Monday, June 6, 2011

Strategy Deployment & the D-Day Invasion

By Pascal Dennis,

On June 6, 1944 a vast allied army landed on the beaches of Normandy and began the liberation of Europe.

General Eisenhower commanded the attacking force -- five beaches and five attacking armies.

General Irwen Rommel, the Desert Fox, commanded the defenders -- (with little support & much interference from Berlin)

D-Day was a triumph of strategy deployment against long odds. It was the biggest amphibious assault ever planned and the failure modes were daunting.

What if the preceding naval bombardment failed to disable the Nazi guns?

What is the sea was rougher, the waves higher, the tide stronger than expected?

What if the cloud cover lifted and the moon lit up the attackers?

What if, what if, what if -- the strategist's eternal question.

How did Eisenhower and his staff deal with these uncertainties? Did they dictate the tactics of each army at each beach?

"Thou shalt..."

For example, did they dictate minute assault details, in advance, to the Canadian Army on Juno beach or the American 1st Army at Omaha beach?

Of course not -- it would be absurd to do so. Only the army in the field can adjust to the conditions on the battlefield -- they see them best.

In my experience, "Command & control" in military circles does not mean "tightly control/limit/inhibit" -- as it does in civilian circles. It simply means Check & Adjust your plan.

Eisenhower provided overall objectives to each army and suggested tactics -- knowing that these would be adjusted in the field of battle.

Rommel, by contrast, was hindered by interference from Hitler and his inner circle -- people remote from the battlefield, who had rarely, if ever, visited Normandy.

What's the lesson for those of us who develop and deploy business strategies?

Follow the recipe laid out in The Remedy and Getting the Right Things Done:

1. Develop the plan

2. Deploy the plan

3. Monitor the plan

4. Improve the system

Deploy the plan does not mean controlling every tactical element. It means providing guidance and support for those in the battlefield.

It means teaching them how to translate overall objectives into meaningful tactics -- and giving them the freedom to do so.

Don't worry -- you're not giving up control. You'll have plenty of chances for input in the Check & Adjust phases.

Think of strategy as a river. Leaders define objectives (getting to the sea) and the banks of the river.

Then they let the water go.

Check out The Remedy or Getting the Right Things Done for more.

Last & most important

Let's honour our D-Day veterans, who put their lives on the line to make a better world.

Thanks for all you did for us.


  1. Thank you for honoring our D-Day vets with your post. You did a great job of drawing a Lean lesson from the invasion at Normandy. I like the Develop-Deploy-Monitor-Improve model. It seems to have it's roots in the PDCA cycle. Excellent post!


  2. Hi Christian,

    Strategy Deployment's roots are indeed PDCA -- at the enterprise level.

    Our veterans deserve recognition & more.

  3. Pascal paints a great picture of the importance of having sound 'plan governance' in place. The D-Day plan was only the plan, many things happened that did not adhere to the plan at all........airborne mis-drops, troops landing at the wrong beaches, previously unidentified embedded 88mm defensive positions......which singularly could have scuttled the plan, never mind the impact in combination. My dad landed at Juno with the 3rd A/T RCA armoured and he had lots of stories of the unbelievable (for us) chaos and horror interspersed with almost surreal images: a lone piper walking back and forth along the beach, playing even as ordnance flew around him, thus inspiring others to action. Clearly the success of the Allies in the face of overwhelming odds was the combination of a good plan supported by repeated PDCA cycles at all levels as well as key individuals providing guidance and inspiration.