Objectives and Priorities (Part #1)

how to set Priorities ObjectivesHave you ever wondered, “What do I do next?” Or, “Where do I start?

Have you ever asked either question about any project that loomed in front of you?

Well, this article is all about answering those questions with a rock-solid, bullet-proof system. And there is only one logical place to start – Leader’s Intent.

An easy way to understand what Leander’s Intent means is to ask this question, “What does success look like?” Yup, that easy. When we are done, and we are successful…what does that success look like?

Now, just for the record…this is no light reading! This is not a short article to dump some little tip out there. It is not some tidbit of info on radios or how to harvest onion seeds. This article is a heavy-duty, in-depth article that will take a lot of reading and thinking. Some of you may not be in the mood for it, I understand that. But the information contained in this article is rock solid information on how to get things done. And in emergencies, disasters, and especially during a grid-down…you better know how to operate effectively as a group to get things done. Failure will not be an option!

Here you go…

Under most circumstances a single leader will define that “intent” for the group. They will outline what the Leadership during emergencies, disasters and grid-down teotwawkisuccessful outcome will be, or what it will look like. Yes, a good leader will also take input from all team members and allow everyone the opportunity to participate in defining that outcome. If they are a good leader they won’t, or shouldn’t, get into the details, they should only set the “goal” or the “vision.” The details are left to the individual experts that will be assigned tasks (objectives) within the project.

Whomever the leader is must be very clear and specific about what the “success” actually looks like. This is sometimes referred to as “end-state.” While latitude in accomplishing objectives is encouraged for team members, the leader must make their intent, or end-state, very plain so everyone fully understands it. This will also allow subject matter experts (SME) a significant opportunity to provide appropriate and valuable input during the planning process…and virtually a free hand during the implementation stage.

Once the team understands the end-state, they can work on individual objectives for the team. Sometimes this might be limited to a core of individuals who will be ultimately carrying out the action or mission. Other members of the team may only be responsible for providing support, so their participation in the primary planning would be limited. Their input/participation would come later in a meeting where it was determined if the whole team could “support the plan.”

Here is an example of Leader’s Intent –

“We will plant a garden large enough to provide at least 50% of all our vegetable needs the first year and 75% of all our vegetable needs the second year.”

From that statement there should be no confusion concerning the “end-state” or what “success looks like.” If there is confusion there are two options; 1) the leader continues to share their vision and information until all team members come to a full understanding, 2) Leader’s Intent is modified to meet the capabilities of the team.

Technically there could be a third option as well. If there is a single team member that is not comprehending the end-state, that person could be replaced with someone that does. I would caution against that option. Let me explain why.

The members of the team are there for a reason, hopefully due to their expertise in one or more areas of Team Membersgardening. If that knowledge is sufficient in breadth and depth, then they could/should be considered subject matter experts (SME). While the end-state is being discussed an SME raised concerns or confusion, the leader would be well-served to reevaluate their end-state vision. The leader may need to look at the realistic expectation of the end-state. If an end-state is unrealistic, an SME will usually raise that question. A leader or team ignores those SME concerns at their own peril.

Realistic End-State –

How do you determine if an end-state is realistic? To answer that question you fallback to a time tested set of parameters, “who, what, where, when.” Go back to the leader’s intent statement, or end-state. With that statement in mind, formulate the question –

“With the people we have and with what resources we have, can we accomplish that goal within the time and location we have been given?”

If the answer is anything but a resounding “Yes!” you might want to seriously review the leader’s intent as being realistic…or not. That is not to say that the team may not have to stretch their capabilities, or expand their own personal vision a little, but the question still stands…Is the end-state realistic?

If it is deemed not realistic then the immediate goal now becomes to find out why not. It may be a simple matter of the team lacking confidence in itself. Or, it may be there are just not enough resources to accomplish the task. And therein lies one of the keys to this issue, lack of resources. Customarily, the only reason a team cannot accomplish the desired end-state is due to a lack of resources. The “lack of” may be perceived or real. By that I mean that there is actually a lack of available resources to accomplish the end-state, or the team simply thinks that there is a lack of resources. That is a leader’s conundrum that the leader is responsible for deciding and should have both the ability and wherewithal to do so.

If a team member, preferably an SME, raises the Who-What-When-Where-How-and-Why-001question of the end-state being unrealistic, go down the list of questions: – Is the end-state realistic with:

  • who, the people we have to work with?
  • what, the resources that we can use?
  • where, in the location(s) in which we will work on the mission?
  • when, in the time-frame we’ve been given?
  • how, did we choose the right way to do this task?

It is important to do this formally and systematically to specifically identify where the team is lacking. Without addressing each of the questions above, the team will simply flounder in project failure.

Project – “Move 125 trees from the logging area to the cabin area to complete the structures before the snow falls this weekend.”


  • Who – We have 10 people, adults of varying age.
  • What – We 125 trees that average 80′ in length and we have 1 truck and 1 SUV (both are 2-wheel drive).
  • Where – We must haul them over muddy roads that have been exposed to rain for two weeks..
  • When – We have to have the trees moved in 5 days.
  • How – We must drag the trees with truck & SUV.

Problem raised:MUddyRoad-001

  • The roads are already muddy and the vehicles are only 2-wheel drive. The trucks will probably get stuck trying to drag the trees up the mountain from the logging site to the cabin site.

To problem solve this the team must start brainstorming the four “W” areas mentioned. And, you go about it in the exact same order as outlined above.

  1. With two vehicles that wouldn’t get stuck, could we do it with enough people?
  2. If we had more vehicles could we get this done?
  3. If we had vehicles that could operate off-road could we get this done?
  4. If we had more time could we get this done?

Since it is not just mission accomplishment we are looking for, we are also looking for safety, effectiveness, and efficiency.

Example #1: Yes, we could get this done if we just used people to carry the logs and not use vehicles. And we would have to find 150 more people. Obviously not efficient and probably not very effective. So, the number of people becomes the problem. The initial “yes” becomes a “no” because we can’t find the people and even if we could, it wouldn’t be efficient.

Example #2: No, simply having more vehicles won’t help us accomplish this mission unless they are 4-wheel drive and large enough. Once again, we can spot that the option of more vehicles won’t help unless they are a specific type. The option of simply more vehicles lends itself to being ineffective.

Example #3: Yes, if we could accomplish the if one of two conditions could change; 1) we can accomplish the mission in another location where 2-wheel drive vehicles can operate successfully, 2) we could use 4-wheel drive vehicles that are large enough. And for this conversation let’s say that moving the location isn’t feasible.

Example #4: No, we don’t have more time to accomplish the mission, it must be accomplished within the time-frame set down because the snow will expose the families to the incoming deadly weather.

You have probably already mentally resolved the problem in your head but let me ask the obvious…What-001

“What is the solution?”

Since you can’t change the location of the mission you must acquire 4-wheel drive vehicles that are large enough for the task. And since you can’t change the time-frame, you have to ensure that you acquire enough vehicles to get the job done. But no more than 10 vehicles, because you only have 10 people; assuming each person could drive a vehicle.

Let’s return to the end-state’s “realistic” question, the answer would be “no” unless the team could acquire the 4-wheel drive vehicles first. Without those 4-wheel drive vehicles, the end-state is completely unrealistic. That being the case a whole new end-state, or mission, must be decided on.

Setting Objectives –

Let’s continue the discussion above and assume that the end-state must be met, that the time-frame is fixed, and you only have the people already on-hand to work with. What is your first objective?

It should be to acquire 4-wheel drive vehicles. If you can accomplish that acquisition then the rest of the mission is within the team’s realm of capabilities. But how do you go about setting that objective? The same way you go about setting any objective – S.M.A.R.T.

The SMART system of defining objectives has been around a long time. The general SMART system is attributed to Peter Drucker, and first appears in print is Management Review by George T. Doran as he was discussing “management by objectives.” The SMART system has been contorted over the years to meet personal opinion and specific situations, I will do the same here.

As I will use the term, SMART means –

  • SpecificSMART objectives
  • Measurable
  • Action
  • Realistic/Relevant
  • Time-frame

Let me break down each one in detail:

Specific – The end result must be very specific in nature. There can be no room for error in what must be accomplished. The clarity must be understood and agreed to by all parties; the person making the assignments and the people that will carry out those assignments.

Measurable – You must be able to clearly determine that the result has been achieved, or not. It must be easily and readily apparent when the result has been accomplished. And the measurement system must be known by those involved. An objective without a way to measure the success can potentially result in a “completed” assignment that is not successful.

Action – An action must be present. The person(s) given the assignment must be responsible for carrying out some kind of act in the accomplishment of the objective. If the objective doesn’t contain an action, then the people assigned that objective have little to no control over its success or failure.

Realistic/Relevant – The objective being assigned must be realistic within the scope of training, experience, and skills, of the assigned resources. Consideration must be given to the objective vs. the person(s) assigned the objective and their potential for success in that assignment. The action that the people will carry out must be 100% relevant to the accomplishment of the mission.

Time-frame – The action for successful accomplishment of the objective must have enough time in which to complete it. The time allotted for the successful accomplishment of the objective must be sufficient in length, clearly stated, and realistic.

Here would be an example of a poor objective:

“We will plant a garden because we need the fresh food. Let’s go get that done.”

Here would be an example of a properly formed objective preceded by clear leader’s intent:

“We are short on fresh food, a garden can solve that problem. We will plant a garden that is two acres in size, consisting of a variety of foods to meet our dietary needs. We must have the garden soil ready for planting in 10 days, seeds planted within 5 days after that. Individual families will be assigned rows to keep them free of weeds. Those same families will keep plants watered on a daily basis or as needed.”

The “intent” is clear – Planting a garden will provide fresh vegetables.Garden for teotwawki

The objective(s) meet the SMART criteria using clear tasks, time-frames, and relating each action to be taken to the overall intent of the project.

Of course, once this have been laid out specific tasks would be assigned to meet each major objective of; soil readiness, seeds planted, watering, and weeding.

The process for setting objectives must be clear and used by all team members. The leader is responsible for laying out clear “intent” and overall “objective(s).” Subordinates are responsible for developing the tasks (also objectives) to meet that intent based on priorities.

And tomorrow I will finish up this article by going over “setting priorities” and how that fits with SMART objective setting.

Yeah, originally I was going to have this just be a single article…but it just grew too large for a single post. I hope you are getting something out of this…it has taken me 30+ years of incident management experience and training to learn all of this.


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2 thoughts on “Objectives and Priorities (Part #1)

  1. Pingback: Check List – Misc. | A.H. Trimble - Emergency preparedness information for disasters and grid-down

  2. Pingback: Brand new to prepping…where do I start? | A.H. Trimble - Emergency preparedness information for disasters and grid-down

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