Common Operating Picture – share facts, debate possibilities

The Department of Defense defines a common operating picture as “A single identical display of relevant information.” A COP is the key to enabling team analysis and decision making.

In the battlefield, a COP, as they are known, helps commanders visualize their positions, existing and emerging threats, and the available resources, so that they can understand the situation, plan and respond intelligently.

In Haiti, google earth mashups, the contributions of NGOs and earthquake survivors were able to visualize what was happening on the ground, what was needed and how supplies and people could be brought in to help.

In the workplace, a COP means a common, identical, current, mutually accessible view of relevant information such as goals, issues, status, ideas, questions, etc.

A workplace COP can accelerate productivity and unlock complex challenges where there are multiple stakeholders with differing opinions.

6 ways you’ll  benefit from a common operating picture for your team

1. Focus the conversation on moving forward, rather than rehashing and circling on priorities, definitions of terms and status.

2. Assure all parties that their issues are recognized and noted.

3. Create a common place for feedback, so that it doesn’t have to be manually tracked and reconstructed from email.

4. Facilitate deliberation and debate – a COP is not consensus, but it is an important step in gathering all stakeholders together so that at least the discussion is based on a common framework.

5. Clarify what decisions have been made – they don’t get lost or lost in translation.

6. ELIMINATE 50% of internal barriers – at least half what makes a complex situation complex, is that people lack clarity on the terms, vocabulary, issues and so forth that characterize complex situations. The majority of the time spent working on the problem is spent rehashing these – stealing precious time and imagination from the solution itself. So – if nothing else, a common operating picture eliminates debate of the facts, so that the debate can focus on possibilities.

So how do you get a COP?

Well, I’m working on that.

In the past, some people have proposed mindmaps. I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach. Mindmaps are useful for brainstorming  – that is eliciting ideas. But they actually impede the process of organizing, evaluating and making ideas actionable.

The Cognexus Institute has an amazingly good whitepaper on “wicked problems and social complexity” and proselytizes Issue Mapping as a philosophy and methodology. (I’m still learning about it, and my personal jury is still out).

I believe, however that the first step toward this is a shared workspace – and that this is now as accessible as your favorite wiki tool. Certainly you have to work a lot harder at it if all you have is a basic wiki. But Michael Edson managed to use it to great effect here. He managed to carve out and construct a truly visionary strategy for elevating the Smithsonian into the 21st century and beyond – and got unprecedented support for the strategy, including the board of regents.

Other tools have emerged and are emerging that facilitate this core concept of a shared perspective on things in the enterprise – Base camp is one. My beloved Open Text Social Workplace is another (and yes, the roadmap reflects this view). Of course there are many specialized tools for military, security and first responders (fire, police, ambulance, etc).

But at the heart of it you need:

  • A shared workspace
  • where everyone can contribute equally
  • and there is no ambiguity about its content (ie version confusion)
  • and it is possible to iterate and evolve
  • in order to refine understanding.

Once you’ve accomplished this you can then focus on the hard, but satisfying work of solving the problem, rather than arguing about it. Or at least now you can argue about the solutions rather than the facts.

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2 comments

  1. Insightful commentary. a truly collaborative workspace can allow stakeholders to keep their fingers on the pulse of an operation. This is especially important for leadership of an organization who can look into or graze across multiple workspaces being used by many areas of their organization and keep an eye on the ‘whole” picture in a very short period of time.

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