Design Methodology for Company Commanders (Part 1)

This post is the first in a series of post which will look at why the Army Design Methodology is only stressed once becoming a field grade officer and how to apply the design methodology to company grade officers. This first post introduces the subject with future posts detailing how the design methodology fits within the constructs of the Troop Leading Procedures.

The first taste of command, for most officers, is at the company level. Arriving at this point in their career, most officers participate in leading platoons, staff operations, and a few manage companies as executive officers. Additionally, further refinement of their professional skills, begun by battalion commanders and other company commanders, occurs at a career course; yet, too often, these places of learning focus solely on checklists and processes in order to convey how to become a staff officer first followed by a company commander second. Accepting the fact that good company commanders make good formations, this approach to developing future officers is outdated. In the battlefield of the decisive action environment in which the understanding  and predictions of an event is difficult, a checklist or regimented process constricts creative thought such that an officer approachs situations with an outdated mindset. Some aspects, such as design methodology, have crept into the planning process of the Army; yet, these elements remain the hostages of other institutions such as the Command and General Staff College or the School of Advanced Military Studies. In essence, the  Army, by restricting the company-grade officers to just checklists and not equipping them with the tools to enable creative thought such as the design methodology, sends the message that mechanistic approaches to problems, at the company-level, are adequate for mission success.

The requirement of processes such as the Troop Leading Procedures (TLPs) and the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) ensures that those unfamiliar with planning do have something to use; yet, too often, company commanders take these step-by-step instructions as the only way to approach a problem and fail to address the situation fully. As the Army rightly states, the commander is central to the operations process. At this point, the commander is understanding, visualizing, describing, and directing formations so that mission command is clear and executable enabling disciplined initiative by his or her subordinates. Breaking the process down further, the commander understands the problem, visualizes the end state as well as the design of the operation, describes aspects such as time, space, resources, purpose, and action, and then finally directs the warfighting functions. These aspects tie together in the commander’s intent and the planning guidance. This process that the commander engages in is known as the Army Design Methodology.

The elements of design methodology, though, manifest at the field-grade level. Design methodology exists to handle odd, complex, or “wicked” problems. Design methodology embraces creativity. Outside-of-the-box thinking based upon an in-depth understanding of the operational environment allows for solutions to develop. Regrettably, as previously stated, the Army stresses this creativity at the battalion and above level, but company commanders can utilize the same techniques to better define the problem. Typically company commanders can understand a situation well based upon the application of mission variables such as Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops, Time, and Civil considerations (METT-TC) and can follow the process in which orders develop at the company level . The failure in the current design is that critical thinking becomes the most important aspect for the company commander while creative thinking becomes more of an obstacle. Typically, company commanders have little time to fully develop a plan so they arrive at conclusions through critical thinking instead of allowing for tactical patience in which the situation may develop further. Specifically, company commanders go with the first possible problem presented even if it is the wrong problem. This assumption allows TLPs to continue but the problem addressed is wrong and may lead to mission failure or wasted energy. Therefore tactical decision makers, the company commanders, require design methodology in order to focus the energy of their company towards addressing the right problem.  

The next post will examine how the design methodology fits within the process of TLPs specifically beginning with step one, receipt of mission.

Photo credit MAJ Amos C. Fox

One thought on “Design Methodology for Company Commanders (Part 1)

  1. Well said Amos. We ask a lot of our company/battery/troop commanders. Educating these leaders about Design will help us Win in a Complex World. Keep up the discourse!


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