On Operational Excellence

So I spent much of last week reading a book about Second World War called “The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.“ You do not have to be a history buff to like it, since it is both intellectually interesting and fun to read, most of the time. The book is organized not historically (like many others), but as WATER (sea weaponry and battles), AIR, EARTH, FIRE (artillery, infantry weapons, tanks, etc), PEOPLE (workers, soldiers, leaders), etc.

Reading the book made me think a lot about the concept of OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE. As the book goes, in warfare you may have many different combination of qualitative and/or quantitative advantages. For example, qualitative advantages may be:

  • Better-built foundational technology (rifles, fighters, tanks, ships)
  • Innovative / superior technology (V-1 and V-2, Me-262 jet fighters, Katyusha MRLS, napalm, Panzerfaust, kamikaze planes, assault rifles, etc)
  • Better people (better trained infantry, fighter pilots with more practice, etc)
  • Better leadership (at different levels – from sergeants and mid-level officers to army leaders to country leaders)
  • Better morale.

… while quantitative advantages are kinda obvious – having more. There are many fun facts like that the Nazi Germany built ~1300 superb Tiger I and II tanks during the war, while USSR built ~1300 excellent T-34 tanks a month during 1943 (meanwhile, US built the total of ~50,000 M-4 Sherman tanks). Or that US produced 7X the amount of some war materiel than all other combatants combined.

The book presents many examples where certain advantages in warfare were nullified by either attacker’s own incompetence (deploy great troops with good weapons in pursuit of a wrong strategic goal) or adversary efforts (deploy superior weapons and get flooded by 10X response by inferior weapons or deploy adequate ground forces and be bombed by enemy air force, because they had air superiority).

However, once you sum up all the above, something else remains. The author calls it OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE and uses it to label a broad domain of related factors. One example from the book goes like this: “Whether early or late in the war, on the defensive or offensive, either enjoying numerical superiority or outnumbered, the German army consistently killed more of the enemy than the enemy killed Germans. Such superiority often came despite Hitler’s strategic lapses and often without technological and air superiority, and can be attributed mostly to the operational excellence of German training, high morale and competent officers.”

Many other detailed examples, for both Axis and Allies, are there. For example, you have 100 fighters and I have 100 fighters, your pilots and/or weapons are slightly better, but I can repair my damaged planes within hours, while you take months. In this case, the one with repair operational excellence probably wins. Or, you make great tanks, but you take 5000 worker-hours to make your tank, while I make above-average tanks, but in 700 hours. Or, you make better tanks, but your approach for delivering fuel and ammo to them is fragile, and so your tanks are not giving you the advantage.

To bring it back home, a lot of this reminds me of CYBER. We do see companies with superior tools and poor personnel lose. We also see organizations with adequate tools deployed in too few places lose. We also see companies with decent tools and people, but bad leadership lose.

But – and this is IMHO, for sure – when we see a defender WIN, it typically involves decent or better tools, good or better people AND copious amounts of operational excellence.

So, go forth and operationalize. Aim for operational excellence!



*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Anton Chuvakin authored by Anton Chuvakin. Read the original post at: https://blogs.gartner.com/anton-chuvakin/2018/11/28/on-operational-excellence/