Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 21, Issue 45;   November 10, 2021:

Should We Do This?

by

Answering the question, "Should we do this?" is among the more difficult decisions organizational leaders must make. Weinberger's Six Tests provide a framework for making these decisions. Careful application of the framework can prevent disasters.
Official Department of Defense photo of Caspar Weinberger

Official Department of Defense photo of Caspar Weinberger, probably during the 1980s, around the time when he devised his Six Tests. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

When Former U.S. Secretary of State and retired four-star General Colin Powell died on October 18, multiple obituaries and retrospectives of his storied career reminded us all of his contributions to decision-making about the use of military force. The Powell Doctrine (a name devised by the U.S. news media) provides eight questions that must be answered in the affirmative as prerequisites for deploying military forces.

The Powell Doctrine is certainly a useful guide but it is not one that many people will ever need. Still, I looked into it and found that it was based, in part, on another work known as Weinberger's Six Tests (also known as the Weinberger Doctrine). [Weinberger 1984] This framework is due to former U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who devised it while he was secretary. Gen. Powell was, at the time, Weinberger's senior military advisor. Weinberger's Six Tests address aspects of the same question addressed by the Powell Doctrine: Under what conditions should the United States commit military forces?

One One of the more difficult decisions
organizations must make is
how to answer the question,
"Should we do this?"
of the more difficult decisions organizations must make is how to answer the question, "Should we do this?" That is a decision about whether and when to undertake a costly new initiative. Examining both the Powell Doctrine and Weinberger's Six Tests, I found that only minor adjustments were needed to make them applicable to important organizational decisions. I've made those adjustments to Weinberger's Six Tests, and the result is below.

Before you read them, select a project or organizational initiative that you know well. As you read each test, ask the question, "Would that project or initiative have passed this test?"

1. The initiative is vital to our interests or the interests of our strategic partners
The organization should not commit resources to any initiative unless it is deemed vital to organizational interests or to the interests of our strategic partners. That emphatically does not mean that we should declare beforehand that a particular market is outside our strategic perimeter.
2. Our commitment of resources is wholehearted, with a clear intention to succeed
Second, if we decide it's necessary to commit resources to a given initiative, we should do so wholeheartedly, and with the clear intention of succeeding. If we are unwilling to commit the resources necessary to achieve our objectives, we should not commit them at all. Of course if the particular situation requires only limited resources to achieve our objectives, then we should not hesitate to commit resources scaled accordingly.
3. Clear definition of market and capability objectives
Third, if we do decide to commit resources to an initiative, we should have clearly defined market and capability objectives. And we should know precisely how our resources can accomplish those clearly defined objectives. And we should make available the resources needed to do just that. As Clausewitz wrote, "no one starts a war or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war, and how he intends to conduct it." [Howard 1984]
Business may be different today than business or war were in Clausewitz's time, but the need for well-defined objectives and a consistent strategy is still essential. If we determine that a initiative has become necessary for our vital organizational interests, then we must commit resources capable to do the job and not assign a mission to a team or organization that is configured only for lesser missions.
4. Continual reassessment of adequacy and suitability of committed resources
The relationship between our objectives and the resources we have committed according to their size, composition and disposition must be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary. Conditions and objectives invariably change during the course of an engagement. When they do change, then so must our requirements. We must continuously keep as a beacon light before us the basic questions: "Is this initiative in our organizational interest?" "Does our organizational interest require us to carry out this task in this way?" If the answers are "yes," then we must continue to strive for success. If the answers are "no," then we should terminate the effort and re-allocate the resources to a more appropriate effort.
5. Reasonable assurance of stakeholder support
Before the organization commits resources to any initiative, there must be some reasonable assurance we will have the support of our stakeholders, including our customers, our employees, our suppliers, and our investors. This support cannot be achieved unless we are candid in making clear the opportunities and threats we face; the support cannot be sustained without continuing and close consultation. We cannot contend with our customers, suppliers, and investors while asking our employees to achieve a success that is out of reach.
6. The Last Resort test
The commitment of our resources should be a last resort, undertaken only when other means of achieving our objectives are unavailable.

Secretary Powell added two more tests, one of which is most relevant to business decisions. I've modified it for business:

7. A reliable and safe exit is available
We agree on what success looks like. We agree on what "good progress" looks like. We have a reliable means of detecting failure. We have a plan for preventing entanglement in the just-a-bit-more syndrome.

How did your initiative score? How many tests did it fail? One? Two? Secretaries Powell and Weinberger would regard even one failed test as problematic. Go to top Top  Next issue: When You Feel Attacked  Next Issue

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Footnotes

[Weinberger 1984]
Caspar W. Weinberger. "The uses of military power." Remarks to the National Press Club, Nov. 28 (1984): 609-84. Back
[Howard 1984]
Michael Howard and Peter Paret, eds. Carl von Clausewitz on War. Princeton University Press, 1984. Available here. Retrieved 9 November 2021. Back

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