The Machine Will Run Without You: A Checklist for Checking Out

#41
And what happens when your wife is ill and someone has to pick up the kids?

More pertinently, what happens if you are killed?

Any organisation that rests on single points of failure gets all it deserves.
Stating the obvious doesn't really help the individual's working in that organisation.
 
#42
Major difference between, say, J4 and J2. For example, you have 1000 intelligence reports. One report provides key information that can prevent a terrorist attack, but it isn't obvious what that information is beforehand, and you can only fully analyse 100 reports. Clearly that report and line of effort is mission critical, but it is not possible to identify that ahead of time.
I would disagree. It's not that report and line of effort which is mission critical, it's the system which is able to look at those 1000 reports, identify the 10% which deserve more resources, and prioritise the effort which is critical to success. Otherwise it's down to pot luck which lines are prosecuted, and I don't think describing "luck" as a mission critical attribute is acceptable.
 
#43
I normally train up my Staff who are in any case all switched on anyway, been very lucky with that having RAF , US Army , Airforce and Navy as well as German Army and Airforce. All have been top notch and can just step up.

Keeping them in the loop at all times as , my knowledge is not a locked room , I will and do pass it on. I know I can go on a 4 week post Operation, after hand surgery knowing they can cope without me.

An older chap who worked for me after working for the BBC and also a VLF transmitting site told me years ago. Nobody is irreplaceable .
Or to undoubtedly misquoted someone, "the trouble with indispensable people, is that cemeteries are full of them". No one cannot be replaced, if the circumstances require it.
 
#44
An old friend of mine has worked as honcho accountant for a manufacturing company for years.

Always moaning that his increasing workload means that he needs to go into the office early, skip lunch and stay late, all for no additional pay.

Can't take holidays at 'end of month' or 'end of quarter' when his b0llocks get served up on toast for targets missed or staff jacking it in, and on the occasions when he does take time off, the silly tw@t spends half the day on the phone dealing with sh1t. The annual holiday he doesn't take gets canned, with no financial compensation.

He'd never listen to the same advice offered on here, claiming some sort of loyalty to the company (one way, of course).

He got off lightly, when he recently cracked up and was signed off with stress, instead of the heart attack I predicted.

Obviously, the company didn't go down the pan like he thought it would in his absence, and without missing a beat replaced him with someone on better t&c's, with a shared workload.
Agree totally and have seen plenty of similar examples. In one particular case an accounts-type guy at the MoD was always at his desk at 0800 if I showed up early and, if I'd been away and called in to drop off my stuff in the evening, he would still be there. He had been with the Civil Service since he was a very young man. Hardly ever took leave and thought that the whole establishment rested on his shoulders until one day, when they found him in the toilets having had a massive stroke which led to his enforced very early retirement. His loss had the same effect as when you take your hand out of a bucket of water and try to see where it had been.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#45
I would disagree. It's not that report and line of effort which is mission critical, it's the system which is able to look at those 1000 reports, identify the 10% which deserve more resources, and prioritise the effort which is critical to success. Otherwise it's down to pot luck which lines are prosecuted, and I don't think describing "luck" as a mission critical attribute is acceptable.
Well, of course, that is what happens: except it doesn't work much of the time. Identifying the 10% which deserve more resources doesn't always identify the one actually mission critical report, and so on. You've then got inflation problems: you decide the whole system is mission critical, so you put in resources to analyse 1000 reports, and soon you have 10000 reports.

The point was that there are some things which in their very nature are impossible to define as mission critical, because you don't have enough information to do so. Anything which involves very large data sets or complex interactions usually fits that bill. In other words, sometimes the concept of mission critical just doesn't fit. It's easy for people to pick over, say, 9/11 now and say that X thing should have been mission critical, but it's a lot more difficult to do it for whatever the next major incident will be.

Mission critical is a concept that applies to known and understood systems. It has limited use with those that involve uncertainty.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#46
Mission critical is a concept that applies to known and understood systems. It has limited use with those that involve uncertainty.
It's also a concept that only works for very tightly defined missions.

To take a random hypothetical, what if your mission were to reduce the numbers of terrorist attacks in somewhere like Kabul that experiences attacks with a very high frequency? What's mission critical there? Is preventing an attack that kills 100 people but doesn't lead to the collapse of the Afghan government mission critical? What about taking measures that significantly increase the likelihood of preventing such attacks in future?

I'm not convinced the concept is nearly as neat as @Joe_Private suggests.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#47
Or to undoubtedly misquoted someone, "the trouble with indispensable people, is that cemeteries are full of them". No one cannot be replaced, if the circumstances require it.
So that's perfectly sensible, but that means the organisation in question has to behave that way. This often means accepting that it's better to have Person X, and if necessary replace them when lost with someone who is less trained / skilled / able, rather than refuse to have Person X in the first place because there is only one of them. It even has a name in systems design, called "relaxing requirements".

There is another element to that, that definitely applies to the military, which is about optimal decision making. I've seen the same argument made here (about redundancy, sustainability, etc) made about Cyber skills in 2010-2012. The argument was, in essence: we need to work up a full fat career and training profile to get Cyber skills for our people. This will take years, but that's fine. In the meantime, because we don't have that profile yet, we won't recognise Cyber skills in individuals or posts. The effect of that was that they lost a huge number (close to 100%) of people who had shown interest and ability in that area, largely because the civilian sector was much quicker and more comfortable with less-than-perfect. In some cases, people who had self-trained, and were deliberately trying to get posted into the few places that did Cyber related work, were seen off on the grounds that it wasn't a valid career choice for another 3-4 years. What was the effect on the organisation? It lost near 100% of its existing manpower who would have been ideal for the career stream when it did arrive, so slowed the adoption when it did. It also lost 5 years of work and experience in what could have been an IOC period, even if it wasn't FOC...in a highly competitive field that moves fast. That is what optimal decision making algorithms do, they demonstrate that it is almost always better to make a decision earlier under imperfect conditions, than wait even a short time for ideal conditions, because the aggregate work or advantages from starting earlier almost always outweigh the disadvantages. Also applies to investing, for example: don't wait 5 years for a high yield investment, invest in a low yield investment now, and then switch to the great one if it comes along, because aggregate amounts are almost always larger than you instinctively weigh.

Some of those making the argument on here seem to be suggesting that everything can be put in a neat box where it is both easy to identify and provide perfect redundancy, and that we should only do things which fit those conditions. It's a very civil service / military way of thinking and risk aversion, it's just not true, and most of the time it's self-defeating.
 
#48
The point was that there are some things which in their very nature are impossible to define as mission critical, because you don't have enough information to do so. Anything which involves very large data sets or complex interactions usually fits that bill. In other words, sometimes the concept of mission critical just doesn't fit. It's easy for people to pick over, say, 9/11 now and say that X thing should have been mission critical, but it's a lot more difficult to do it for whatever the next major incident will be.
I think, then, that this is a misapplication of the word "mission". If we are trying to identify what should be considered "mission critical" for 9/11, I would want as a starting point a proper description of what the "mission" was. If it is "to prevent any terrorist attack at any time by any person in mainland USA", then it is an unrealistic mission and is doomed to repeated failure. If it is to specifically prevent that one event, that it is an unrealistic mission, as it could not have been defined beforehand unless certain actions which in reality were not acheived had already been achieved.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#50
I think that essentially, i am in agreement with you and @Sarastro, though I am coming at it from a different direction.
I think we probably all agree that in an ideal world we'd have tightly defined missions, clear and measurable objectives for each man, redundancy at all levels, and operational demands that match the force levels available without harming T&C's.

I just don't think that's ever really going to be the case and it's not necessarily the fault of any given individual (or, indeed, any given organisation) if that isn't achievable.
 
#51
My experience may be unusual, but when I worked on the staff I noticed no pressure to not take leave / any sense that you were somehow regarded better for not taking it; if anything, the opposite was true. As far as I'm aware everyone in my Directorate, from 2* down, managed to take pretty much their full complement. But on the staff—acknowledging that when work takes place in compartments, eg some of the 2020 Refine nonsense, this is challenged—there generally shouldn't be single points of failure. Again in my, possibly limited, experience there weren't any. When SO1 Paperclips was on leave, then SO2A Paperclips was capable of stepping up.

However.... one of the single most unpleasant periods of my life was when my then Commanding Officer (I was at Regimental Duty at the time) insisted that everyone would get their leave balances down to 0 (and instituted block leave to ensure this). Just as the road to hell is paved with good intentions, his apparently benevolent direction led to a Regiment (or more precisely a few key individuals within that Regiment) trying desperately to squeeze ten pounds of work into a five pound bag. Because, oddly enough, even though we were expected to take all our leave, we were also expected to fulfill every other requirement generated by Bde and Div as well as preparing for the various demands—CSTTX, BATUS, etc—of a training year. These demands do fall disproportionately upon a handful of individuals, who are to all intents single points of failure.

While you could argue that this is the sign of organizational failure, it could also just be an example of a system that is trimmed fairly close to the bone. If a 2IC / Adjt / Ops Officer (and to a lesser extent QM / QM(T)) claim that they're too busy to take leave, I'm frankly sympathetic, because who else is meant to do the job in their stead? The challenge that someone would have to do their jobs if they were killed on operations has some validity, but disregards the difference that exists between their in camp responsibilities and their deployed ones. We have organizational structures that are optimized (well, meant to be) for deployments, which we then have to make do with for managing life in barracks. Single points of failure might be an organizational neurosis, but they may also—at least partly—be the result of the structures we work with.
 
#52
that in the normal course of 9-5 peace time army working ensuring your juniors take all their leave is part of your job remit,
As it was explained to me when the time came for "management training"...

"If your people don't take their vacation days they'll royally mess-up, or end up taking twice as much off sick, or they'll leave."
 
#53
The Machine Will Run Without You: A Checklist for Checking Out

There are multiple reasons that take leaders out of the office and it’s not just TDY. Non-emergency surgery, NCO professional education schools, birth of a child, Ranger school, and the normal 30 days of leave a year will lead you away from the troops. The question is: Have you prepared your organization for your absence?
Part of this conversation is based on having self-awareness that when you are gone, someone else is doing your job. The phone calls and questions from higher will be answered by another person, so we have a professional obligation and responsibility to ensure that success can be achieved without us. This falls in line with the principle of Mission Command, however, junior leaders may not have enough experience in the unit, the Army, or in life to instinctively move into executing disciplined initiative the day you take leave. Mission command is grown and developed, not turned on and off when needed. Mission command also assumes that everyone understands the commander’s intent, which may not be true across your organization.
In the ensuing days before leaving, we find ourselves caught in a flurry of DTS, leave forms, and out of office setup. However, I would argue that as much preparation should go into leaving than the mission you are leaving the office to conduct.
Ask these questions while preparing for your absence:
Fascinating. I’m going to knock one out now, mostly likely to Asian women being choked and covered in threads of sperm.
 
#54
If a 2IC / Adjt / Ops Officer (and to a lesser extent QM / QM(T)) claim that they're too busy to take leave, I'm frankly sympathetic, because who else is meant to do the job in their stead?
If there isn't a troop leader, S/Sgt ready to step up as he's probably next in line for the job anyway then it's the Squadron Leader, SSM since they didn't get said Lt, S/Sgt ready.
 
#55
If there isn't a troop leader, S/Sgt ready to step up as he's probably next in line for the job anyway then it's the Squadron Leader, SSM since they didn't get said Lt, S/Sgt ready.
I don't quite see where Tp Ldrs and SSgts come into this. While I think a good Tp Ldr could do the job of an Ops Offr on exercise / operations, I'm not sure how successfully they could cover the discipline / MS functions of an Adjt.

When I was Ops I couldn't effectively cover the Adjt when he was on leave with regard to a lot of his outputs; "covering him" really just meant monitoring emails and attempting to action anything that seemed of absolutely pressing importance. There's a degree of specialization which I don't feel is helpful in terms of building resilience in the structure. My own preferred mitigation is a misappropriation of IO and RSO, such that IO also becomes Assistant Ops, and RSO becomes Assistant Adjt, but this is a complete workaround and—as far as I'm aware—has no official approval.
 
#56
I don't quite see where Tp Ldrs and SSgts come into this. While I think a good Tp Ldr could do the job of an Ops Offr on exercise / operations, I'm not sure how successfully they could cover the discipline / MS functions of an Adjt.

When I was Ops I couldn't effectively cover the Adjt when he was on leave with regard to a lot of his outputs; "covering him" really just meant monitoring emails and attempting to action anything that seemed of absolutely pressing importance. There's a degree of specialization which I don't feel is helpful in terms of building resilience in the structure. My own preferred mitigation is a misappropriation of IO and RSO, such that IO also becomes Assistant Ops, and RSO becomes Assistant Adjt, but this is a complete workaround and—as far as I'm aware—has no official approval.
I suspect you're talking RHQ and I'm looking at Sqn HQ, but the same principle applies, at any time someone is next in line to do the job in 2-3 years so what better way to get a bit of training in than sub for holidays/sickness. As to this being officially approved, I'm talking about how it should be done not how the army does it. Cynically I don't really expect the two to coincide.
 
#57
I suspect you're talking RHQ and I'm looking at Sqn HQ, but the same principle applies, at any time someone is next in line to do the job in 2-3 years so what better way to get a bit of training in than sub for holidays/sickness. As to this being officially approved, I'm talking about how it should be done not how the army does it. Cynically I don't really expect the two to coincide.
I think we might be talking at slight cross purposes. I support the idea of someone stepping up to cover holidays / sickness. But there's a fundamental difference between being required to operate 1 / 2 levels up and to do a completely jobs. Similarly there's a difference between being reluctant to take leave because you don't trust your subordinates, and because you don't have any subordinates.

Officers in the Army not taking leave is pointed to as being an example of organizational malaise / a failure of mission command. Sometimes, yes; my point was just that sometimes it's a result of having fairly lean structures and quite a lot to do. Add to that the difficulty of having work on information systems (eg JPA) that no one other than you can access. The benefit of having someone trained to cover the occasional gap may not outweigh the cost of getting them trained up in the first place.
 
#58
The problem in the army currently is that we have 80% establishment against our liability.

So while an org should have SO1, SO2, SO3 and WO paperclips. Invariably one in the chain will be missing and so the others must cover. If the SO2 steps up, who does the SO2’s job, then the SO3 and WO’s workload? If you have two officers in an HQ supposed to have three, how do they split leave to both have Christmas off?

Secondly, while there are people who can step up to be RSO/Adjt etc, who can really cover the MS role that the Adjt plays for two months or more without doing the courses?

It’s not necessarily the right way, but for some jobs it’s the reality.
 
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