4 March 2018

Towards a Multi-paradigmatic Methodology for Military Planning: An Initial Toolkit

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By Dr Aaron P. Jackson


This article provides an overview of the current status of an ongoing research project, which is provisionally entitled ‘planning without first determining an end state: a multi-paradigmatic alternative to traditional military planning methodologies’. This project begins where two of the author’s recent research papers concluded. In those papers, which examined aspects of the development of the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF’s) latest edition of its joint planning doctrine, it was determined that the incorporation of selected aspects of design thinking into military planning processes has been beneficial, but a significant resulting issue has been left unresolved.[1] The issue is that, having undertaken a design activity such as environment and problem framing at the outset of the planning process, planners are then left with only one available method to address the problem they have identified: the remainder of the military planning process. This issue is shown in Figure 1, which uses the ADF’s planning process as an example, although the same issue also applies to other militaries that have incorporated design elements into planning doctrine, the US most prominently.[2]


Figure 1: Current military planning processes offer only a single method for problem solving


The ongoing research project discussed herein proposes a means to address this issue. It does so by developing a multi-paradigmatic toolkit that can be used by military planners to address problems that ‘traditional’ military planning processes are not well suited to confronting.[3] These problems include, but are not limited to, those where a ‘desired end state’ (the starting point for several traditional military planning processes) either cannot be adequately defined or is not possibly achievable with the means available. In the proposed toolkit, conceptualised in Figure 2, traditional military planning becomes only one possible means for problem confrontation and exists alongside alternative methods derived from alternative paradigms. This paper summarises the key elements of the project and presents the initial version of the multi-paradigmatic planning toolkit under development. As this is an interim report about ongoing research, a disclaimer is warranted. The disclaimer is that the information presented herein, particularly that contained in Tables 1 and 2, may be subject to change once additional research and concept development has occurred.


Figure 2: A multi-paradigmatic approach to military problem solving


The limitations of traditional military planning processes

Traditional military planning processes are highly suitable for some situations; however, the interactively complex operational environments encountered in the early twenty-first century have shown their limitations.[4] These limitations arise due to the ends-based, linear and rationalist nature of military planning processes themselves. Beginning by determining a desired end state, these processes reverse-engineer solutions by breaking the end state into half-a-dozen or less major objectives, then breaking each objective into several smaller elements (termed ‘decisive points’ in the ADF case), then arranging these elements sequentially in time along several themed lines of operation.[5] While such processes have shown their utility against Western-style, conventional armed forces, their reverse-engineering approach does not allow the flexibility required to most effectively address complex problems.[6] Put bluntly by one Australian general: ‘end states specified at the start of a war are just academic exercises … We continually think about defining the end state before we go in. … It doesn’t work’.[7]

So what ought to be done to address these limitations? Developing one possible option, Ben Zweibelson labelled the incorporation of selected design thinking ideas into the initial steps of military planning processes as ‘first generation military design’. He then posited that ‘second generation military design … might feature iterations of designers transforming both the content (the design process and deliverables) as well as the form (how designers go about designing)’, so that ‘each design iteration and process becomes a custom build’.[8]  In proposing its own answer to the above question, this research project contrasts both ‘generations’ Zweibelson identified by walking a middle ground between them. If ends-based, linear rationalist military planning processes are analogous to off-the-shelf suits, and Zweibelson’s proposed second generation military design to a bespoke suit, what is developed in this research project may be considered as ‘made-to-measure’—or ‘military design generation 1.5’, to paraphrase Zweibelson.

In the made-to-measure approach developed by this research project, a multi-paradigmatic toolkit is established to take the place of traditional military planning processes.[9] These processes are not merely disposed of, however. On the contrary, they become one set of tools in the toolkit and it is envisaged that military planners can (and should) be free to employ them if they determine that they are the best tools for the situation being confronted. In this toolkit, alternative approaches from other paradigms take an equal position to traditional military planning processes. Military planners are free to employ any of the tools, and may select those deemed most suitable to assist them to successfully confront each new problem they face.


Building the toolkit

Establishing a multi-paradigmatic toolkit necessarily began with the identification of different paradigms, which first required a broader investigation to determine which paradigms are employed within different disciplines. The military design literature was used as a starting point for this investigation for two reasons. First, military design has been acknowledged as a multi-paradigmatic and perhaps interdisciplinary endeavour.[10] Second, military design focuses on overcoming a range of challenges posed by contemporary operational and environmental complexity. The disciplines identified in the design literature included chaos and complexity theory, postmodern social theory, sociology, philosophy, organisational and management theory, and military operational art.[11] From this starting point, subsequent research led to a narrowing of the field of enquiry to four disciplines: sociology; philosophy; techno-scientific; and strategic/military studies. The techno-scientific discipline examines the historical evolution and social aspects of technological and scientific developments and includes chaos and complexity theory.

Once these four disciplines had been selected, studies within each discipline that included a multi-paradigmatic perspective were located and evaluated. This evaluation led to the identification of fifteen different paradigms, which are summarised in Table 1.[12]


Table 1: Paradigms within the toolkit


As can be seen in the table, some of these paradigms have similar epistemological, ontological and methodological preferences, despite their origins in different disciplines. Functionalism, rationalism and positivism address similar ideas; these are also the paradigms into which traditional military planning processes fit. Likewise, radical structuralism, postmodernism and complex adaptive systems theory each address similar ideas. Finally, heroism and participation are similar to the extent that each emphasises behaviour and group expectations and dynamics. As a result of these links, the methods employed within each of these three groups of paradigms are similar. The difference between methodology and method is important here: the methodologies discussed in Table 1 are frameworks for the conduct of research within a paradigm, and include several constituent methods. A method, on the other hand, is a procedure for doing something.[13]

This distinction was also important for the next stage of the research project, which was the identification of possible methods within each paradigm or group of similar paradigms that could be incorporated into a multi-paradigmatic military planning toolkit. A range of sources from within each paradigm was examined, with the intent of locating as many potential methods as possible.[14] Potential methods identified to date are listed in Table 2 by paradigm. Due to space constraints, details of each method are not elaborated herein.[15] Variations of some methods have been employed by sources within different paradigms; where this has occurred, these methods are listed under both paradigm headings.


Table 2: List of methods by paradigm


Once identification of potential methods is complete, the next stage of the research project will be to adapt them to suit military requirements. This needs to occur because many of the methods listed in Table 2 were developed for purposes other than employment by militaries to plan and/or guide operations. Indeed, some of the paradigms included in the toolkit either reject the possibility that militaries can ‘plan’ for future operations at all (for example, postmodernism), or reject the legitimacy of the military institution itself (for example, radical humanism). Yet overcoming the limitations of ends-based, linear and rationalist planning processes will require militaries to move beyond adjustment of methods within the confines of the same paradigm, and to confront interactively complex operational environments by using radically different methods.

Adapting the methods for military use therefore requires a balance to be struck between maintaining the integrity of the method and enabling its use within the toolkit. In a few cases, it is likely that methods will need to be abandoned because this balance cannot be achieved. In several other cases, explanation of the underlying paradigmatic epistemologies, ontologies and methodologies will be required to enable military planners to understand the roots of each method as well as how and when to best employ it.

The development of two other elements will also be vital to enabling successful employment of the range of methods contained in the toolkit. First, an initial leaning activity is required so that planners can determine which tools may be best suited to assist them to confront each unique problem. This activity is considered as analogous to a form of ‘problem triage’. Second, a ‘translation mechanism’ is required to enable planners to convert their own detailed implementation of eclectic combinations of methods into simple and concise products for broader military implementation. In other words, operations orders that enable implementation of plans must be written in language that can be easily understood by military personnel who may be unfamiliar with the details of each method used by the planning team to develop those orders.[16]


Implementing the toolkit

Once the toolkit and accompanying elements are fully developed, the final step in the research project will be to develop a proposed means for testing, adjusting, and then implementing it. Those familiar with this author’s previous work will not be surprised to read that the proposed means for this final step is quasi-doctrinal.[17] Discussing design course development at Canadian Forces College, Paul T. Mitchell observed that in his early interactions with military students he identified ‘well established doctrine for tactical action and operational planning’, but ‘at strategic levels, the interactivity of the problem with growing sets of actors results in “missing manuals” to guide professional behaviour’. These ‘missing manuals’ are shown in Figure 3.[18]


Figure 3: Mitchell’s missing manuals


In light of the toolkit developed in this research project, an alternative doctrinal future is offered. Rather than expanding the breadth of doctrine into ever-broader environments, the content of doctrine should instead be given a multi-paradigmatic shake-up. What this may look like for military planning doctrine is shown in Figure 4, where traditional linear doctrine manuals for military planning are replaced by something closer in structure to a ‘choose your own adventure’ book, wherein different methods will constitute different entries and planners can link these entries together in whatever sequence they see fit.[19]


Figure 4: From single paradigm to multi-paradigm planning doctrine


Such a means of transmitting the methods contained in a multi-paradigmatic military planning toolkit would suit the ‘made-to-measure’ approach such a toolkit intends to encourage. No longer would military planners have to employ a single approach to attempt to solve every problem they encountered. Instead, they would be free to choose the tools they considered best suited to confronting each unique problem, and to assemble these tools in whatever order they require.



Given the scope of this research project, its outcomes are likely to be of interest to military planners and designers, personnel working in multiagency environments, doctrine developers, and those involved in the delivery of professional military education for operational and strategic leaders. Publication details of the completed research project will be posted onto The Archipelago of Design website once available.


Dr Aaron P. Jackson is Joint Operations Planning Specialist in Defence Science and Technology Group, part of the Australian Department of Defence. He is also a serving member of the Australian Army Reserve. The views expressed herein are exclusively his own and do not represent those of the Australian Department of Defence, or any part thereof.



[1] Aaron P. Jackson, ‘A Tale of Two Designs: Developing the Australian Defence Force’s Latest Iteration of its Joint Operations Planning Doctrine’, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Special Issue: Reflexive Military Practitioners: Design Thinking and Beyond, Vol. 17, No. 4 (June 2017), pp. 174-193. Online:, accessed 17 January 2018; Aaron P. Jackson, ‘Innovative within the Paradigm: The Evolution of the Australian Defence Force’s Joint Operational Art’, Security Challenges, Vol. 13, No. 1 (June 2017), pp. 59-79. Online:, accessed 17 January 2018.

[2] US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 5-0—Joint Planning, 16 June 2017. Online:, accessed 19 January 2018; US Army, Field Manual 5-0—The Operations Process, March 2010. Online:, accessed 19 January 2018.

[3] The term ‘toolkit’ has been borrowed from: Karl E. Weick, ‘Drop Your Tools: An Allegory for Organizational Studies’, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 2 (June 1996), pp. 301-313, wherein it is used as an allegory for explaining why organizations hold on doggedly to familiar paradigms.

[4] Robert Erdeniz, ‘Operations Planning Revisited: Theoretical and Practical Implications of Methodology’, Defence Studies, Vol. 16, No. 3 (July 2016), pp. 248-269.

[5] Australian Defence Force, Australian Defence Force Publication (ADFP) 5.0.1—Joint Military Appreciation Process, 2nd ed. (Canberra, Defence Publishing Service, Amendment List 2), 2016.

[6] Ben Zweibelson, ‘Linear and Non-Linear Thinking: Beyond Reverse-Engineering’, Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Spring 2016), pp. 27-35. Online:, accessed 17 January 2018.

[7] Major General (Retired) Jim Molan, ‘Video – War in the Sand Pit Conference – Major General Jim Molan’, The Cove (blog), 26 June 2017. Online:, accessed 23 November 2017.

[8] Ben Zweibelson, ‘An Application of Theory: Second Generation Military Design on the Horizon’, Small Wars Journal, 19 February 2017. Online,, accessed 17 January 2018.

[9] For purposes of discussion herein, a ‘paradigm’ may be defined as ‘the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques and so on shared by the members of a given [scientific] community’, or alternatively as an exemplary example that can be used to symbolise the shared commitments, or common set of rules or beliefs, of a scientific community.  Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 4th ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2012), p. 174.

[10] Author’s email correspondence with Grant M. Martin, Ben Zweibelson, Christopher Paparone & Philippe Beaulieu-B, 1-6 November 2017 (multiple emails, copies on file with author).

[11] Philippe Beaulieu-B & Philippe Dufort, ‘Introduction: Revolution in Military Epistemology’, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Special Issue: Reflexive Military Practitioners: Design Thinking and Beyond, Vol. 17, No. 4 (June 2017), p. 2, fn. 3. Online:, accessed 17 January 2018; Ben Zweibelson, ‘The Military Design Movement: Drifting towards Embracing Uncertainty and Transformation in Complex Environments’, Over the Horizon: Multi-Domain Operations and Strategies (blog), 20 January 2017. Online,, accessed 17 January 2018; Zweibelson, ‘An Application of Theory’.

[12] This table is based on the evaluation of a dozen sources. Space constraints prevent all of these sources from being listed here, however the key source within each of the four disciplines examined is: Gibson Burrell & Gareth Morgan, Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis (Portsmouth: Heinemann Educational Books, 1979); Jean-Etienne Joullié, ‘The Philosophical Foundations of Management Thought’, Academy of Management Learning & Education, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2016), pp. 157-179; Antoine Bousquet, The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity (London: Hurst and Co, 2009); Christopher R. Paparone, ‘The Sociology of Strategy: Romancing the Image’ in: Heather M. K. Wolters, Anna P. Grome & Ryan M. Hinds, Eds., Exploring Strategic Thinking: Insights to Assess, Develop, and Retain Army Strategic Thinkers (United States Army Research Institute for the Behavioural and Social Sciences Research Product 2013-01, February 2013), pp. 81-101. Online:, accessed 21 January 2018.

[13] Barry Buzan & Richard Little, International Systems in World History: Remaking the Study of International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 441.

[14] At the time of writing, over 50 sources have been evaluated in this stage of the project and research in this stage is ongoing. Space constraints prohibit the listing of these sources herein; citations will be included in the forthcoming paper to be published once the project is completed.

[15] This elaboration will occur in the forthcoming paper to be published once the project is completed.

[16] In developing this ‘translation mechanism’, the intent is to avoid allegations of elitism and impenetrable language that have plagued earlier military design efforts.

[17] For a synopsis of the author’s previous work on doctrine see: Aaron P. Jackson, ‘The Nature of Military Doctrine: A Decade of Study in 1500 Words’, The Strategy Bridge, 15 November 2017. Online:, accessed 21 January 2018.

[18] Paul T. Mitchell, ‘Stumbling into Design: Action Experiments in Professional Military Education at Canadian Forces College’, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Special Issue: Reflexive Military Practitioners: Design Thinking and Beyond, Vol. 17, No. 4 (June 2017), pp. 84-102; quote p. 92; figure p. 93. Online:, accessed 17 January 2018.

[19] ‘Choose your own adventure’ books are a series of children’s books written in the second person, in which readers flip backwards and forwards between linked entries to develop their own storyline each time they read the book. This is analogous to the toolkit envisaged in this research project, which enables users to select the tools they require to address different military problems. Sarah Laskow, ‘These Maps Reveal the Hidden Structures of “Choose Your Own Adventure” Books’, Atlas Obscura, 13 June 2017. Online:, accessed 22 January 2018.

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