Great Powerpoint Article

Teufel

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http://www.afji.com/2009/07/4061641

"...The last point, how we make decisions, is the most obvious. Before PowerPoint, staffs prepared succinct two- or three-page summaries of key issues. The decision-maker would read a paper, have time to think it over and then convene a meeting with either the full staff or just the experts involved to discuss the key points of the paper. Of course, the staff involved in the discussion would also have read the paper and had time to prepare to discuss the issues. In contrast, today, a decision-maker sits through a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation followed by five minutes of discussion and then is expected to make a decision. Compounding the problem, often his staff will have received only a five-minute briefing from the action officer on the way to the presentation and thus will not be well-prepared to discuss the issues. This entire process clearly has a toxic effect on staff work and decision-making.
....
PowerPoint has clearly decreased the quality of the information provided to the decision-maker, but the damage doesn’t end there. It has also changed the culture of decision-making. In my experience, pre-PowerPoint staffs prepared two to four decision papers a day because that’s as many as most bosses would accept. These would be prepared and sent home with the decision-maker and each staff member that would participate in the subsequent discussion. Because of the tempo, most decision-makers did not take on more than three or four a day simply because of the requirement to read, absorb, think about and then be prepared to discuss the issue the following day. As an added benefit for most important decisions, they “slept on it.”

PowerPoint has changed that. Key decision-makers’ days are now broken down into one-hour and even 30-minute segments that are allocated for briefs. Of particular concern, many of these briefs are decision briefs. Thus senior decision-makers are making more decisions with less preparation and less time for thought. Why we press for quick decisions when those decisions will take weeks or even months to simply work their way through the bureaucracy at the top puzzles me. One of the critical skills in decision making is making the decision cycle and method appropriate to the requirements. If a decision takes weeks or months to implement and will be in effect for years, then a more thoughtful process is clearly appropriate.

This brings me to the third major concern with PowerPoint’s impact on our decision process: Who makes the decisions? Because the PowerPoint culture allows decision-makers to schedule more briefs per day, many type-A personalities seek to do so. Most organizations don’t need more decisions made at higher levels. But to find more decisions to make, a type-A leader has to reach down to lower levels to find those decisions. The result is the wrong person is making decisions at the wrong level."
 

LongTabSigO

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It is said that it is the poor carpenter who blames his tools. I suck at home improvement. But it's not because of Home Depot or Lowes; nor is it Craftsman or Dewalt's fault.

The author should say - it is a bad tool FOR HIM. He should say he was unable to train his subordinates to use the tool effectively. He is trying to excuse bad decision making by lamenting the tool.

I remember the typewriter days. I remember the Enable days. I remember the Harvard Graphics days. It wasn't better then. If it was, we'd still be doing it that way.

The leader that does not direct how they want info - conveyed the way they want it to best enable decisioning - is a poor leader. It's not a PowerPoint issue.
 

Teufel

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I hate powerpoint. The carpenter can chose his tools, my boss and his boss chose what tools I use and they insist on powerpoint. Gone are the days when a platoon commander could brief his battalion commander or MEU commander off of a map, now the majority of the 6 hour "rapid" planning process is spent on throwing together power point slides and a miniscule portion dedicated to informing subordinates and supervising rehearsals, inspections etc.
 

LongTabSigO

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I hate powerpoint. The carpenter can chose his tools, my boss and his boss chose what tools I use and they insist on powerpoint. Gone are the days when a platoon commander could brief his battalion commander or MEU commander off of a map, now the majority of the 6 hour "rapid" planning process is spent on throwing together power point slides and a miniscule portion dedicated to informing subordinates and supervising rehearsals, inspections etc.

Teufel: I'm sorry, but that's weak. If units have established processes and drills, Powerpoint takes up no more time than anything else. Back when you were "briefing off a map" it was not a complicated operational environment. Today's environment requires way more precise planning. Gone are the days where your mission is simply "take that hill" (with Service-appropriate Hooah/Hoo-yah).

The reason why MCPP, MDMP, CAP, and all the rest take so long is that units don't do it as part of a regular routine. If they did, a lot of things would be pre-set and production time would be cut greatly. (Remember the preformatted Ranger orders and all that we used to do? Why? So we didn't have to write all that stuff over and over again!)

I'll bet the M4 is not your rifle of choice and yet you make it work in the furtherance of your mission objectives. Same thing here.
 

Teufel

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I believe that MCPP, MDMP at all that are still relevant but I don't think most units properly utilize the military decision making cycle. In the Marine Expeditionary Unit work up cycle we conduct dozens of full on MDMP planning cycles at the company and battalion level prior to deployment. The constant practice does streamline the process but I have never seen anything approaching the 1/3, 2/3s rule. Besides, you can conduct very precise planning without having to rely on powerpoint.

I deployed to Iraq twice (OIF III, V) without ever receiving a battalion, company or platoon mission statement or order of any kind. I generated platoon orders in a vacuum. I don't believe this is a Marine only problem; in addition to the Marine units I worked for, I was also attached to elements of the 10th Mountain for the surge into Baghdad. Why is the modern battlefield more of a complicated operating environment than in years past? While technology has pressed forward, warfare has not changed. The COIN environment is certainly complicated, especially with media on the battlefield but Marines won hearts and minds in numerous small wars such as the Banana Wars, all the various operations conducted in Haiti, the Dominican Republic etc and Marines won big wars in WWII without the use of powerpoint and I don't think that anyone can say that any of those examples were any less complicated operationally. The difference between then and now is that modern day communications allow commanders in rear areas to instantly or near instantly communicate with subordinates in forward deployed areas. In the past commanders had to trust in their subordinates to accomplish missions based on mission type orders and commanders intent. General MacArthur didn't request a powerpoint brief from Chesty Puller when he broke out of the Chosin Resevoir, all he could do was give him his guidance and hope for the best. Powerpoint takes up a tremendous amount of time no matter how you slice it. I understand why battalion and higher level units rely on powerpoint but as a platoon commander I found myself spending entirely too much time adjusting icons on a slide when I should have been supervising rehearsals, listening to brief backs, conducting inspections etc.

I agree that powerpoint had the potential to be a useful tool but I think that it is abused by senior leadership.
 

LongTabSigO

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Stop with the "McArthur/Patton/VonManteufel/Chesty Puller, et al" didn't have powerpoint. They had a personal staff that did all that. And if you think for a second any of these guys wouldn't use the current technology any more than our current leadership, you are flat out of your mind.

Typing of any sort takes time. So does writing on butcher block. So does an accurate sand table. Hell, even decent map overlay graphics take time. But go ahead and keep making up reasons why THIS is Soooo much worse than all the other ideas...

I agree that all the toys in the world are worthless if they are not understood. Fact is, the current environment craves technology. Think about how many different tech-savvy things occur right here in ShadowSpear. It's how we want to do things. It's our desire for rapid dissemination of info - right now! PowerPoint is no more complicated than any other tool. Hell, when you start getting into the geek-heavy C2 systems, Powerpoint is a piker.

I deployed to Iraq twice (OIF III, V) without ever receiving a battalion, company or platoon mission statement or order of any kind. I generated platoon orders in a vacuum.

Is this supposed to be an endorsement against PP?
The COIN environment is certainly complicated, especially with media on the battlefield but Marines won hearts and minds in numerous small wars such as the Banana Wars, all the various operations conducted in Haiti, the Dominican Republic etc and Marines won big wars in WWII without the use of powerpoint and I don't think that anyone can say that any of those examples were any less complicated operationally.
The Banana Wars did not have a 24 hour news cycle with which to contend. Of course, having said that, it has nothing to do with PowerPoint.
 

Teufel

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I am a fan of the planning process, I just wanted to illustrate how tools are often misunderstood, misused or in some cases not used at all. The same goes for powerpoint. Powerpoint is great for briefing but I think a lot of times it is used as a micromanagement tool. I liked the one or two slide five w's (who, what, when, where, how) powerpoints used to clear missions, I didn't like the 15 to 20 slide 50 w's (why, why, why, why, why, why.....) used by other commands. Maneuver warfare is based on trust tactics. I give my Marines the mission and my commander's intent, and the mission and commander's intent and allow them great latitude in accomplishing their tasks. Nowadays we preach trust tactics but we use power point to verify that our intent is being followed through. In the past you couldn't do that because you can't email butcher paper. Limitations in communicates forced commanders to trust their subordinates more. If they wanted more information they would have to actually walk over and do a face to face debrief or inspection. As we all know, what is shown on the slides does not marry up with reality. I had a battalion commander who did not visit all of his company combat outposts during a deployment. Like you said, powerpoint has the potential to be used for good or evil. I have just seen it misused so many times.

I would hope that Chesty Puller would discourage power point. He tended to trust his eyes over radio reports. When he visited his troops, he didn't do it to receive power point briefs. I used to see a lot of Generals roll through our CP when I was in Afghanistan and they all got the same canned BS powerpoint presentation that was only loosely based on reality. General McKiernan was scheduled to visit with CG RC South but when we went out to the landing pad to greet him, he was nowhere to be seen. Turns out he got on the bird and told the pilot, "Fly me to Bakwa". The pilot responded, "but sir, everyone is expecting you at Delaram!" "That is exactly why I don't want to go to Delaram. Take me to Bakwa and find me a PFC and a 2nd LT to talk to so I can find out what is really going on." Anyway I am a flippin' powerpoint ninja and that may be were some of my cynicism stems from.
 

AWP

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I see this as somethig of a chicken/ egg argument. PP wouldn't be so bad if we had a system that didn't worship it and officers that couldn't live without it. PP is kind of like crack: it puts information in the hands of "junkies" (for lack of a better term) the same way crack could create addicts out of those who couldn't afford purer cocaine. You can't have a demand without a supply or a supply without a demand and the demand for PP is high.

We've become too reliant on technology (I'm a tech geek and hate how bad it has become) but technology has greatly improved the information flow on the battlefield; like anything taken to excess it has become bad for us.
 

Marauder06

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I distinctly remember the days before PowerPoint, when we had butcher block and acetate. I do not long for those days.
 
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