Commander's Intent: Aligning Independent Teams to Common Goals

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History’s most notable military commanders, including Helmuth von Moltke, Napoleon, and even the ancient Romans, all shared a common problem: organizing large numbers of people into an effective force. The size of the armies made quick, widespread communication difficult; and constant change and the fog of war made communications to and from a central command with the soldiers inaccurate and ineffective.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are many similarities between the needs of battle and of product development. Like a military commander, CEOs, CTOs, and Chief Product Officers may lead groups of people that are too large to readily centralize every decision. Executives cannot be expected to understand all the nuances or always be available to make decisions for their teams.

The typical alternative to centralized command and control is to have independent and empowered teams. Without proper coordination this too will fall short; independent and empowered teams pulling in opposite directions add cost and produce little value.

Commander’s Intent is a way for teams to function independently but remain coordinated. It is a powerful technique to align empowered teams to common goals and to foster innovation. It allows an organization to scale to any size with minimum communication overhead.

In this presentation, we discuss the five steps to implement Commander’s Intent and the advantages of doing so.

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