Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reverse Breach Planning


A typical mission for a combat engineer is to breach obstacles. This means to find a way through or around impediments to the movement of the rest of the force. Combat engineers are out in front punching a hole through or making a way across minefields, ditches, wire entanglements, rivers, canals, or anything else that prevents movement of friendly forces in order to complete the destruction of the enemy and accomplishment of the mission.

As a trainer of combat engineers at the Army's National Training Center, I would spent countless hours helping engineer leaders think about how to tackle this very difficult mission. Difficult as in...perhaps the most complex mission any combat unit undertakes. The synchronization of artillery to pin down the enemy, smoke to obscure the enemy's view, positioning of friendly support units, movement forward of the engineers, creating and marking lanes, calling units forward to move through the breach and onto the enemy side, etc. -- very complicated stuff...especially when done under fire.

Success in this mission begins with a concept called reverse breach planning, a concept in which you begin with the end in mind. Instead of thinking about how you will begin the mission, what time you will leave your assembly area and where engineers are positioned at the beginning, reverse breach planning requires thought about what size unit is required on the far side of the obstacle in order to defeat the enemy, what the formation will look like and where they will be positioned when they have completed the mission.

Reverse breach planning would go something like this:

-- We need two companies of tanks on the far side of the minefield to defeat the enemy there in overwatch.
-- The lanes should be precisely in this location and at least 200 meters apart.
-- We need to put in two lanes to move two companies.
-- We need three platoons of engineers to make two lanes.
-- We need another platoon of tanks with the engineers to provide security at the breach point and to plow through the lane.
-- The engineer company (three platoons plus a platoon of tanks) will need to be behind this hill, moving as the artillery begins to shoot smoke, which will trigger adjustment of the friendly tanks in overwatch so they don't shoot our engineers moving forward.
--Etc.

You see...instead of starting at the beginning (where are the engineers in the march out of the assembly area), focus on the endpoint (what do we want things to look like when we are successful) and work backwards. This sort of planning produces intermediate objectives and synchronization between forces, triggers for successive action, decision points, etc. that makes complex operations possible.

It is my experience that this concept is not easily learned -- in combat or in business. Why is this? Policies, procedures, doctrine, and other process-focused (versus mission focused) administrivia! We use them like cookbooks. Go to page 1, step 1, and start reading. Do all the steps, in this sequence, and you will be successful. Mind you, you'll have no idea of what the end product will look like until you get there, nor will you have any reasonable hope for success when you encounter obstacles in your way.

I think we have to start with the last page, the last step, and work backwards:

-- When does the customer need the product, how many, what features, etc.? Work backwards to determine milestones, resources, and other enablers that will be necessary to get there.
-- What does a fully qualified, ready for college, high school student need to know by the time he/she graduates? Work backwards to structure an appropriate curriculum.
-- How much money will I need to comfortably retire by 60 and live til I'm 100? Work backwards to develop a savings plan.
-- What sort of projects do I think my team will be doing in five years? Work backwards to determine the sort of talent you should be recruiting for and the training you should be seeking to get there.

Conventional wisdom says we must develop a road map to get us to where we want to go. Combat wisdom suggests that to do so we must begin with the end in mind, see yourself and your team on the objective, and work in reverse to your start point. This sort of unconventional planning is the only way to be sure that the road you are taking will get you to your intended destination.

Obstacles along our respective routes must be breached. That's where leaders earn their pay. Using reverse breach planning will ensure that you can get your forces onto the objective, through the lanes, synchronized in time and space, to be successful. That's Leader Business.

1 comment:

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