Army Decision Making Process & Risk Management


   OK where to start on the MDMP process.  Wow…  Needless to say it is a very in depth methodical process that even the best staff officers want to cut short.  Just like anything new it is most important for you all to learn the “right” way to do it first.  Then, you will be much more capable of using shortcuts in a given situation.  Think of it like learning long division before you were handed a calculator.  The bottom line is that when you finally get to your units they will have guidance for you on just what they want and how they want it done.  Now, I am assuming that this isn’t your first time to the MDMP dance having survived Advance Camp (or whatever they are calling it now) so I won’t even think about boring you with the steps and all the sub steps.  Here is what you do need to know though, this is the way the Army has figured out how to take a mission from a higher headquarters, a single mission statement, a WARNO, or a full blown OPORD, and put into a format that your young NCOs can understand and execute, the OPORD.  Getting there requires a good deal of thorough analysis and work.  However, if you follow the steps, you will have a decent plan.  As I am sure you have heard before, the mission and intent are the most important parts.  Good NCOs will figure out how what they need to get it done (Paragraph IV) and they know who is in charge and how to talk to them (Paragraph V).  They will figure out real quick why they are going to do something, who is going to help them, what the impacts of the weather will be and who the enemy is (Paragraph I).  So make sure that your second and the first part of your third paragraphs are succinct. 

Also, your NCOs can read the higher order, so make your OPORD apply to them.  For example, don’t just tell them that it may rain, tell them how that will affect their NVGs, how it will affect sounds in the area you are working, how it will make everything more slippery, how it will limit what they carry on their backs or in the vehicles because they will have to waterproof their MOLLE packs or put their gear inside the vehicle instead of hanging it on the outside.  Go behind your squad leaders and “quiz” your Soldiers on your mission and intent.  Make sure they know what they are doing.  This isn’t micromanaging, this is verifying that your NCOs are getting the word out.  Trust but verify.  Just like conducting Pre-Combat Inspections and Checks…you don’t want to check everyone, but you do want to check on a couple of Soldiers to make sure that your NCOs are doing the right things…your PSG should be doing the same thing.

Your first OPORD experience will probably be a range OPORD once you get to your units.  That is usually an easy “ice breaker” to make sure you know what you are doing or at least know when to ask for help.  Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.  Start with your fellow platoon leaders or platoon sergeant for past examples that you can work from.  Now, your boss may want you to start from scratch…unfortunately that is their perogative.  I personally don’t agree with it but everyone has their own techniques.  If you can’t find one at the Company level (remember to check with the 1SG, they are a wealth of info) then look at the BN S3.  They should have plenty of examples.

Now, as far as Risk Management.  The same thing holds true.  Know how the right way to do it is, so that as you get proficient you begin to do it without even thinking about it.  Lets take a simple trip from school to home.  You know that if you wreck or get into an accident the results could be catastrophic.  You also know that depending on when you travel the risk of accident will go up…ie Saturday at around 2-3 AM vs 1-2 PM.  So, you make decisions to avoid these situations as best you can…either leaving in the afternoon on Friday or early afternoon on Saturday.  You may do a quick walk around of your car to make sure the tires are full…you make plan pit stops if it is a long trip.  You have just done the Risk Management process.  The only thing the Army wants you to do is write it down when it is part of an exercise or operation to show that you have thought through everything and are using all of the controls you can think of to get the risk down.  You will get to the point that Risk Management can be seen in everything you do…it is weird the first time you catch yourself thinking in terms of controls and residual risk but hey it is a sign that the system works.

MDMP and RM are very deliberate processes to make sure you think everything through.  Putting activities into steps and operations into timelines force you to think in steps.  This “mode” is the surest way to catch something if you initially miss it.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen staffs work tirelessly through wargaming, producing a synch and decision matrix that has proven invaluable during an exercise when the enemy throws a curveball at you.

I have focused on the MDMP as it looks from the platoon and company level.  You don’t have a staff to go through the entire process step by step, I mean what are you going to do when you are actually the approver of the COAs that you developed…ummm.  If you have any specific questions, I will be more than happy to answer them for you.  Years on a Division staff have left their scars.

MAJ Brian Heverly

    • CDT Coco
    • September 13th, 2009

    Sir, do your NCOs ever feel you do not trust them when you go behind them and quiz their soldiers on the mission or on other vital pieces of information? Do they get nervous when you walk around your unit to check up on things? Or do they understand you have to do that? Thanks for your advice.

      • kuarmyrotc
      • September 14th, 2009

      CDT Coco,
      To be honest, yes they did look at me a little funny. But it is still your responsibility to make sure your troops are prepared…it may not be your job to get the lowest ranking guy ready, but it is your responsibility to make sure that he/she is. Now, the only way to do that without micromanaging and doing everything yourself is to spot check. I used a couple of methods that seemed to serve me well. One, I talked to my Platoon SGT so he understood where I was coming from…I also had him check me out to make sure I was squared away. I then had him talk to the Squad Ldrs to let them know I wasn’t playing “Gotcha” or “stump the chump” with them or the Soldiers. The second technique was to take the Squad Ldrs with me. That way they saw what I was checking for and could make “on-the-spot” corrections. The second technique took the pressure off of the Soldier because it would “appear” that the PL was “mad” at the Squad Ldr and not them. The whole point of the checking is two-fold, one, to make sure your Soldiers are ready, period. The second is to make sure your Squad Ldrs are doing their jobs. Now, if they aren’t then you need to talk it over with your Plt SGT with the Sqd Ldr there to defend/explain themselves. If he/she agrees with you 9 out of 10 times they will fix it with the Sqd Ldr. It could be that you are a little offbase (hence the reason I had my Plt SGT check me); if so have your CO double check you too (or the 1SG, a great source of help). If your Sqd Ldr refuses to fix it, you are “right” and the Plt SGT can’t fix it, start counselling him/her or at least have the Plt SGT do it. Before you put anything on paper, make sure that you are right though. There is nothing that will “turn off” your platoon than you giving a negative counselling to a NCO that doesn’t deserve it. Don’t worry too much about that, the 1SG and the CO should be able to ensure you don’t make that mistake..the 1SG because he is protecting the NCO and the unit and the CO because he is protecting you and the unit.–MAJ H

    • deathstroke13
    • September 15th, 2009

    Basically my understanding after reading this blog and the assigned sections from the book is that the MDMP is long and tedious and can be adapted for time constraints. The reading stated that Company and plt level leaders would use TLPs more than the MDMP because of the time constraints and types of decisions they make. What would be a real time example of when a CO or PL would use the MDMP? I am just wondering because they don’t have a staff and it seems like a very formal process to me. Thank you

      • MAJ Thornhill
      • September 16th, 2009

      I am MAJ Thornhill, here at ILE with MAJ Heverly. I am prior-service Military Intelligence, with tactical ADA experience at the battalion, brigade, and division levels, and recently as a Financial Manager at the Army HQ level. I will address your question based on that background. –You are correct in thinking that the initial skill for you to master is the TLPs. When done right you will earn respect at the platoon and company levels. However, many of you will go to low-density positions in units. That means instead of being one of many Infantry or Armor officers, you may be one of the few, such as, Signal, Chemical, or MI on a staff. Also, some platoon leaders in a Battalion Task Force wear two hats as a platoon leader and a BN staff member. Your chances of being on a staff increase even more as a 1LT since there are only a few company XO positions available. That applies to all the branches. As 2LTs come into the BN, the 1LTs move up to XO or to the S1, Asst S3, S4, and even the S2 if MI officers are hard to come by. Here is where you can really shine if, as a LT, you can show that you understand the process and can make an effective contribution. And lastly, remember you will be a CPT for 5 to 6 years…only an average of 18 to 24 months are command time—the rest is some sort of staff time. If I missed part of the question or created more questions than I answered, just ask. –MAJ T

    • Halo33
    • September 16th, 2009

    After reading the book, Major Heverly made the MDMP alot more clearer in the process of what steps I need to take in order for my platoon to succeed and accomplish the mission. I agree with CDT Coco on the fact that spot checking inside of the platoon might make SLs and the PSG angry, but I understand that with communication within my leadership that conflict can be dodged by explaining my intentions.

    • CDT Coco
    • September 17th, 2009

    MAJ T and MAJ H,

    I am curious. Could you please list 2 or 3 books that you would highly recomend a CDT read? Military related, leadership related, or anything you think we need to read. Thanks.

    • dolemite75
    • September 17th, 2009

    Should you go through the risk management process for EVERYTHING you do as a group? For instance, if your PLT is doing activities such as simple instruction classes, is it necessary to completely analyze every possible risk?

    • Smooth
    • September 17th, 2009

    I like the fact that the army has a specific system in place to guide commanders in their decisions, while still giving them the flexibility to adapt the system as needed. Having the MDMP as a step-by-step guide helps ensure that things aren’t overlooked in the planning process. Same thing with TLPs; during STX lanes, even though we didn’t have time to complete each step individually, it helped to be able to mentally run through the TLP steps to make sure I wasn’t leaving stuff out. I think having that framework keeps everybody on the same page and reduces the chance that things will get overlooked, even if there isn’t time to go through the process completely.

    • Hiphopopotamus
    • September 17th, 2009

    I don’t know if an NCO will feel that they are being micromanaged but my main concern is that I am covering the proper basses (there are so many). A lot of times I get wrapped up in something that either turns out to be non-essential, do I depend on my NCO to point out what I need to focus on for MDMP or should it be clear to me based on the mission analysis and COA development? Has the MDMP changed at all in the last five years?

    • Johnny B. Green
    • September 17th, 2009

    I understand that making a Risk Assessment, entails balancing the possible risk vs. the possible gain and that continuously monitoring and reducing risk is critical. However, as a PL, how high of Risk Assessment do you deal with? I understand its situational dependant and depending on the level of Risk involved correlates with which level of command makes the decision.

    MAJ Thornhill/ MAJ Heverly, How high of Risk Assessment does a PL deal with in today’s COE?

    • stewiegriffin519
    • September 17th, 2009

    MAJ Thornhill / MAJ Heverly,

    Coming into today’s Army as a 2LT, how are we suppose to write a RM and conduct MDMP without being the typical new butter bar? You mention going to your PSG and the 1SG, but what kinds of exercises or practice can we do now to be ahead of the game. I am not afraid to ask questions when I do not know something but at the same time I would like to get started now and not have to be as big of a pain later.

      • kuarmyrotc
      • September 19th, 2009

      As Cadet MS IVs you all ought to have leadership positions of some kind…even if you don’t you can put the RM process to practice for anything. I would suggest next time you travel do one and let your MS advisors see it and give you feedback. You will at least get the thought process down. That is what is important. Once you get the process down it will be much easier to apply it. Same thing with TLPs, just practice with “typical” activities. As one of the later posts said, you can apply it to heading out to the Bar or party or just to go grocery shopping.–MAJ H

    • Jack
    • September 17th, 2009

    When I first looked at the MDMP it seemed to be a good framework for decision making and planning. But recently I was reading a book where a retired LTC referred to it as “illogical and dysfunctional” and says “the tyranny of the plan,” what results “is [like] a caveman trying to put together a rocket ship, without the time or the situational awareness to figure it out.” He gave many situations where he believed that the MDMP actually hindered the mission because by the time the process was complete and the actual mission was put out it was to late. The specific example that he gave was a time when he was waiting to go into Afghanistan to track Osama Bin Laden. He believed that the mission would have the most success if he was allowed to get on the ground in Afghanistan and develop the situation rather than wait to go in until they had a definite plan. In this situation this makes since to me since I have heard that the plan is usually one of the first things to go. What is everyone’s thoughts on this?

      • Ahhhhh!!!
      • September 17th, 2009

      I also always hear that as soon as you cross the LD, the plan generally goes to shit, however what I would say to Jack is to look back at what the first post says, that once you get to a unit they will tell you how they would like you to go about following the process. I would have to say that I think it falls into the category of how Mas would describe going out to the bar using the 8 steps of the TLPs. It is just something that you do without even thinking about it consciously (though you obviously want to think about it consciously in this case). Ultimately it is just how you do things and it’s second nature. As for RM, I would say that this is something that is done constantly every time you do even the smallest thing, only in this case, according to the first post, you write stuff down to CYA. Hopefully I am not too far off base with my comments.

      • kuarmyrotc
      • September 19th, 2009

      Without knowing exactly what the situation was, I can only assume that someone way up the chain actually weighed the risk of sending that Soldier into a situation that wasn’t known with the likelihood of him or someone else gettign seriously injured or worse. The less you know about a situation the more likely you will get hurt or fail. There is something called tactical patience that is a learned art…sometimes our Special Forces guys don’t have this. They make up for it with other skill sets. Just remember that the MDMP is a framework that is designed to be deliberate and thorough. But if you just head off with only the mission…that leaves a lot out. Put yourself in an imaginary scenario with the mission of go to OBJ X destroy Enemy Y in order to allow the flow of supplies into area U…that’s it, that’s all the info you have. Do you really want to go into area U with no idea of anything else. Now, this is extreme but a complete OPORD is the product of MDMP.

    • awarriorpoet
    • September 17th, 2009

    When i do MDMP it always feels like i am putting to much thought into what seems like such a basic task. I have only seen a few real Army Risk Assessment done by the guard for going to the shooting range and live fear missions. Which involved alot of risk firing weapons. On the day to day operation do i have to go as in-depth as when doing a fire mission or can i chill out bit?

    I was just re-reading my comment i guess its individual units SOP? Does any other CDT or MAJ have any stories where putting down more info on the day to day brief helped out more then it hurt?

    • Blazer
    • September 17th, 2009

    This set decision making process helps LTs figure out difficult problems without having to think about too many extra steps. This will help eliminate exess steps and make decisions faster

    • shake and bake
    • September 17th, 2009

    Would you ever send a risk assessment up the chain up command if you saw an incredible risk involved in the mission. For example, say you had to do patrols in the morning, but doing a patrol X morning would have a very high level of risk. Could you, or would you ask to do the patrol later, or not do the patrol?

      • kuarmyrotc
      • September 19th, 2009

      Any patrol is going to arguably start out at medium risk…just because someone could die. It is the good platoon leader, with the help of his NCOs, peers, and CO that will develop good control measures to minimize as much risk as possible. There will always be “residual” risk where combat is concerned. I can’t think of a scenario that would leave a PL in charge of a high risk operation/patrol. Normally, that PL would be at least part of a larger operation or have someone over him take responsibility. I could be off or just not thinking enough but I can’t think of a situation.

    • Sigfried
    • November 26th, 2009

    Would it be more reasonable to go to the PSG or 1SG for help in the MDMP? I know the 1SG is great to answer almost any question a PL would have, however, as a PL you are working closely with your PSG. Are you ‘ignoring’ the advice of your PSG by skipping straight to the 1SG?

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