This originally appeared on Badlands Fieldcraft. -NCS

I’d like to start a series on planning. As was recently reinforced to me, and made obvious to all the students at the recent Scout and Commo courses I attended, planning for patrols or other excursions is extremely important.

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail….

I’ll start this series off with an overview of different planning mechanisms and concepts I’ve personally been taught and have used over the last 20 years or so. They are from different places and different schools of thought, but I feel they all have value in different ways like so many tools in the tool box.

The first concept I want to discuss is “Commander’s Intent”. I was first taught this as a young Infantryman. It is the answer to “WHY are we doing this?” and “WHAT do we need to accomplish?”. There is a reason why I wanted to bring this up first, if you never learn anything else pertaining to leadership and planning, at least understand this concept. As a leader, it will help you define what it is you need to happen and enable you to clearly translate that to your charges. As a leader, there is nothing wrong with clearly stating in a single sentence “My intent is…”. As a supporting member of a team it gives you a clear goal to attain, and if your leader hasn’t made his intent clear, it is your duty to have it clarified for you. I read that Ulysses Grant would test the orders he was about to give on a “simple minded Captain” that he had, and if the Captain could understand it, then he knew everyone else would too. The “Commander’s Intent” should be clear to everyone, including your groups’ “Grant’s Captain”.

The next concept I want to introduce is “Backwards Planning”. This is something, along with “Commander’s Intent” that I still use almost every day. It is simply a method for organizing your time to meet specific deadlines or goals. Let’s say you have a flight at noon tomorrow in another town. If you want to figure out what time you need to get up, start with the time of your flight, 1200. Then subtract the time you think it will take to get to the airport, through security, and to the gate. Let’s say it was 2 hours, we are now at 1000. Plus you have to figure in time to eat, shower, shave, get dressed. etc. Let’s say that takes you an hour, so now we are at 0900. So we now know, that at a minimum you need to be rolling out of the rack at 0900. Figuring in extra time for unknown delays you might want to just get up at 0800, but I think you get my point. You should also figure in time to be 15 minutes early, because as all Marines know, if you’re not 15 minutes early, you’re late. In the context of a patrol it would work the exact same, only we would be scheduling briefings, inspections and rehearsals along with weapons and ammunition drawing, test firing, fueling of vehicles, commo checks, etc.

The next item is what I was taught as an “XYT”. It’s a spreadsheet that depicts the members of your patrol, vehicles or locations on one axis, and specific equipment or particular roles on the other axis. You just list everyone and everything out, then mark out where the items need to go or who is doing what. Gear accountability and a clear understanding of “who is doing what” is very important prior to stepping off, and I can’t thank the Sergeant who taught me the “XYT” enough. It most likely saved me a lot of headaches of trying to keep track of a squads worth of gear, but not before I got my butt chewed by said Sergeant because one of my guys misplaced some equipment. The “XYT” is handy for small unit leaders, or for planning other group activites like camping or hiking.

Collectively, “Commander’s Intent”, “Backwards Planning” and the “XYT” formed the cornerstone of my planning skills as a young Marine NCO, and while there are other more in depth planning devices, these were what I found to be most useful as a mid-level leader being tasked with missions. In order to be a good leader you have to first understand how to be a good follower. I didn’t get to write the missions, I was just sent to accomplish them, and these tools helped me to do just that.