Strategic Planning

February
2006
Wheeler North, Occupation Education Committee Chair

Lt. Cdr. Quinton McHale

December 7th, 1965

I was sitting in another committee today thinking about the discussion at hand, strategic planning, a metaphor formed about such planning, and some of the pitfalls that follow.

Those of you whose lifespan included watching mindless television through the sixties might remember a show about the bumbling crew of Pt-73 skippered by Lt. Cdr. Quinton Mchale, the chief duck in charge of Mchale's Navy.

Strategic Planning is an exercise we seem to engage in when renovation and renewal seem to be in need. It also often happens at the arrival of a new captain upon the gangway, boarding our metaphorical battle cruiser.

This fine vessel has many features and does many things, but it was clearly built for one thing, blowing up the enemy. In fact this mission is written in several laws and regulations so we begin this metaphor actually wondering why it needs a vision and strategic plan? Well the problem is this ship can't actually blow up the enemy. What it can do, very specifically, is pick a direction and launch a bomb with a resounding boom and a thud, which may or may not necessarily mean blowing up the enemy.

Now that in and of itself isn't so bad, but unfortunately the crew of this ship doesn't actually know where they are at any given moment because that's a secret. Again, no problem because once every semester they get a message from those in charge to point the cannon in a specific direction and fire their one round. Those in charge also don't really know where the ship is because they are mandated to communicate in secret code which nobody understands because if they did it wouldn't be secret.

Of course, with only one round, once they fire it they have a problem, and so they must then spend the next few months convincing those in charge that they need another round if they are to fire any more. This replenishment usually happens at the last minute by a slightly quirky resource translocator. Essentially a new round appears in their munitions receiver after they fill out tons of paper work about where they think the last round might have gone and what it could have possibly blown up. Or, at the very least, what the learning outcome was of not blowing something up. This paperwork is reduced into one P3 report electronically transmitted into quantum hyperspace just before the next round appears.

Now, if those in charge happen to notice smoke arising from somewhere, they sometimes inadvertently make the assumption that the ship actually hit something which then blew up. This of course causes quite a stir at the home office in charge of resources and in their excitement they might deliver two or three rounds hoping for some more success. But, since the process is so convoluted, and secret, by the time the rounds actually get to the ship they have no idea which round and direction might have been the lucky one.

So, to respond adroitly and professionally, the captain will quickly confer and pick one of the previous directions of yesteryear and instead of calling it "North by North West" this time he will rename it "five fingers uphill from where the sun sets". The purpose of this new name for the same old thing is to allow them to fire all three rounds at the beginning of the next semester which you must do if you are to get any rounds for the following semester even though saving two would achieve the same result.

Of course when the home office see no results from these latter rounds they get uppity and only send _'s of a round the next time through.

So, what does this have to do with strategic planning? Well, while the ship is busy fulfilling its mission of blowing things up by randomly launching bombs in any direction it is also supposed to be going somewhere. You might ask where it is going, but the answer to that is an easy one, needing no plan. The reason they make ships pointy on the front end is so one can gesture to the pointy end and say "look, we're going that way".

If one were to squint very hard they might see all the way out to a horizon, and they may see some fuzzy bumps away out there.

Well, the goal of strategic planning is to define or name the particular bump out there that you happen to be pointed at.

As well, if there are more bumps, and you can name them, you might want to turn and head there instead. The tough side of this effort is that these bumps are rather broad in scope. If you pull out a chart you may notice that they could represent North America, or Australia, or China. In fact unless you know where you are its really tough to decide which bump represents which splotch on the chart.

this is where the GPRS (Global Program Review System) comes in very handy. If it is working and is producing data that is unclassified, and you know how to read it then you will know where you are. But since it could produce classified data, there are no known operating manuals or data deciphering algorithms which, in effect, will prevent unclassified access to your location even though you are already there. In the end, most of the time you must resort to the previously mentioned laws and regulations, along with your current heading and through a severely inclusive process declare the spot on the horizon in front of you as the place you want to be-the very place you are currently heading. Since it's an official strategic plan, everybody gets excited and off you go.

Of course you are always very busy trying to get the next round to fire each semester, and, although you have a first rate digital onboard communication system, you cannot use it because it could be tapped by the enemy. So policy and firewalls forbid such use. This eventually leads to a failure by anybody at the helm to check with the anchor crew up front to see where the anchor actually is. Of course there is a form for soliciting this information from the front end, but the captain will never know about it because the battle cruiser's owner's manual with such forms is also TSNOB (Top Secret Not on Board).

Due to the Captain's astute discretion, while everybody is still very excited about the new destination described in this new plan another tidbit that goes unnoticed is that engineering has removed the ship's propeller for mandated maintenance and barnacle inspection which happens after every fifth round is fired.

Of course the Captain may not actually notice the ship's relative static condition and so this process repeats itself once everybody emotionally decides the horizon isn't getting any closer (which, of course it never does at sea) and a new process of renewal begins anew.

Alas matey, while this metaphor has run its course in a rather Machiavellian manner, in truth, having a vision or concept of which far land one is set to arrive upon is always to a sailor's great advantage. While the purpose of the metaphor was to illustrate the general nature of what strategic planning is it also points out the sometimes arcane and rather challenging constraints regularly placed upon our efforts in this regard.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.