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Commander’s intent

One of the interesting things about agile methodologies is that when you read about best practice in other fields of "business", you can find the same stuff. I’m currently reading the excellent Made to Stick, about how you present a message to make it stick. A truly interesting book for anyone who think he’s got something useful to say. Mike Cohn stresses the need for a project/product vision. He uses the Geoffrey Moore’s template from Crossing the Chasm:

  • For (target customer)
  • Who (statement of the need or opportunity)
  • The (product name) is a (product category)
  • That (key benefit, compelling reason to buy)
  • Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
  • Our product (statement of primary differentiation)

So simple, and so powerful.

In the military, there is something called Commander’s intent, which have the same objective as the the Product vision: to make people understand why they are doing stuff. What is the objective. The definition, according to FM 100-5 (Field manual) from 1993, the Commander’s intent is:

The commander’s intent describes the desired end state. It is a concise expression of the purpose of the operation and must be understood two echelons below the issuing commander. . . It is the single unifying focus for all subordinate elements. It is not a summary of the concept of the operation. Its purpose is to focus subordinates on the desired end state. Its utility is to focus subordinates on what has to be accomplished in order to achieve success, even when the plan and concept of operations no longer apply, and to discipline their efforts toward that end.

It should be as short as possible and should be placed on top of every order. The reason is that if all plans fail or if something unexpectedly happens, the team should select the thing which bring them closer to the objective. These questions can be seen as the template for the commander’s intent, where the sub questions are meant to answer the superior question:

  • What is the single, most-important thing that my team has to do during this operation?
    • If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s mission, we must X
    • The single, most-important thing that we must do tomorrow is X
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