March 2015: How Can A Business Leader Use the Army’s WARNOs, FRAGOs And OPORDs?

This past month I had the pleasure of picking up and reading a book from a friend of mine Tom Magness. It is called Leader Business: Battle-Tested Leadership Strategies For Any Organization. Great read for new and established leaders alike. It helped to refresh and remind me of the many simple and easy to use tools the Army teaches that can be readily applied to business. In one part of the book he discussed the importance of communicating parts of the plan during the planning process. So this month I want to share the concepts of WARNO, FRAGO, and OPORD.

 

I will attack the concept of the overall planning process at another time – this is really about proactive communication. In today’s world, communication has evolved significantly in terms of the ease and speed at which information can be shared. The most obvious being email. But one thing is for sure, even though we are living in a digital and information age, the role of the leader has not changed. A good leader must be able to share information and get the team to react to that information in an accurate and TIMELY fashion. Enter the Warning Order (WARNO), Fragmentary Order (FRAGO) and the OPORD (Operations Order).

 

Let’s start in reverse. The Operations Order or OPORD is the full blown plan complete with all the details, timelines, resources, staff, coordination, supplies, etc. In the military it is 5 paragraphs: Situation, Mission, Execution, Sustainment (formerly Service and Support, currently referred to as Admin & Logistics by the US Marine Corps), and Command and Control. In business terms think of this as the business plan or project plan. A well thought out and completely documented plan complete with annexes and attachments. Here are two decent overviews via Wikipedia:

Five paragraph order

Operations order

 

But…a fully thought out and complete plan takes A LOT of time. You cannot wait until every single detail has been hashed out before you start rallying resources and getting some movement toward the goal or objective. Enter the Warning Order (WARNO) and the Fragmentary Order (FRAGO).

 

A WARNO is just a fancy word for a warning or a quick heads up. You may not have ALL the information, or even much information at all. But, rather than wait until you have more details and facts, you can give your team a quick heads up or WARNO. This gets the team in the right mindset and allows them to start preparing with whatever information or guidance was given. Too many leaders wait and hold onto the information until they get details – this wastes precious time and doesn’t let folks get started on some of the task they can begin.

 

Here is an excellent description from the Mississippi College ROTC Department:

A warning order is a preliminary notice of an order or action that is to follow. WARNOs help subordinate units and staffs prepare for new missions. They increase subordinates’ planning time, provide details of the impending operation, and detail events that accompany preparation and execution. The amount of detail a WARNO includes depends on theinformation and time available when you issue it. A WARNO informs recipients of tasks they must do now or notifies them of possible future tasks.

 

The FRAGO is for Fragmentary Order is simply a plan without all the final details – it has more information and most of the key parts filled out – just not all the details. So perhaps think of it as the outline or incomplete plan. The point here isn’t the format the military uses – but rather the TIMING. Just like the WARNO, you give this information to your team as soon as is realistically feasible.

 

A good leader shares critical information and plans as soon as they can with interested parties. Let’s say your company is planning and new product launch in 12 months. You wouldn’t wait until the month before production is to begin to give the plan. No, you would as quickly as possible give your team a heads up (WARNO). Then in a month give them more information (FRAGO) and then perhaps in 60 or 90 days the full blown plan.

 

For many people reading this perhaps this is common sense and comes naturally – but for far too many leaders – they wait too long for “a little more information” or for “more details”. They obsess about controlling and hoarding information. It makes them feel powerful and in charge. The Army has something called the one-third, two-thirds rule. You only use 1/3 of the time for your own planning and prep, you give your team 2/3 of the time. To do this you have to share early (WARNO) and often (FRAGO) as more details of the mission and plan come into place.

 

Voltaire said “Perfect is the enemy of good enough”. The plan will never have complete information or be perfect – don’t hold back on your folks when you can get them engaged, focused and moving early toward the goal using WARNO’s and FRAGO’s. You’ll be glad you did.

 

If you want to read Tom Magness’ book, Leader Business: Battle-Tested Leadership Strategies For Any Organization, you can find it at Amazon.

You can also find his blog, Leader Business, at leaderbusiness.blogspot.com

 

- Tom Deierlein

 

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