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Thread: The Joint Planning Process

  1. #1
    Council Member
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    Oct 2005

    Default The Joint Planning Process

    Excellent article by LtCol Price titled,

    The Downfall of Adaptive Planning

    I would like to hear from others their thoughts on JOPES (pro's and con's) and the author's recommendations.

    Some key points he makes in the article are:

    All of AP’s tools emphasized increasing the speed of the same basic
    planning process. Instead of realizing that the primary shortfalls of the
    existing process stemmed from a lack of strategic thought, all efforts
    sought to make the existing system work faster and provide more options.
    Rather than fundamentally questioning the entire process, developers
    assumed that it was correct and simply needed fine tuning.
    I couldn't agree more, and the more I'm forced into the JOPES process the more flaws I see with it. As he points out we have a lot of planners enambered with process and products versus producing something useful.

    AP intended to optimize the presentation, writing, coordination, and
    sourcing of the massive plans but failed to address the most fundamental
    aspect of plan credibility—critical and creative thought. The military’s penchant for process and its fixation with planning did not allow questioning of the most fundamental assumptions about the chosen method for generating and delivering sovereign options. No one could challenge the presupposition that the vaunted military decision-making process would always deliver.
    He further defines the difference between strategic thinking (which he identifies as a weakness) and strategic planning (too often limited by process). He summarizes this discussion with,

    purposeful thought about the issues is more important than the process or products
    His five recommended actions to improve our planning:

    1. Develop and strengthen strategic thinking skills.
    2. Expand the community.
    3. Break the mold.
    4. Change the process.
    5. “Red-team” the review.
    Much more in the article.

  2. #2
    Council Member Polarbear1605's Avatar
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    Sep 2008
    Raleigh, NC

    Default Wow! Adaptive Planning, JOPES, and Strategic Thinking…Oh MY!

    My first comment is that changing or re-engineering a command and control system is not going to make for better strategic thinking. “Strategic Thinking” is not the job of planners but it is the job of general officers (and war planning is specifically the COCOM’s job). The US military is getting notoriously bad at strategic thinking. As proof…Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan…we are now up to three wars that we (the US) has failed to turn tactical victories into strategic victories.
    The purpose of JOPES, like any command and control system is to implement the commander’s decisions. JOPES was designed to be a command and control system for the commander…actually, that should read commanders but was never embraced by commanders. JOPES usually stopped at the Joint Service HQs instead of reaching down to the service BN Command level (with one service exception).
    It has been a long while but my experience is there was only one service that embraced that concept. Where the old JOPES didn’t work, it usually could be traced back to one of the armed services failure to comply with agreed upon and directed joint procedures. The too complicated excuse is just that, an excuse, reflecting a lack of “strategic thinking” on the part of commanders. When JOPES was replaced with GCCS back in the early 90’s it was specifically downgraded from TS to S to get it out from behind the red re-enforced steel doors so the commanders could make better use of it. Based on what I can reading in this article it sounds like that idea was another failure. If you want to see how effective strategic AP (and it was not called that back then) can work look at Zinni’s “Desert Crossing”.

    1. Develop and strengthen strategic thinking skills. It has to start with general officers and not their command and control system. Enough said here.
    2. Expand the community. Agree! However, we have been trying to expand the community since Goldwater-Nichols (1986). Waivers were routinely granted to newly promoted officers without joint experience. Promotion boards routinely placed service experience over joint experience. Again, this is a command issue and not a command and control system issue.
    3. Break the mold. If you first realize that JOPES is a command and control system based on the current command structure and is intended to be a commander's tool, I would first get everyone to embrace that notation before breaking any molds.
    4. Change the process. Agree, the process does needs to be changed. If you are after more effective planning and streamlining, your issues starts at the joint service HQs and moves down the service chain of command.
    5. “Red-team” the review. Agree, and this is a wonderful idea but who is going to tell a general officer, a warfighter or service chief, their strategic planning is sub-standard and reflects bad strategic thinking? Again, it ain’t a command and control system issue but it is a leadership problem.
    Last edited by Polarbear1605; 03-26-2012 at 03:46 PM.
    "If you want a new idea, look in an old book"

  3. #3
    Council Member Infanteer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2009


    Interesting article. I found the following bit quite indicative of most military planning processes:

    For too long, US military circles have assumed that strategic planning and strategic thinking were synonymous. This premise, combined with the military’s penchant for bureaucratic process, has led to placing the preponderance of intellectual effort on the planning process. Consequently, planners have endlessly pursued deeper and deeper mission analysis, intelligence preparation of the battlespace, and excursions into effects-based operations in order to fine-tune the development, selection, and refinement of the course of action (COA).

    Even now as the planning community slowly embraces the latest fad of design, it still fails to understand that strategic planning and strategic thinking are two distinct activities. Strategic planning, a process-based activity, focuses on analysis, logic, and procedures while strategic thinking, an idea-based cognitive activity, emphasizes synthesis, creativity, intuition, and innovation. Strategic planning translates strategy into actionable content. Strategic thinking generates insight into the present and foresight regarding the future. It fuels the start of the strategic planning process but often becomes overwhelmed by concentrating on the next step in the process
    or by making PowerPoint slides for the next IPR
    I've seen an planning overwhelm thinking in tactical planning, so I can only imagine the chaos of strategic planning.

  4. #4
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    Feb 2012


    Quote Originally Posted by Polarbear1605 View Post
    5. “Red-team” the review. Agree, and this is a wonderful idea but who is going to tell a general officer, a warfighter or service chief, their strategic planning is sub-standard and reflects bad strategic thinking? Again, it ain’t a command and control system issue but it is a leadership problem.
    Agree completely. Most leaders do not like to have their plan torn apart as it could possibly be a sign that they are weak. No one person has all the answers.

    It should be viewed as an organizational effort to resolve the issue/problem or to plan the mission. There is never one guy slugging it out, so why would the entire planning process be ignored because of egos.

  5. #5
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2007

    Default Strategic planning?

    Look, the real problem is nobody is doing any 'strategic planning'. If strategy involves balancing ends, ways, and means, we stopped doing that about a generation ago. We plan, at best, campaigns and call them strategy. Having said that, I agree the process can be improved.

    1. Anybody who thought that adding IPRs for senior leaders would quicken the pace of planning clearly has never worked in a US headquarters. Not only does it slow the process, it distracts planners from real work and serves to filter ideas (good, bad, and indifferent).
    2. The process (to work as advertised) demands creative, flexible, thoughtful senior leaders, willing to entertain opposing views and unorthodox solutions. More importantly, those leaders must be willing to champion unpopular operational approaches in front of their bosses. Such men are in short supply. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in the majority of cases the involvement of senior leaders suppresses creative thought and promotes groupthink.
    3. It always amazes me how people miss the link between improved tools for planning and slower planning. Remember, there is no such thing as a labor saving device; creating tools that allow for doing detailed planning faster doesn't mean you create plans more quickly, it means you can plan more details!
    4. There aren't enough trained planners. This is why we continuously have to employ wandering ronin planners from organizations like the JPSE (an excellent and descriptive acronym, by the way). These 'pros-from-Dover' are great guys and very competent, but they lack the situational awareness and institutional knowledge to do more than produce boiler-plate in a crisis.

    The author criticizes APEX as a bad process, but his solution is to replace it with a better process. Wasted effort. There is no process so good that the military can't ruin it. What we need are more leaders and planners who can think creatively based on deep and intuitive knowledge of the problem set they face. Until we have that, no process will improve the product.

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