Sep 16 2009
The “five paragraph order” is a procedure used by the United States Marine Corps and United States Army to brief units on a situation, the mission and how they’re going to execute the mission. This method is also very useful in the business world.
You can use it to:
- provide clear instructions for your direct reports.
- communicate a situation and the plan in presentations.
- clarify the situation when things go hay-wire, define the mission, hand out assignments and what needs to be communicated.
- bring clarity in meetings with others even if you’re just a participant.
- provide a framework for group exercises where you know of a problem and you want to brainstorm the solution and action items.
S.M.E.A.C. is an abbreviation for:
- What is the current situation, issue or problem that we need to resolve? This is where you need to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Make clear the importance and urgency of correcting the situation.
- If your manager has already assigned a mission for you then there’s nothing to do here other than to make sure you clearly understand what needs to be done.
- If there’s a situation and it’s up to you to solve it, then you must define the mission. You can use the 5Ws. Who, What, Where, When and Why to help you explore this. Keep it brief and clear.
- This is your plan and you need to define it in detail. This is a breakdown of tasks and assignments. For each item on your list define Who will implement them, What is to be achieved, and When they will be completed.
- Administration and Logistics
- This is a list of administrative details and how any logistical support will be handled e.g. equipment and processes.
- Command and Signaling
- List communication events i.e. who needs to know what and when. This is a critical and an often overlooked part. Often people find out way too late that they were expected to deliver something. In this paragraph you should cover all communication to stake holders.
All of this may sound a bit complicated but it really isn’t. Just think S.M.E.A.C. and write five paragraphs on a sheet of paper. This tool is not necessarily just a tool to communicate a pre-existing plan, you can also use it as an exploratory tool where you start with defining the situation. This is a simple, and yet very effective communication and decision-making tool that you should add to your personal tool-kit.
The very first time I used this method my manager commended me and I knew that I had found a great new tool.
A slightly different version can be found here where the A is used for “Any Questions” and C is used for “Check Understanding”. If you use this version you can of course cover the “Administration and Logistics” and the “Command and Signaling” information as a part of our “Execution” paragraph.