Transformation: Stepping Outside the Reality
A system resembles a chain in that it is only
as strong as its weakest link. Consider the example of defense transportation.
Regardless of the capacity of aircraft and ships to carry military
forces, system throughput will be limited if ports cannot handle
what is debarked. A chain is strengthened by reinforcing the weak
link; alternatively one could disassemble the chain, replace the
weak link, and thus make the chain stronger. It is futile to strengthen
links that are stronger than the weakest link. Regardless of the
number of aircraft and ships in the system, if the ports cannot
deal with arriving troops and equipment, throughput will be limited.
Most DOD missions are performed by a system of systems in which
each subsystem is an interlocking and interdependent process operating
in concert with other systems and subsystems within their parent
systems. They all come together to accomplish a task. Each subsystem
plays a role in the overarching system, but none can complete the
mission on its own strength alone.
Planning guidance released in April 2003 called for U.S. Joint Forces
Command (JFCOM) and the services to address six goals (and joint
operating concepts) in an annual endeavor to produce transformation
roadmaps. The Secretary of Defense established critical operational
goals in the Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review, using roadmaps
to focus on developing service- unique capabilities to:
• protect critical bases of operations
• project and sustain forces in distant anti-access/area denial
environments and defeat anti-access and area denial threats
• deny sanctuary through persistent surveillance, tracking,
and rapid engagement by high-volume precision strike
• assure information systems to conduct effective information
operations in an attack
• enhance capabilities and survivability of space systems
and supporting infrastructure
• leverage information technology and innovative concepts
to develop interoperable joint command, control, communications,
computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance architecture
and capability to include a tailorable joint operational picture.
To meet those goals, a service or agency can assume that each goal
statement is a mission-a set of tasks and subtasks that must be
accomplished in a structured way.
For instance, the essential task of the third goal is denying sanctuary
to an enemy. Several tasks and implied systems are cited in the
goal statement. Surveillance, tracking, and engagement systems are
subtasks of the overall mission. Furthermore, there are implied
tasks in each specified system that may use the output of other
systems and subsystems or contribute to them.
Surveillance requires multiple systems of various components, both
services and agencies, to provide continuous and near-complete information.
To cover potential sanctuaries and furnish useful, timely information,
this task will likely require multiple, complementary ground, sea,
air, and space capabilities, which in turn call for separate commands
and agencies to execute discrete tasks in common. Every organization
and the overall system must have both a tasking mechanism and a
feedback loop to enable accurate assessment and responsive reengagement.
Similarly, acquiring targets is only one major task under the Quadrennial
Defense Review. Intelligence systems must process information from
surveillance systems, tracking systems must retain targets, engagement
systems must be able to deliver the desired effect, and maneuver
systems must be appropriately positioned in the battlespace. In
addition, both combat support and combat service support systems
must sustain operations. Denying sanctuary also requires complex
interaction by these various systems.
The Weak Link
Once the six transformational goals are understood as missions executed
through a system of systems, the next step is determining where
to focus the effort to transform the larger system. Where is the
weak link? Are there components that can be leveraged to increase
the capacity of the system? Can a component be bypassed or its output
improved in other ways?
The concept that the six goals are missions performed by a system
of systems that are only as adept as its weakest component exposes
a flaw in the call to "develop service-unique capabilities
necessary to meet the six critical operational goals." How
can a service know where to focus until it knows how its systems
contribute to the overall mission? Moreover, how will DOD know how
to allocate resources to reinforce the weak links?
System of Systems
Describing the mission in terms of a system of systems identifies
cause and effect relations between entities in the system and allows
commanders on all levels to monitor contributions to desired outputs.
The areas ripe for breakthrough or transformational solutions are
best found once these complex missions are presented as systems
of systems. Then detailed analysis can find the weak links-or the
hidden potential in the system.
The challenge of diagramming complex missions is not limited to
identifying the system of systems. The web of relationships linking
tasks and systems must be perceived in enough detail to enable understanding
that a change in one dimension may resonate throughout the system.
Only when processes, subsystems, and relationships among them are
identified can the overarching process be traced to find constraints
inhibiting mission performance. Problems can be associated with
hardware, resources, organizations, policy, or doctrine. Chokepoints
that impede the system can indicate problems that cannot be resolved
normally and call for transformational solutions.
Sometimes commanders do not have needed technology or resources.
For example, night vision devices represented a breakthrough that
denies sanctuary in darkness. Suddenly an enemy could be seen at
night, boosting capability and effectiveness.
At other times the problem is organizational. The Goldwater-Nichols
Act sought to change the way that the defense establishment does
business. By strengthening the operational chain of command and
eliminating stovepipes to enhance jointness, this law overcame friction
between unified commanders and the services.
Operational concepts also pose problems. France invested significant
resources in the Maginot Line during the interwar years without
resolving the fact that defensive barriers can be breached or avoided.
It was faced by the demands of a fortified force versus a mobile
reserve. Failure to resolve this tension, rather than technology,
which was at least on a par with that of Germany, led to defeat.
Problems can exist in many dimensions -technology, organizations,
and policy as well as operational concepts and doctrine. Once the
system of systems is understood, the effort shifts to finding problems
that restrict the potential or opportunities to enhance capability
by restructuring it. Its problems are identified. The challenge
is eliminating those things that inhibit the performance of the
overarching system, clearing the way for transformation.
The Reality Box
With mission statements diagrammed, the primary issue is finding
problems in the system. Surveying decisionmaking processes is the
point of departure in creating a methodology to identify breakthroughs.
The processes are ways to think about solving problems presented
by a mission statement and discovered in mission analysis. Each
conventional solution-seeking process entails mission analysis that
describes assumptions, limitations, and problems or constraints
that bound the range of solutions.
Because such methods include operational risk assessments, they
are conservative and take identified limiters as a given. Although
some attention is paid to replacing assumptions with facts, the
primary aim is identifying limiters to planning with complete situational
understanding. Thus the processes are not designed to produce transformational
solutions, but instead point to the most effective course of action
while minimizing risk. That is reasonable in the context of operational
planning, and it almost always generates a conventional solution.
In identifying facts, limitations, constraints, and assumptions,
current processes define the reality box in which a solution might
take shape. The effort is focused on defining the dimensions. If
one conceives of the solution as a sphere and the reality box as
a cube, the task becomes stuffing the largest possible sphere into
the cube. The result is either the largest possible reality box
(which is desirable because the bigger the box, the bigger the sphere
that fits inside) or fitting a solution into a constrained reality
box (which means effectively using all available resources). The
existence of such a box, however, is rarely questioned or even recognized.
The reality box concept is related to outside-the-box thinking but
is not identical. The term outside the box has come to mean unconventional
approaches to solving problems. Supposedly its origin is a parlor
game that presents players with nine dots arranged in a 3 by 3 square.
The object is connecting nine dots with four straight lines without
lifting the pencil from the paper. The only solution is drawing
lines outside the box. Today the phrase is used as a hortative:
think outside the box. But it rarely offers direction -it simply
means considering alternatives. Such thinking can be unguided and
result in plans that drift in white space. Any breakthroughs would
be serendipitous. Hence the need for the reality box concept to
direct efforts toward transformational solutions.
The image of a solution stuffed inside a reality box enables the
visualization of concepts of potential and friction in the context
of developing breakthroughs. The space between the solution sphere
and the box represents potential; the sphere has room to grow before
it contacts the limiting box walls. The task of conventional planners
is fitting a solution sphere into that space defined by the box.
Expanding the sphere as far as possible represents a qualitative
refinement of the solution within the limits discovered through
Similarly, points where the solution sphere makes contact with the
inside of the box can be understood as problems that hamper system
performance; the solution sphere wants to expand but is constrained.
Those points of friction are generally regarded as an unmovable
part of the box and efforts usually turn to expanding the sphere
into empty spaces. When every option for developing a solution to
fit inside the reality box is exhausted, some limiters must be relaxed
enough to allow expansion for the solution to fit. That might mean
requesting added resources to use in mission accomplishment, redefining
the mission objective, or rethinking the level of risk acceptable.
The result is that the reality box is stretched to enable the solution
to fit inside the box. This effort will not cause breakthroughs
because it does not fundamentally alter the way solutions are shaped.
A distinction can be made between conventional problem solving and
a method that might produce a breakthrough. Instead of accepting
the limitation, transformational solution seekers look at points
of contact to determine the nature of the constraint. Is the sphere
rubbing against an actual limiter or merely the fabric of assumptions
covering holes between facts? Is the point of friction vulnerable
to puncture? Are the facts really facts, or are they assumptions?
By definition, transformational solutions fall outside the reality
box. This is the nature of a breakthrough; it penetrates limiters
that box in solution sets.
Even though processes like the joint operation planning and execution
system or the Army decisionmaking process may not lead to transformational
solutions, they may be a reasonable start in building the reality
box. This step is critical because it offers an exquisite definition
of reality. Ultimately what one does with the completed box is what
distinguishes transformational solution seeking from conventional
Care is taken to identify assumptions on the situation and environment
in mission analysis. An assumption is a statement or condition accepted
as valid without any substantiation or proof. It is a supposition
about current or future situations held to be true that replaces
the unavailable facts. Identifying assumptions is vital in planning
and pivotal in military transformation.
Valid assumptions combine with facts to become the framework that
shapes the reality box. The structural integrity of the box is relevant
to planners. From their perspective, holes are windows of vulnerability
through which an unforeseen event could compromise the solution.
Thus as the box takes shape, planners naturally seek to identify
holes and plug them. At first they use assumptions, replacing them
when they acquire facts.
In dealing with recognized assumptions, facts must be scrutinized.
Often they are deeply held convictions whose basis is not understood.
Hidden assumptions are insidious because they take considerable
effort to expose. Constraints may be based on assumptions that are
seemingly unbreakable rules. Commanders are advised in Joint Pub
5.00-1, Joint Doctrine for Planning, to consider "assumptions
handed down from higher echelons as facts."
Underlying reasons are lost as assumptions pass down the chain.
Soon they become facts. Similarly, policy constraints take on a
life of their own. Sometimes unbreakable rules arise for lack of
focus on the overall system, which reinforces the need for a systems
diagram that enables planners to trace undesirable effects in the
system to an original conflict and to judge the validity of the
Windows of Opportunity
Transformational solution seekers, unlike planners, think that holes
in the box are windows of opportunity. Covered only by assumptions,
these are points where the box becomes vulnerable to breakthroughs.
When assumptions are identified, addressing them is a straightforward
process. If the source of conflict is clear and the choice deliberate,
organizations can weigh options, make informed decisions, then adopt
ways to mitigate the consequences.
Transformational solution seekers look specifically for assumptions
that can be broken with transformational solutions. The box represents
reality, but conditions that define reality-political, social, economic,
military, and other factors-are complex adaptive systems that change
human and environmental interaction. Indeed, technology develops
and scientific understanding evolves. Thus the bases of assumptions
constantly change. According to one analyst, "Assumptions that
were valid yesterday can become invalid and, indeed, totally misleading
in no time at all." Thus, while the next phase is beginning
to generate solutions that fit in the reality box, the transformational
solution begins by identifying assumptions.
If assumptions are identified, the challenge is straightforward.
Unfortunately, it is not easy to identify assumptions that point
to transformational solutions. Planners need a different way to
locate assumptions to break. First, they must understand the system
of systems so the web of tasks, organizations, and relationships
that interact to accomplish the mission becomes clear. Today this
web of interaction takes place within the reality box, and problems
that limit the ability of the system can be seen as points where
the system meets the box. Problems can arise from conflicts over
choices regarding policy, organization, doctrine, technology, or
resources. Thus the next step for transformational solution seekers
is using the reality box to identify problems in the system and
then focusing analysis on them.
Most management concepts deal with transforming corporations, but
they offer little insight into the process. Among them is the theory
of constraints, which began as a technique based on scientific method
that could be applied to industrial production. It developed into
an approach for analyzing organizations to address problems that
hinder attaining organizational goals. Simply put, this theory provides
analytical tools to answer three questions:
• what to transform-causes of problems faced by organizations
and systems, conflicts that prevent eliminating problems, and explicit
and implicit assumptions underlying conflicts
• what to transform to-changes that resolve problems and facts
that can replace or modify faulty assumptions
• how to achieve transformation-obstacles to change, finding
means to overcome them, and taking the necessary steps.
The first step is identifying problems that affect organization.
Once identified, the theory of constraints facilitates the recognition
of assumptions, policies, practices, and measures that cause them.
To remain abreast of evolving reality, one must identify what to
change. Then, in deciding what to transform to, the theory offers
a technique for deciding changes in policies, practices, and measures.
Finally, it provides a way of deciding how to transform.
Military transformation calls for breakthroughs in problems confronting
the Armed Forces. Operational goals should be regarded as mission
statements that describe a system of systems. The services bring
unique capabilities to these goals, but they interact within the
context of a larger system. Thus the system must be diagramed in
a manner that illustrates its constraints across the defense community.
Developing transformational capabilities without such an understanding
runs the risk of suboptimizing or squandering resources.
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