On success

Over the last year, I’ve played a ton of Shenandoah Studio’s Crisis in Command: Battle of the Bulge wargame for iOS. If you’re a wargamer of any stripe and have an iOS device, you should, too. The game was designed from the ground up for async play, and it’s really well done. And the history! Oh my. Page after page of information about the battle. It’s enough to make my nerd heart go aflutter.

This isn’t the first Battle of the Bulge wargame I’ve played, but it does share some interesting design issues with the other one (Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge), which is that you cannot model success on the German achievement of their ultimate objective, which was seizing the port city of Antwerp. Now, that goal makes sense. Success would have closed supply lines to the Allied forces, forcing them to rely on logistical support from France. It might have also struck a blow at the American home front, demoralizing the supporters of the troops. A great idea. There’s just one problem.

It’s universally acknowledged that this goal was impossible to achieve.

Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge handles this issue by making victory a matter of outperforming the Germans. If you do better than they did, you win. In Crisis in Command: Battle of the Bulge, the focus is on operational goals in a central area of the battle (the Meuse River, Bastogne) and not on the unachievable strategic goal.

War is project management done under fire. Therefore, it can teach us things about the world of work. And here’s one brief, but harsh lesson: just because you need to do something doesn’t mean that it’s possible to do. The Germans needed a victory that winter, and they certainly gave it their best. They were clever, innovative, passionate, and all those sorts of positive traits that we look for in workers. But they were doomed to failure from the beginning. Their task was impossible.

Saying “It will work. It has to work” is a lie. Nothing has to work. How many armies have been shattered in battles they had to win? Were they less passionate than your workers? Consider: their lives were literally on the line. Say rather, “This is a critical objective. How are we going to work together to overcome it?”

And then, what is your plan for when you cannot overcome it?

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