionally driven -- but a lot is not.

I have for almost 60 years watched the US Army try to convert an art into 'science' in an effort to cater to that 'objective criteria for selection' myth. There have been minor successes -- but at great cost. The system is cumbersome, Staffs are entirely too large, Units under perform because they are not trusted to do their jobs, Commanders cannot command and the Troops think we're nuts. They have a point.

We have become an Army that is process and not results driven. All in an effort to say that any peg with similar education and training can be a round peg.

'Tain't so. Design is an effort to tell people how to think and in what order to think about things, it will help a bit at the cost of yet more complexity. The really good and competent folks will ignore it, it will not help the really poor guys so we have yet another effort to perpetuate mediocrity.

Did anyone do a cost-benefit check?

The Fighting S…

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 2:49pm

Ken -- Design, if applied with some vision and creativity, should go a long way toward driving the MDMP toward solving the right problem in a complex, uncertain situation. What recent experience revealed was that the MDMP remains a great decision making process, but unless the heavy intellectual lifting occurs early on, we tend to be great at solving the wrong problem. Design provides the tools to set the stage for successful MDMP, and ensures the commander is at the heart of that effort.

Bill -- I think that was a compliment to our doctrine writers to bring simplicity to other side of complexity. "Kung Fu Panda" or "Doctrine for Dummies" works well either way. A simple, uncomplicated articulation of Design allows the core ideas to be socialized across the force -- critical and creative thinking, collaboration and dialog, and continuous learning (the "3 Cs" of Design). SAMS is taking the methodology to the next level with a very discreet element of the force. But you are on the mark -- if the ideas can't be explained in plain English, then NO ONE is going to listen. We saw this with EBO, we saw this with SOD.

Ken White (not verified)

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 12:40pm

Hmm. Could that mean the "smart guys at SAMS..." are trying to de-calcify military planning by adding more calcium? ;)

Instead of trying to make an Art into a Science, why not just hire more Artists...


Simply put, yes. But, the reality is a bit more complicated. I think what we're discovering is that our decision making became too rigid over the last two decades. The most abject failure was in our inability to visualize Phase IV operations in Iraq/A'stan. Now, the smart guys at SAMS and elsewhere are trying to figure out how to undo that problem.

William F. Owen

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 10:23am


So what you are saying is that if you have a well trained staff "design" is not needed.
From my perspective "Design" is pure sophistry of the worst sort. Bottom line is design is trying to make "thinking to prevent you doing something stupid" into a complicated process.


From my understanding, the most basic explanation for design as a collective research methodology is the implementation of brainstorming, teamwork, and creativity into the planning process. In essence, design is good planning.

Adaptive and innovative leaders do it intuitively, but it can be unnatural for some.

The hardest part for a commander is separating ego from decision-making and understanding that accepting a competing recommendation from a subordinate does not equate to a loss of one's control. Rather, active listening empowers the commander.

Additionally, it requires a degree of humility and honesty to readily admit things that we don't know- not everything in mission analysis is a fact or assumption. The unknowns drive possible hypothesis to be confirm/denied during intelligence collection and analysis.

I was, however, left questioning this part,

"Design is philosophically different than tactical planning. Principally, whereas tactical planning employs analytical thinking to derive optimized "real world" solutions to an assigned "problem," design employs a combination of analytical, inductive and abductive thinking (much as a doctors diagnosis does) to build a unique cognitive construct that represents the commands best judgment of what needs doing to succeed in the assigned ambiguous mission."

I would disagree. Instead, design, as defined by BG Huba Wass de Czege, IS synonymous with tactical planning. A company commander living in a remote village tasked to perform security and government functions must fundamentally revamp his organizational structure to accommodate the mission.

Communication and decision-making becomes more horizontal than vertical, feedback loops are sometimes difficult to interpret, and the org structure becomes more ad-hoc rather than bureaucratic.

When possible, the commander needs the ability to reach back to receive guidance from command and instruction from subject matter experts specialized in dispute reconciliation and governance.

On the micro-level, that's about as ill-defined as it gets.



William F. Owen

Thu, 05/13/2010 - 2:25am

I bed to differ. I have read this article twice and I just do not understand it. No one associated with Operational Design seems capable of explaining it in a clear and concise fashion, or able to use simple plain English. An inability to write clearly is an inability to think clearly.

If you want to see the Kung-Fu Panda "level-zero" of written doctrine, I can strongly recommend the February draft FM-5.0 "The Operations Process".

Based on all I have seen Operational Design is unneeded and lacks the useful simplicity required in planning operations. Anyone feeling strongly about this is invited to contact me through SWJ.

oldpapajoe (not verified)

Wed, 05/12/2010 - 4:47pm

Excellent. Reminds me of the great stuff BG Wass de Czege wrote back in the early Airland Battle days. His work has helped others think about issues in a new way.