Small Wars Journal

To Design or Not to Design: In Conclusion

Share this Post

To Design or Not to Design: In Conclusion

by Ben Zweibelson

Download the Full Article: To Design or Not to Design: In Conclusion

Is Design a necessary methodology for the U.S. Army? By codifying into service doctrine an entire chapter on design in FM 5-0, the Army appears to acknowledge the need for ontological approaches to complex systems. FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency also featured a new Design chapter when updated in 2006. Although the presence of design in doctrinal form validates a substantial requirement for alternative methodologies to JOPP and MDMP, Army design in current form suffers from an identity crisis as well as extensive tacticization via institutional bias. To take higher guidance without critical thinking and launch into MDMP prioritizes analysis and description over synthesis and explanation. Today's increasingly complex conflict environments cannot function without Design consideration prior to any detailed planning processes initiating. Yet Design by its logic is a cumbersome and problematic methodology when applied to traditional military planning processes.

Download the Full Article: To Design or Not to Design: In Conclusion

Major Ben Zweibelson is an active duty Infantry Officer in the US Army. A veteran of OIF 1 and OIF 6, Ben is currently attending the School for Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He has a Masters in Liberal Arts from Louisiana State University and a Masters in Military Arts and Sciences from the United States Air Force (Air Command and Staff College program). Ben deploys this June to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as a planner.

Editor's Note: The essay is the final of six in a series on design.

About the Author(s)

Ben Zweibelson is a retired U.S. Army Infantry Officer with over 22 years combined service to include multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ben is currently the Course Director of Design Programs at the Joint Special Operations University and is pursuing his doctorate in philosophy with the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. He has recently lectured on advanced design theory at the USAF Air War College for their Grand Strategic Studies Program as well as at the Canadian Forces College for an October 2016 Design workshop. He has upcoming design articles in the Canadian Army Journal (Spring 17), the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies (Spring 17), as well as several other military academic journals. Ben resides in Tampa, Florida with his family and can be reached at   


slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 12:18pm

Ben, splitting hairs is fine, my best learning often happens at that point. Maybe instead of end state we should say Mission. A Mission can last a short time or a long time or it could be some type of eduring activity where there is no final destination. I believe in NASA and EPCOT(Experimental Protype Community of Tomorrow). EPCOT in the original Walt Disney version which I saw him brief in person as a teenager was pure design. Then he died and Disney Corp. decided it's purpose was to make money instead of "creating" the Future. If things had worked out as I was taught as kid we would be having this conversation at Macdonalds ........but it would be on Mars.

bz (not verified)

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 11:46am

Slapout 9-

I would split hairs on "predicting the future" and instead offer that Design logic attempts to understand a complex system holistically, and anticipate future states (not a singular state- but many). Granted, debating over whether 'anticipate' is better than 'predict' is the sort of discourse that causes Design distractors to roll their eyes a bit and shuffle along, but once again- words indeed matter.

Predicting the future relates back to the linear reductionist logic that pervades detailed planning and execution. We reverse engineer lines of effort back from a future "end-state" that relies upon the PREDICTION of a future single state. For instance, "accomplish national objectives by protecting the peaceful Libian citizens and compelling the Libian national government and IOPs to cease violent action in violation of UN regulations..." But I would argue that the problem with this lock-step prediction-centric logic is that complex systems do not obey proceduralization or reductionism...they shatter that logic entirely.

Design attempts to understand (or as Chris P. will split hairs with me on, to 'appreciate') a complex system holistically- and therefore any future state will be grounded in anticipating what patterns of emergence may occur...Consider in 1900 that all of the major horse carriage companies in that dominant industry forecasted no significant change for the next decade of growth...except a few mavericks such as the Olds Carriage Company (soon to be known as Oldsmobile). Within a decade, the automobile paired with streamlined cheap assembly lines and low-skilled workers shattered the logic of carraige company predictions and put nearly all of those giants out of business. A bit of a stretch to retrospectively apply emergence and design logic here, but it appears that Olds "anticipated" future states of the complex system known as 'western transportation forms of the early 20th century' to have more than one pre-determined end state. Not to wear out this metaphor, but is the US military in danger of becoming the horse carraige industry of the 21st century with regard to military conflict? Or are we the Olds company in 1900- anticipating the paradigm shifts (Taleeb's Black Swans) and adapting to them without following lock-step in what our traditional tenets and culture prescribe us to do?

Just some random Sunday morning rants;


Again, MDMP is a form of design (analytic-modeling of problem situations). The "design" outcome are the predicted tasks that must be assigned to subordinates. This IS a design of sorts. We are treating MDMP as a unitary design method rather than expanding our view into other logics.

What we need are exposure to other "logics of design" -- the ability to call upon other logics that are not based solely in structural functionalism.

In Burrell's and Morgan's book they discuss other "logics" -- I would argue that the military is "stuck" in the functionalist paradigm (linked to engineering science). We functionalize almost everything (tactics is a function of mission, enemy, etc (METT-C); operations is a function of intelligence, fires, sustainment, and so forth; strategy is a function of ends, ways and means; DIME, PMESII-PT, on and....on and on.

Babson College website summarizes four paradigms in the book:…

The authors do not claim these are the only paradigms, but the four described at least give one a sense of what a paradigm is.

Related sites:…

...many more out there (however, there is no substitute for the book)

slapout9 (not verified)

Mon, 05/16/2011 - 1:24pm

It is a very good discussion. I am not so sure that it is complexity that is the problem. It may be competitiveness that is the problem. Whatever you design the other guy is going to try and mess it up. In that sense you are trying to predict the enemy...the future so to speak. And we haven't done that very well. Maybe the Boy Scouts figured it out. There motto is "Be Prepared." So maybe we should stop Designing and just start Preparing for the worst...if the worst doesn't happen all well and good, if it does..... then well we are prepared.

bz (not verified)

Mon, 05/16/2011 - 10:08am

Great discourse as usual. It is interesting to see the continued emphasis on whether design replaces detailed planning entirely, or if design gets inserted into phases or steps within detailed planning logic. I consider both options to be fallacies.

1. Design assimilates relevant components of detailed planning, in my opinion. We put men on the moon with systems-approach logic, and in many conflict environments in the future where conventional approaches still appear to be the organizing principles within a system, they likely are the most efficient approach. Think North Korea and a conventional fielded forces conflict scenario. Many of the components of detailed planning logic work well because they reduce requirements down to digestable and comprehendable patterns...but they do not work when facing complexity.

2. When confronted with complexity in conflict (we use so many buzz-words for this; IW, asymmetric warfare, small wars, hybrid, etc...)but the overarching point is that detailed planning logic forces the military down artificial and largely innefficient paths in dealing with uncertaincy and adaptation. For instance, a reverse-engineered physical line of operation (PLO) built into a conventional terrain-based scenario against North Korean fielded forces likely penetrates further into the future with anticipated accuracy than a similar PLO planned against Hezbollah or AQ in a collapsing African nation. I see the major problem as our military inability to recognize the cognitive tension between applying detailed planning logic to a scenario where it works, and intentionally NOT applying it where we expect it not to work. The CDR essentially is the linch-pin here; the CDR must appreciate when complexity in the scenario (or system) encourages him to shift his organizational logic away from detailed planning and towards a different logic. Design is not simply "another logic"- Design is an assemblage, a nebulous and transforming element of what post-modern philosophy terms the "exteriority."

3. Again, to re-state this critical point: Design is not itself another logic. Consider a fishing net hauled by a commercial boat. We (the military) prefer tuna- we eat it as much as we can. Tuna is analagous to detailed planning logic...and all of the other fish we catch in our net represents non-detailed planning logic. If it is not tuna, it is something else; sometimes the fishing net drags up out of the deep unknown (exteriority) some fish or thing we never have seen before. This is an undiscovered logic- something new for us to dump on the fishing boat deck (our interiority) and attempt to understand what this new fish is. By using metaphors (this fish sort of tastes like Tuna...but more sweet)- we attempt to appreciate unknown logics. Design is not simply ANOTHER FISH competing with detailed planning logic (our tuna). Design IS THE NET- it is the overarching concept that drives our appreciation of the world at a holistic and adaptive level. Sometimes, we probably should use tuna for a conflict, but Design helps us select other combinations of non-Tuna fish for when Tuna (detailed planning logic) either is the wrong choice, or perhaps should be used as a side-dish.

We need to stop considering Design as a fish that swims in the ocean competing with detailed planning logic (tuna). We also need to think critically about why we seek to consume tuna with every meal as a military organization; and- we need to consider whether we are institutionally prepared to dine on other fish efficiently and effectively so that we accomplish national strategic aims of our government.


G Martin

Mon, 05/16/2011 - 9:08am

Exactly, Chris.

The assumption by SAMS and the Army is that we can plan our way to better effect change in complex environments. Most officers think we only need "Design"- as written in the doctrine- because we don't do MDMP correctly.

I'd argue that in some instances that may indeed be the case- but I think it is just as valid that effecting change in a complex environment- or at least some complex environments- requires not different or more robust (or better) planning- but different acting. Different approaches, structures, ways of learning (or sense-making), personnel systems, rewards, punishments, processes, etc.

In other words- it makes no sense to approach a complex environment with MDMP, brigades, AARs, Human Resources Command systems, the standard awards and evaluations process, discipline based on centrally-controlled policies, and bureaucratic systems that get us our supplies, people, and methodologies.

There's no way we would be okay with sending a Navy Commander headed to a ministerial advisory position through 3 weeks of infantry training- unless we are process-driven as opposed to results-driven. True efforts at effecting change in complex environments wouldn't have us attempting to plan better in order to use our standard tools in better ways- it would have us change ourselves.

" just as with the instructors at Army ILE (CGSC, CGSS or whatever you want to call it) at Leavenworth, real understanding (or at least an appreciation ;-) ) doesn't exist."

I would like to be able to argue this point, but you have hit the proverbial nail.

In the CGSS (not CGSC which would include SAMS) curriculum there is no exposure to other sources of framing. All (to include the JPME II stuff on JOPP) is oriented on analysis (analytic planning). So it is no wonder we cannot explore other ways to frame -- this is a issue analogous to beliefs about artillery during WW I (we need to have better artillery or more of it). -- a single paradigm.

In our case it's analytic planning. We keep thinking the problem is how we are applying analytic planning (not that analytic planning methods are the [framing] problem).

Craig (not verified)

Sun, 05/15/2011 - 2:13pm

Schmitt provides a way.... He was the guy that the Marines brought in to decipher Naveh and make SOD user friendly for the Corps. Unfortunately I'm not sure that the Marines really get the essence of what SOD is all about (not Schmitt's fault). Having conducted a MCPP exercise with the MAGTF trainers a couple months ago, I concluded that, just as with the instructors at Army ILE (CGSC, CGSS or whatever you want to call it) at Leavenworth, real understanding (or at least an appreciation ;-) ) doesn't exist. We were handed a list of "Design Outputs" and were told to pontificate our naval for a day or two and then brief the "commander". While, matter-of-factly, there is still great benefit to trying to figure out what your military problem is before you dive into MCPP or MDMP, what the Marine trainers were asking us to do was not really design. With just one re-approach with the CDR it lacked iteration and reflection in action. That being said, at least they are doing it at the MAGTF level to the benefit of their force. The Army is STILL trying to pin design down.

Chris your car metaphor is spot on. After all, what are cars really for? They are a mode of transportation! Imagine the paradigm shift from horse and carriage to automobile? The institutional change was enormous but effective because the necessity and practicality were clear and the ability of the industrial revolution to erase the previous paradigm made the transition almost instantaneous viewed from a macro-appreciation of time. Mary Jo Hatch is quite relevant in this vein, just as I'm sure it was a symbol to own a horse 100 years ago, now it is a symbol to own a car. Values create artifacts which become symbols within our culture. We own cars, not just to travel, but because they are status symbols in our culture. How then do we overcome a mere reliance on current planning methodologies (not that we want to get rid of them just as horses still have value in our current culture)? Clearly there is a necessity for design but its practicality is obviously in question. It seems then that we may need a revolution of some sort to allow this to occur. This is where I believe the point of contention exists. There is a friction between current Western ways of thought, which are reductionist and individual-centric, and the perspective needed to appreciate design and its appreciation of the environment, the other and their relationship to us. Westerners tend to desire an approach which forces ideals, methods and beliefs onto a system. Because this system is complex and adaptive it doesn't conform. Without necessarily giving up our identities, we must learn to work within the system acknowledging that it is unrealistic to presuppose an "end-state" at execution. By learning and adapting as we reflect on our actions we will constantly maintain a position of advantage over our adversaries (see Boyd) which is what strategy is really all about anyway (see Dolman).

p.s. the qualifier (what goes before the hyphen) has been suggested to be the "art of framing" in "design philosophy."

Again, "systems thinking" (or borrowing the logic of open biological systems) is a source of logic as Schmitt suggests.

When you see "systemic" as the preface to design, this is explicit logic (the logic of systems applied to design).

When you see analytic design (or design associated with a decision process such as MDMP), then you have a method based in that "science" to design.

I would argue that when we speak to design we should use a hyphen.

systems engineering-design
...and so forth

How about linguistic-design? That is we extend and displace current meanings with descriptive new sensemakings.

How about chaoplexic-design (implied as the next paradigm by Antoine Bousquet)?

How about science fiction-design where we borrow logic from the writings of Robert Heinlein, George Lucas, and Gene Roddenberry?

War fiction-design where the stories of James Webb, Josiah Bunting, Anton Myrer, etc... are sources of sense?

So "pretty good method" should refer to a pretty good method IF you elect to use SYSTEMIC concepts for design (as also did Shimon Naveh). That may narrow the field of possible logics (which may not be a good idea as you want to remain open if this form of sensemaking is not working out well).

We have to stop looking for "THE" method of design. Think "hyphenationally." It all depends on how you select and qualify your logic for design.

The Pap

Sun, 05/15/2011 - 10:08am

p.s. I misspoke:

"Designers do not make that assumption..."

That is designers who do not solely subscribe to systems engineering approaches. We already have an "Army of Designers" -- the issue is that they all subscribe to a single-loop learning paradigm of the systems engineering school.

Those immersed in the military institution rely on the ORSA community, for example, to define and solve "the problem." They believe in the science of ORSA and cannot conceive of other logics that could inform a displaced or extended school of design.

So its not MDMP or design. It's "design with MDMP" as the sole source of logic (systems engineering) that may better describe the situation that we are in. We need OTHER logics for design.

One source of logic (that Ben Z recommends) is complexity science. However, we have to be careful not to accept that logic as a replacement for systems engineering. We need many logics for action...and not throw any away. Let's expand, not displace entirely.

Well said.

Design is a metaphor.

Let's examine a simple, mechanical view of the metaphor. Look at the artistry (and science) associated with the design of cars.

Since the use of the internal combustion engine over a hundred years ago, designers have incrementally created improvisations off of the original idea. The cars of today are based in the essential original idea. The diversity of cars seems large, but the similarities are also discernible.

Then consider the logistics network that contribute to car design (roads, interstates, gasoline refineries, upholstery fabric, asphalt, ships that carry them, parts manufacturers, custom car designers, Madison Avenue (the list goes on and on).

At some point it become very hard to have a radical change in design because of the complex interdependencies that constrain deviations. This is the nature of "institutions--" in this case the institution is the automobile.

Think of large perturbations in the natural and man made "environments" that could disrupt this complex interdependent system (that now strives for conservatism -- sustaining itself as would an "ecologic" system). For example, the scarcity of oil, the political disruption of oil-producing rentier states, etc...

The designer would have to "shed" old ways and improvise/innovate to create something that seems like "leap-ahead" answers to conditions that appear to be wicked.

Now the problem with this metaphor I am using is that it is still mechanical in nature -- it is still "tamable" through the engineering sciences. There are also many social aspects to the "network of interdependencies" present in the institution of automobiles -- this being the cultural artifacts that have emerged (roadside restaurants, car clubs, LA traffic patterns that affect workplaces and so on).

Now we begin to appreciate the socio-technical complexity of change. The situational morphology is not as amenable to engineering solutions as it first appears.

No, instead of the automobile institution, imagine the magnitude of complexity when you look at a larger scope socio-technical situation (entire nations/societies). The situation becomes so complex that its reduction into definable, isolatable "problems" is impossible (although ORSA community members persist to try and model the complexity -- good luck with that :).

This is why designers have to have political skills, economic savvy, a sense of anthropology, etc...., and a connection to their traditional professional body of knowledge. The designer in a socio-technological system must be multi-disciplinary to increase the ability to APPRECIATE the complexity of the situation (note that I did not use the word "understand" that doctrine uses -- huge fallacy).

This appreciation fuels the process of finding "successive limited comparisons" in pursuit of more desirable conditions. In complex systems, one can argue that inventive "baby steps" are more efficacious than large steps (as there is not science of predictability to the process). One has to be immersed in the complexity, try out things, and get a "feel" for what seems to work and what does not (and not get locked into the appearance of success--there may be delayed side effects!).

MDMP is based in the logic of engineering (it is a systems engineering approach). It assumes simplicity (one of our principles of war is simplicity!!). Or at least that simplification is possible.

Designers do not make that assumption. This is why MDMP and design seem incompatible (paradoxical may be a better word). We have experienced such great achievement with systems engineering that we sent men to the moon, so why not change social systems using the same logic? The institution of "military" is wedded to the logic of systems engineering to the point it is very difficult to let go -- like with the institution of the automobile, there are too many interdependencies that "feed" into its conservatism.

Hence, now one can explore the reasons why integrating the ideas of design is just so tough to the institution -- it demands a change in these interdependencies that the entire "military industrial complex" inter-depends. Unless something really "bad" happens (a shock to the existing institutional structure that "feeds on itself"), I remain quite pessimistic to the embracing of "design" by the institution (which would be "self-defeating").

Design in the midst of wicked situations is about "designing new or extended logics" to the ones we have now. The logics of systems engineering (that have created institutional programmatics such as PPBE, JCIDS, MDMP, JSPS, and so forth) have become hyper-interdependent to the point we cannot de-construct the prevailing logic of the institution. It would seem "unnatural." Even perverted. Or in the words of Spock, "illogical."

It's not the "problems" that are "ill-structured," it's more that we cannot not use our institutional systems engineering logic to structure them. We have "over-learned" to the point of social reification.

G Martin

Sun, 05/15/2011 - 12:45am

25 words or less: "Design=how best to approach effecting change in a complex environment" How about that?

Or did you want "how to DO Design in 25 words or less"? If so, sorry- I'd posit that is impossible. By definition, how to approach effecting change in complex environments would always be contextual. The complexity surrounding our efforts in Vietnam, although much of the self-imposed complexity is similar, is different than the complexity surrounding our efforts in Afghanistan.

Now, what's worse, I'd argue, is that the Army doesn't even have a consensus on how to approach effecting change in a complex environment. Some advocate the doctrinal approach of doing Design before MDMP and then revisiting Design throughout planning and ops in order to "re-frame". Others think a savvy commander can deftly guide his unit through uncertainty- and then repeat when needed (no matter the environment). Still others think "correct" MDMP will get us through complex situations.

I suggest that all of these are wrong. That to truly be more successful at effecting change within complex environments a radically different approach is required. Complex environments don't lend themselves well to planning or to approaching things with pre-set tools (think BCTs, SF ODAs, CJTFs, platoons, battalions, SOPs, TTPs, MDMP, etc.).

Instead, complex environments lend themselves to groups who are able to approach things with an humble attitude, gather information, act, learn, adapt, restructure, and then reward those efforts that appear to be working- then repeat. One can find these successful approaches in nature: in biological evolution, in quantum physical change, in economics, etc.

We can continue to think we can just use our current tools "better" when faced with a complex environment (current military structures/organizations and processes like MDMP and even Design- as written in the doctrine), or we can start to study how nature and other human disciplines approach and successfully effect change in complex environments. If we do so, we may realize one day as an institution what it really takes to effect change in a complex environment. I think what we'll find is that it won't take using current and/or pre-set tools and processes. What it will take is a fresh look each time, a constant restructuring based on the context and knowledge of the environment, and a rewarding of those restructuring efforts and actions that seem to work.

At the "strategic level" it will look an awful lot like collating the various efforts into a comprehensive and explanatory picture and narrative- but not much else. Change in a complex environment is inherently "tactical"- it is low-level, bottom-up, and emergent. There are things the higher headquarters can do to impede change, but not much that it can do to make it happen- save for resourcing the lower levels and allowing the freedom for those at the tactical level to maneuver.

Kindergarden Kop (not verified)

Sat, 05/14/2011 - 4:27pm

"Explain design in twenty words or less." That deserves a translation. "Because I am intellectually lazy, I prefer all difficult and complex topics to be written on bumper stickers or made to fit on a plastic dog tag I can wear around my neck." Wow. That sort of thinking is precisely what is wrong with the military, and why it struggles with conflict when the conditions, rules, and end-states are not cookie-cutter perfect.

This series on design mentioned Kuhn's paradigm a few times. Perhaps the author is right to make that connection. When Kuhn talked about how a paradigm shift occured such as when Einstein upset the apple cart on Newtonian physics, there were those that immediately embraced it, the larger group that slowly came to terms with it, and the small group of stubborn (or lazy) ones that clung to the inferior model of thinking about physics.

I do not think the military has much choice here if design indeed represents a paradigm shift in understanding and planning. IF it proves to be superior, it will replace traditional planning- but it must first demonstrate that in conflict. Perhaps the folks that are pro-design (I would include myself but I need to learn alot more...) are those that recognize the paradigm shift first. The rest of us will follow along as more evidence collects. Eventually, only the stubborn minority will remain, with "I do not like anything you cannot describe in more words than I have in fingers and toes" inscribed on their plastic safety dog-tag.


Craig (not verified)

Sat, 05/14/2011 - 2:49pm

Why seek to simplify the complex? Are we so sure that MDMP is the answer for everything? "When done right" is a very Jominian position. Perhaps there are other solutions to the problem? I believe so, just as I believe that Jomini, while still quite often applicable, is not always the solution. (If I were to fail using Jomini's direction he would tell me that I just wasn't "doing it right.") When addressing complex issues you must be armed with as many ideas, theories and approaches as possible. Design helps you determine which might work best. Inputs do not equal outputs. It is certainly the leader's/planner's job to simplify complexity but only after the sausage has been made. To paraphrase a retired GO, Do you go golfing with just one club? No, you want to have many in the bag to allow yourself numerous options. There is a time and place for KISS however, extreme reductionist thinking will quickly get you into hot water. It is one thing to generalize KISS when applying broad axioms (i.e. "Seize the Initiative") but you can't blindly apply processes such that they become procedure. Do you treat your wife the same way you treat your kids the same way you treat your dog? There are certainly applicable broad themes (love, respect, dedication) however, each requires a different approach and requires varied levels of understanding and how that understanding applies to your actions. Just as we seek to master our relationships with our families and loved ones, also should we consider how we, as military professionals, master the complex science and art of war and warfare. We must go to any and all lengths to get it right, learning, growing and adapting as we go along. There is no question that design can be challenging, that does not however mean that we shouldn't learn it and use it when it is applicable in our profession. Design, JOPP, JOPES, MDMP, RDMP and TLPs all serve as effective tools, it is the responsibility of the military professional to determine which is needed when....that is the art portion of leadership.

Scott Gilpatrick (not verified)

Sat, 05/14/2011 - 9:14am

After reading Ben's conclusion on design this morning, I was motivated to sit down and develop a solid solution. Something all of us poor ILE students (forced to endure hours of lecture on design and the MDMP) might be able to really understand and apply once we graduate into the world of "validated" Majors who know how to think and not what to think.

I'd go with a hybrid solution; Design and MDMP working together, solving problems in an intuitive and rapid fashion at all levels. Then I remembered I was just looking for somewhere to get blog credit and my coffee was getting cold.

Seriously though, I've been told design is used at the strategic level and MDMP is for somewhere around the operational and tactical levels. Much like planning and environmental considerations, all crammed into a cleaver pneumonic for use when it comes to problem solving and planning- one for every level... What is keeping us from coming up with a simple solution that meets the needs at all levels of military problem solving?

To design or not to design is not the problem. The cumbersomeness of the military problem solving and planning process is. This comes from the addition of stuff like "design" into an already confusing multilevel operational environment problem solving structure, that needs "a way" to frame and solve a problem at each level.

Can it be done? Bring everything together into one pneumonic? With that, how about "a way" to frame and solve a problem that works at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels?

Problem solving: (KISS Method) Keep it Simple Stupid... oh wait, that concept only applies at the tactical level.

MF (not verified)

Sat, 05/14/2011 - 1:24am

I would say simply that until Design can be described in an intuitive way in 25 words or less, it doesn't stand a chance of widespread approval in the military.

Most of the literature on design is overtly esoteric and appears intentionally so.

As for expending the type of time and effort required to get a 2-2 in a language . . .yuck.


Fri, 05/13/2011 - 12:48pm

I've been following the Design debate for some time now and to my dismay the disagreements around it seem perpetually stuck in the myopia induced by four decades of HIC-bias-induced doctrine. Thinking of Design as an 'alernative to MDMP' or even a step is perhaps misleading. Instead, Design is what you do before and throughout MDMP in order to ensure that your planning process is comprehensive. MDMP is still what you would use to make your mission plan and issue orders. I didn't need design to execute a platoon raid, the TLP's were more than enough. However, I did need the perspective of Design to understand my OE. That understanding would perpetually inform my information requirements and tactical decision making, it's not a block I would check as a step before executing my TLP's.

Next time if I have the honor of leading men in combat and having a static OE, my learning curve would be far smaller than the first time, regardless of theater. The critical thinking and collaboration & dialog that are advocated in FM 5-0 are two sides of the same coin, and that coin is "reason". None of it needs a change in doctrine as much as a change in officer culture where leaders appreciate education in addition to skill-sets and APFT in their staffs and subordinate leaders, and solicit them to apply their reasoning to our operating environments.

Design isn't tactics, it is an analytical approach that lets you choose the best tactic. Consider this: Design is a powerpoint bullet's worst enemy.


Jimbo (not verified)

Fri, 05/13/2011 - 2:58am

". . .we cannot send folks to learn in a PHD-level environment for a few years to come back as "design experts. . . I personally think the amount of time required to learn Design to a sufficient level is equivalent to foreign language training for our soldiers to earn a 2-2 on the DLPT."

The basic course for Modern Standard Arabic was 63 weeks when I went through--only slightly shorter than the Masters program I am currently in.

1. By definition, you cannot analyze complexity. MDMP is an analytic procedure, so its use is a fallacy.

2. In other words, planning is reduction (into assignable tasks). Complexity cannot be reduced and tasks cannot be predetermined.

3. Under conditions of complexity, those who subscribe to MDMP or doing MDMP better are living in a kind of "systems engineering" dream world.

4. Take the red pill Neo!

bz (not verified)

Tue, 05/10/2011 - 5:58pm


I am curious, what does 'problematizing' mean to you? What have you read on it- what does that design word say about the process, and do you see anything in detailed planning that already does 'problematizing' with other words?

One of the significant hurdles I see about Design has to do with the time and level of education required to teach the concept. Design does not lend itself to a 3 hour block of instruction, and the Army has a bad habit of doing "train the trainer" where even the instructors do not understand the concepts, or do not believe in the process. Design resists proceduralizing and does not work when salami-sliced into doctrine or placed in to step one of MDMP...but we want to tell our organization that it can.

I do not know what the right solution is on Design and professional military education- we cannot send folks to learn in a PHD-level environment for a few years to come back as "design experts" nor can we mass-produce designers with 30 powerpoint slides and a 3 hour block of instruction on design doctrine. Perhaps the right answer is somewhere in the middle. I personally think the amount of time required to learn Design to a sufficient level is equivalent to foreign language training for our soldiers to earn a 2-2 on the DLPT.


G Martin

Tue, 05/10/2011 - 2:52pm

I do not consider myself a Design advocate- but I do think we should constantly attempt to be more effective than we have traditionally behaved in complex environments. I think if we are honest with ourselves we'd admit that our MDMP, JOPP, and planning/understanding/adapting processes have not worked for us very well in the recent past and current ops.

I think Ben is right that Design- the doctrine- suffers from an incomplete merging with current processes and a half-hearted buy-in from senior leaders. Design doctrine that is true to the fundamental philosophy wouldn't have a problem with that- assuming one's organization can experiment, learn, refine, and experiment some more. Unfortunately we tend to discard concepts if they don't pay immediate dividends.

The bottom line to me is that there could be better ways of attempting change in complex environments. If that is a possibility- then we should constantly look at other disciplines who are taking on complexity, develop our own ideas, test them, learn, and repeat. If, that is, we want to be more effective in fuzzy, hard to understand environments.

If, on the other hand, we DON'T want to be more effective in complex situations- then maybe we shouldn't get away from our "tried and true" processes. Maybe the message we want to send to politicans is that we don't want them to send us into areas where our national interests are fuzzy and where our objectives are not clear.

I don't have a problem with that- but I'm not sure we should rely on that. I have to assume they will keep on sending us into areas wherein "the problem" isn't something that will come to us through "mission analysis on steroids", a great plan, coup d'oeil, or even the ability to adapt quickly. Instead it might require a whole new way of approaching operations- each and every time.

milprof (not verified)

Mon, 05/09/2011 - 9:34pm

I had some exposure to the early period of thinking about "design" and US Army doctrine, five or so years ago. As someone with a social science doctorate I was startled that the military as trying to adopt a nebulous grouping of concepts that ultimately (if you trace the footnotes from Naveh, etc) drew on postmodern literary criticism. Having seen some of that in grad school and seen how little it led to in terms of practical research outputs, it sure seemed like a dead end to me.

That you see more and more SAMS majors talking about ontology and "problematizing" something or other does not encourage me. It's worth remembering that one of the key problems the Israelis found with SOD in 2006 was a lack of shared understandings of it, and the fact that the underlying concepts were just too damn complicated, confusing, and even self-contradictory to be effectively understood and used by a mass army.

But that's not surprising. I've seen Ivy League PhDs fail to be able to agree on common definitions or make practical use of these sorts of concepts, other than for producing paper after tail-chasing paper on the subject. Maybe I'm a hopeless positivist but I'm still deeply skeptical that this is the right direction.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Mon, 05/09/2011 - 7:19pm

I always thought that the MDMP, if done right, did just that.

Now we seem to have another level of procedure to cloud what was once a relatively simple and effective process.