The Science of Capability Management
The responsibility that leaders in the military, public safety, and security organizations have to prepare their teams for the conflicts and battles that lie in the future is arguably one of the most important duties that they bear. The consequences of failing to develop those in your charge can have far reaching and long-lasting impacts, as those consequences could include the unnecessary loss of life (both civilian and protector), extended timelines for recovery from an incident or forever altering someone’s way of life. As a result, not taking the task of preparing for war seriously simply isn’t an option for the professional leader. Learning the art and science of capability management allows leaders to take an additional step to ensuring that they have done everything in their power to prepare their teams for the future.
History, Constraints, and Team Impact
One of the challenges that leaders face in the pursuit of developing capabilities within their teams is that capability management isn’t something that is frequently taught or discussed. At its core, capability management is knowing the current state of your ability, knowing where you need to be in order to be ready for the environment you will be operating in, and then putting in the work to get from where you are to get to where you need to be. Yet without the ability to intentionally and objectively assess a capability, charting a way forward becomes the result of intuition, the sense of the leader to recognize what is needed and the ability to marshal the resources needed to build the desired skill set.
While there isn’t anything wrong with intuition, relying solely on intuition creates gaps that appear when a repeatable process is lacking. Why? Because intuition can be hard to explain. When something comes solely from the gut, it can be difficult to articulate your reasoning and rationale for doing one thing or another. It can be a challenge to measure progress and to state what objectives you are pursuing in a way that is easily understood by others.
I acknowledge that, for many who work as protectors, warriors, and operators, the intuitive approach has been how capability management has essentially been done in the past. At the same time, many readers of The CP Journal have also likely felt the impacts that come from a lack of clarity and structured thought surrounding capability management.
Have you ever had a leader seemingly shift the focus or priorities for a team’s development without much discussion around why or what the new objectives were?
Have you ever been a part of an organization that had to reset its training and exercise plan because a new leader joined the team and, since the new leader wasn’t around to witness the team’s historical development, it had to be re-designed and set back to square one?
Have you ever had a leader impart their own perception and experiences onto an organization to chart its course without first making the effort to understand where the team is or where they have been heading?
If you answered any of those questions with a yes, then you’ve felt the impacts of a purely intuitive approach to capability management. While every unit leader gets to make their own choice about the direction and priorities in their organization’s development, taking the intuitive approach because it’s the way things have always been done doesn’t mean you’ve done everything you can to ensure you’ve prepared your teams for what lies ahead.
The rest of this article outlines one way–of many potential ways–to deliberately assess the current state of your readiness. It examines a process that can be learned and put into practice to break capabilities down into their component parts so that they can be investigated as individual pieces. Once this is done, you get to use your experience to identify gaps, establish priorities, and build a focus of effort that motivates and inspires your team to reach higher standards.
The Science of Capability Management
As I mentioned, there are many ways to break down and assess a capability, but the one that we have used and put into practice ourselves comes from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 201. CPG 201 outlines the process that DHS recommends for conducting a Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) and Stakeholder Preparedness Review (SPR).
Even though the “THIRA-SPR” name doesn’t exactly stir excitement, there is a section of this document that does offer a framework to consider in capability development and management. Whether you use their process exactly as they recommend or use it to identify elements to round out an approach that you have built yourself, seeing how DHS has decided to assess capabilities can be a guide to move forward with a deliberate approach to capability management.
The structure recommended in CPG 201 is referred to as POETE (often pronounced PO-EH-TEE), which includes the following components to any capability (with their definitions):
- Planning: The development of policies, plans, procedures, mutual aid agreements, strategies, and other publications; also involves the collection and analysis of intelligence and information.
- Organization: Individual teams, an overall organizational structure, and leadership at each level of the structure.
- Equipment: Equipment, supplies and systems that comply with relevant standards.
- Training: Content and methods of delivery that comply with relevant training standards.
- Exercises: Exercises and actual incidents that provide an opportunity to demonstrate, evaluate, and improve the ability of core capabilities to perform assigned missions and tasks to standards.
The components make sense. Before you have an actual capability, you need to have a plan for how that capability will be employed – you have to know what you are going to do when faced with whatever threat or hazard has led you to develop the capability you are focused on (planning). Once you have a plan, you need to have people who can execute that plan (organization). If you’re going to put people into action, you also need to have the things on hand required for the job (equipment0. You need to develop the capability throughout your organization on how to execute the plan and how to use the equipment (training). And finally, you need to test the capability to ensure it is not just a subjective assessment of your readiness, but something that can be truly counted on when needed (exercising).
Even though these guidelines came from the federal government, there is a simple element of logic and common sense to this. But the ability to articulate the component parts of a capability is often only common sense in hindsight. If you are lacking any of these elements, the capability you think you have is likely to fail when you need it the most.
Consider the Exxon Valdez oil spill as an example. You can listen to a great podcast about the spill here, but a quick run-down is that, when the Exxon Valdez ran aground onto a reef, it took responders nearly 12 hours to mobilize and begin their containment efforts–though at this point it was too late to have much of an impact. Here were some of the issues they faced:
- Their equipment was not stored on the barge where it was supposed to be for an advertised response capability of being at the spill site within five hours. Instead, it was unexpectedly buried under seven feet of snow.
- Of the people who were set to respond, only one of them was trained to use a forklift and operate a crane so, once the equipment was uncovered, it took hours to get the equipment onto the ships. To boot, much of that equipment was broken and had to be fixed before it could be used.
- Due to budget cutbacks seven years before, the fully staffed response team of professionals was eliminated and replaced by an ad-hoc crew, yet the plan hadn’t been changed to reflect that new reality.
- When the group did drills and exercises before the incident, they weren’t under realistic conditions that provided true assessments of their ability.
I don’t use this example to take jabs at these responders, but to show that the community was counting on this group to respond quickly and decisively yet, when the time came, they failed to deliver on what they promised. Those impacts are still being felt today in the Prince William Sound, 30 years later.
For long time readers of our site, readers of Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, or those who have gone through our training courses, the underlying sentiment from this article likely isn’t anything new.
0sentiment from this article likely isn’t anything new. It is the same approach we use to reading behavior and establishing a baseline. It is the same approach we’ve used to take what has been done intuitively in the past and break it down into its component parts so that we can study it, articulate it, and develop the necessary abilities in others while also leveraging the experiences of our well-seasoned peers.
Is the POETE structure perfect? Absolutely not. It has limitations. But it is the one that we choose to use and, as a result, is a process we are able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of. One reason we use it is because it is the process that is used by FEMA and DHS to conduct capability assessments, so it doesn’t make sense (for us) to use something different or unique that would require our clients at the federal and local levels to translate when assessing their violence and attack prevention capabilities.
The other reason we use POETE is because we’d rather adopt an approach, put it into practice and begin adapting it to fit our needs than to unnecessarily waste time debating the merits of one approach over the other and not make any progress. By standardizing the process to determine your capability development starting point, you can more quickly turn to identifying your priority gaps and maximizing the time that your teams have for preparation, instead of engaging in unproductive debate about what your capabilities are today. Since using a standardized way to talk about a capability is the goal of an assessment, that is why we refer to this process as as “the science” of capability management. If we practice observing and assessing the component parts of capability management, we don’t have to expend unnecessary mental effort or energy with quantifying current capabilities. We can help our clients focus on the “art of capability management” and begin identifying creative ways to bridge any identified gaps.
For our Academy Subscribers, we’ve begun adding a series of follow-on articles for you to expand upon how we have adapted the POETE process over the past year to meet our needs. You can read that article here.
To some readers, quantifying a capability in the way we’ve described might seem like extra paperwork, an unnecessary process, or something that can be done without the structure discussed above. And for some situations that may be true. But developing capabilities is an enormous responsibility on the shoulders of our nation’s military, public safety and security leaders who have been entrusted with saving lives. So when you ignore tasks like adequately gauging capabilities, you waste time spent in training and you put people unnecessarily into harm’s way.
By breaking capabilities down into their component parts, you are able to discuss, in an articulate way, where you are and quantifiably state where you need to be in order to be truly ready for the threats and hazards you may face in the future. The POETE process described above allows you to acknowledge the work and effort that has been done up to this point, explain the direction the organization is headed and take some of the subjective guesswork out of the equation. At its core, POETE is a structured learning process, much like our approach to behavioral analysis, to improve the readiness of our nation’s protectors, warriors and operators and work to ensure future success and the safety of everyone they are charged with protecting.