SMEACs and SitReps

“OK, can you give me a SitRep?”, said the lifeboat inspector to me, years ago out one evening on the Inshore Lifeboat (ILB).

I stumbled through a messy account of what we’d done through the exercise so far.  I had no framework in mind for giving a Situation Report so, while the content was fresh and accurate, the structure was made up on the fly.  It wasn’t very good.

“You know there’s a structure for a SitRep?  Give a time and location, actions taken since last report, results of those actions and what you plan to do next.”

I quite like that.  It’s not too proscriptive, it’s short enough to remember, I can easily see the value a report like this provides to the audience.

SailorMore recently we’ve been introducing the concept of the Five Paragraph Order as a briefing prior to each launch.  Guess what – there’s an acronym…

  • Situation: Why are we launching?  What has been reported?
  • Mission:  What are we going to do about it?
  • Execution:  How are we going to carry out the mission?
  • Administration:  Roles and responsibilities.  Who is navigating?  Who is helming?
  • Communications:  What do we need to know about comms, if anything?  Are we working on channel 16 under Mayday protocol, for example.

I applaud the intention, but I don’t think this one fits very well.  Why? the situation is often very dynamic and information is evolving.  This makes a mission statement very high level – ‘save lives’ or ‘locate the vessel and assess’.  In turn, the execution bit becomes speculation at best. Admin and Comms (which I think is ‘Command & Control’ in the military) works well.

So why not just skip the bits that don’t fit?  Because it’s presented like a ‘Read – Do’ checklist and the format becomes a governing constraint – it implies that there must be a mission and execution.  Governing constraints can be brittle – and in this case the behaviour I’m observing is that the whole SMEAC brief is being skipped and I hypothesise that it is because some bits don’t fit well even though there is value in other parts.

Where’s the link into the ‘agile’ world?  SitReps are primarily backwards looking.  SMEAC’s are future looking.  What’s the focus of your Daily StandUp?  I’ve been to many that are more SitRep than Briefing.  What about your retrospectives?  Do you miss out the ‘what’s next’ bit?


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