Concept of the Operation (CONOP)

We trying to get your idea sold to upper management or leadership it could come as a big challenge to demonstrate and explain exactly what you want to do or how you are going to achieve.  A concept of the operation, CONOP, is the best hybrid approach that I have found to answer questions quickly and tell someone the “5 W’s”.

A CONOP is a one page document that will answer the overall concept of a problem/solution set at a 10,000′ view.  There is no fine grain detail or planning that takes place in this document.  It is almost like a elevator pitch mixed with words and visual cues to answer the initial questions in order for someone to want to get to the next level; next level being a detailed plan for execution.

In a CONOP you need to answer the “5 W’s” both written and visual to capture both ways that someone understands information.  You should have a diagram or image of what is going to occur in the most important part of the solution.  A mission statement that has the words to answer the “5 W’s” and then extra information that would help identify a potential plan of action or answer some devil’s advocate questioning.

The above image is an example of a CONOP layout with possible information sections. “Main Idea” would be where your diagram or image goes to visual depict your idea.  The other sections are not necessary, but I would highly suggest a minimum of the “Mission Statement”, “Key Tasks”, and “Timeline” sections.

Somehow you need to be concise enough to get your idea in entirety on one page for review by management and leadership to OK further development of the idea.  This document will help capture that idea in order to tell your story with trying to aggressively defend it.

1/3, 2/3 Rule

BLUF: Give your team the time they deserve to accomplish their planning before execution.

During any operation in the military there is a rule of thumb that should be applied to any mission planning set.  The “1/3, 2/3 Rule”.  This rule states that you should only use 1/3 of the planning time for your planning and give 2/3 of the planning time to your subordinates.

For example, if you need to move a logistics package from Tampa, FL to Atlanta, GA and it needs to happen in 3 days,  then you should take 1 day (1/3) of the time to plan out the logistical movement at your level and then give your team 2 days (2/3) to plan out their part at their level.

If you think about this, then you are allowing the most planning time given to your teammates rather than being selfish and hoarding all of that time and everyone else’s time to create my plan and then throwing it at everyone else hours before the execution has to happen and expect a great execution to occur.  Also, if you wait until the end to give your teammates your plan, then your team is sitting around doing nothing and guessing about what actions they need to take to make this a successful execution.  They can only guess if you actually told them that something is coming down for them to get ready for.

This planning technique highlights a few leadership characteristics that I have discussed in previous posts.

  1. Don’t be selfish, be self servant.  Allow your team the most time to plan for mission execution.
  2. Provide a WARNO (Warning Order).  This will answer the 5 W’s for your team to prepare for without knowing the intricate details of the plan.
  3. OODA loop – Don’t let this 1/3, 2/3 Rule confuse to be a hard and fast rule about you do your 1/3 planning first and then they do their 2/3 planning.  This is still an iterative fashion that you should continue to feed information to your team as your receive it.

Backwards Planning

BLUF: Planning is only as valuable if your information is accurate and worthwhile.

Planning and design is the biggest consideration if you have the time and information to apply at this stage.  This stage will allow you to reduce code maintenance.  It also allows for expectations to be set correctly.

Backwards planning helps you setup tasks that need to be accomplished by a deadline.  This planning technique can be used with any software development lifecycle methodology.  It allows you to estimate tasks timeline from a deadline and work backwards to see when you need to start each task in order to meet your deadline.

Here is a quick example.  Fly from Atlanta to South Africa.

  1. Deadline: June 18, 2018
  2. Pack: 1-2 days before
  3. Find travel amenities (magazines, books, pillow, snacks, etc.): 3-4 days before
  4. Order new luggage: 1 week before
  5. Vaccinations: 1 month before
  6. Book hotels: 1-2 months before
  7. Book tours: 1-2 months before
  8. Passport: 4-6 months before
  9. Purchase plane tickets: 1-6 months before

In this example you have to start your process of getting ready for this trip in January 2018 otherwise you run the risk of not having a passport to leave.  If you already have your passport, then you can start in April 2018.  Obviously with experience and know how you can further reduce your timeline.  All of that is part of the planning phase.

Backwards planning can allow you another tool to tell you if your timeline is accurate or if you need to reduce your workload in order to meet your deadline.  This can also help you in finding which features or tasks will never be able to make it into your timeline because it just doesn’t have the runway to accomplish something that is dependent on another team or third party to accomplish.

Realize that this technique can help estimate points in Agile, timelines for Waterfall, or to find predecessors for your tasks.  Also realize that you cannot always have a great planning phase without enough information to accomplish your planning.  Sometimes things happen that interrupt schedules and cause you and your team to be dynamic.

These dynamics can either be your best accomplishment or greatest downfall as a leader.  Don’t allow a misstep in plans to fail your project.  Don’t forget…

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. – Helmuth von Moltke