Aug - 23 - 2019

Winning in Fast Time - John A. Warden III, Leland Russell

This is an excellent book about business strategy development.  It is not about any particular type of strategy, but about a method by which strategies can be developed. The authors are John A. Warden III, and Leland A. Russell.

John A. Warden III had a long career as an author, and as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. He designed the air campaign for operation Desert Storm using the techniques detailed in this book. Leland A. Russell is a  business consultant focusing on strategy, leadership development, and knowledge management. Together they have created a book detailing 'The Prometheus Method.' A method of strategy development that is forward looking, forward leaning, and focused on results. More information directly from the authors' site is available here. While all strategy development systems focus on bringing about a specific future state, Prometheus, unlike old-school methodologies, focuses on using minimal resources to accomplish the minimum amount of change that will bring the future state into existence.

Core Concepts

The Prometheus process is straightforward once you understand it, but the process depends on certain core concepts without which it cannot be explained. Among these concepts are ideas of systems thinking, centers of gravity, the power of parallel operations, and the concept of campaigns.

  • Systems Thinking is the idea that your organization, competitive organizations, the marketplace, and the overall environment comprise a system, operating by a specific set of rules, and that all actions affect the system in some way. As Mr. Warden puts it so succintly, 'when you make the rules, it is easy to win the game.'
  • Centers of gravity are parts of a system that influence the rest of the system. This could be key decision-makers within an organization, key positioning concepts within a marketplace, or the connectors, mavens, and salesmen withing Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point. Mr. Warden introduces the concept of 'five rings,' which is a formalization of these centers of gravity into leadership, processes, infrastructure, population, and agents.
  • The power of parallel operations involves applying modifying pressures to the centers of gravity simultaneously. This is powerful because even if some of the operations fail, there is still enough pressure on the system to shift it into the desired state. This concept is critical because all systems resist change. If one takes the historical approach of implementing in phases then, after each phase change, the previously-focused centers of gravity revert to their historical state. By the time the phased approach is complete you have spent a lot of resources but the system has recovered from the change effort without incurring a lasting change.
  • The concept of Campaigns recognizes that each effort has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The idea of an end-game is a critical but commonly overlooked concept. Without the end-game the organization is left with the idea that the new state is permanent. This leaves the organization unprepared for future changes.

Process Overview

Given these core concepts, the Prometheus method follows a clear sequence, conceived as strategic imperatives. These imperatives are:

  1.  Design the future - This imperative is about envisioning the future state that is the goal of the campaign. Components fo this imperative include defining the ultimate future as well as setting limits on the behavior of the organization. These rules of behavior define what the organization is willing to do to achieve the ends, as well as what is unwilling to do; the limits beyond which the end does not justify the means. Once of the critical elements of designing the future is the idea of measures of merit. Since we tend to get what we measure, selecting measures that gauge the progress towards the future state is very important. All of this takes place within the idea of open planning. Open planning is about involving representatives from all levels of the organization, and empowering them to make decisions.
  2. Target for Success - This imperative is about selecting the foci of change efforts. This is where the five rings that make up the centers of gravity become useful. By selecting appropriate targets for the change effort it is possible to push the system towards the desired future state with minimal resources. This also allows you to avoid wasting resources on interesting but irrelevant points.
  3. Campaign to Win - The Campaign to Win imperative is where the parallel operations applying pressure to the centers of gravity are initiated and pursued. This allows for adapting to changing conditions while measuring strategically and remaining within the limits defined earlier.
  4. Finish with Finesse - This imperative is about knowing when you have achieved your goal. With a clear end, it is possible to release resources, reap the rewards of accomplishment, and to re-focus on the next set of changes that inevitably occur withing the changing world.

Final Thoughts

This is an awesome book. Even if you do not end up using the complete Prometheus method, you will find that Warden and Leland's concepts expand your thinking and provide useful tools for strategic analysis and process development. I highly recommend this book.

Rating: Highly Recommended
Amazon link: Winning in FastTime.

All Original Content Copyright 2014 Jon Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

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