Auftragstaktik: 100 Years Before It Was Called #Agile

Police Lieutenant Fred Leland introduced me to Major Donald Vandergriff (US Army, ret) a handful of years ago. 

At Fred's recommendation, I read one (1) of Don's books: Raising the Bar: Creating & Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War. It was the first time I realized the US military was implementing some of the same theories of adaptability that I had been studying, testing, and promoting inside US policing. 

When Fred and Don co-authored Adaptive Leadership Handbook - Law Enforcement & Security: Innovative Ways to Teach & Develop Your People in 2013, I gobbled it up as soon as it was released. 

Fast forward and bypass the other books Don has written since then. It will bring us to the meat of this blog post. This week, I came across two (2) of Don's pieces published in Small Wars Journal
  1. How the Germans Defended Auftragstaktik: What Mission Command Is - AND Is Not
  2. How to Develop for Mission Command: The Missing Link
They both deal with the concept of Mission Command as well as Auftragstaktik

Sure, I could summarize Auftragstaktik for you, but go ahead and read Don's two (2) articles instead. I'll wait...

What struck me is the focus on a culture of decisiveness and responsibility. It goes well beyond the tactical applications, too. 

I couldn't help but chuckle at the similarities to what's being branded today as "Agile." But then, it's just as silly to think that the German's developed these concepts in the last 100+ years too...before Musashi and Sun Tzu. These principles have been at play since the beginning of time.

I guess my point here is that the Agile "movement" is capitalizing on a new application of old theory. The German Army did the same at the turn of the century, just not necessarily financially. I have no problem with either of these exploitations of theory. But to think or say they're new is completely arrogant and ignorant. Think: Generalized theory applied to specialty roles.

If you're in the Agile or complexity community, I recommend you read up on Auftragstaktik. Start with Don's articles above. Add in some of John Boyd's OODA too. Maybe Musashi and Sun Tzu.

The military forces of the world have articulated this adaptability stuff way before any group of techies thought they had a new idea. Techies are just applying it in a new space...where the stakes are considerably lower. (Just sayin.)


Maybe you're asking why I've included a choreographed march as the blog photo. It's to balance the necessary hierarchy and structure of organizations -- with the necessary fluidity and empowerment of front line decision-makers. Doing away with authority and hierarchy is ridiculous. As is minimizing the brain power and creativity of those on the bottom of the organization chart. 


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedInHe also maintains a LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model.


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