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Should Your Principles Be on a Wiki?

by French Caldwell  |  August 20, 2009  |  3 Comments

A NYT piece about how the Army is using wikis to write doctrine made the rounds on a Gartner analyst e-mail DL today.

Doctrine is supposedly doctrine because the principles it teaches age slowly.  So, is a wiki the right vehicle for maintaining doctrine?  I imagine the colonels who really write the Army’s doctrine must be chewing up their cigars and spitting ‘em out after reading this piece.

The Navy and Marine corps have always looked down on written doctrine — one of my favorite sayings attributed to a Navy admiral is: “Doctrine is guidance to be followed in the absence of any other intelligence, including human.”

The sea services looking down their nose at written doctrine is not merely services rivalry; rather the Army has tended to put too much in the way of operational procedures and instructions in its doctrine — in fact, if doctrine is considered to be a set of core beliefs or principles, most of what is in Army doctrinal manuals is not doctrine.  The Marines have doctrine too — for instance “every Marine is a rifleman.”  But try finding a 100 page doctrinal discussion of that — it doesn’t exist — never has.

The Army saw the failures of doctrine in Iraq, and how the gaps were filled by social networking.  To the Army’s great credit, they learned the lesson and then brought the social networking in-house and have supported it.

So — what we may be looking at in the Army is the end of doctrine as training manuals, procedures and instructions — expeditionary warfare requires that those be changed more often than the Cold War system can support — so doctrine exists, but it is stripped of the operational procedures which much change rapidly.

What’s left as doctrine are the core principles of operation — not procedures.  Perhaps unfortunately, the sea services have adopted the “doctrine” word in recent decades, but on the other hand, they seem to have stuck to core principles of operation when they use the term — compare this Marine Corps list of doctrinal publications to the Army list.  See the difference?

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Thoughts on Should Your Principles Be on a Wiki?


  1. Rotkapchen says:

    You’ve highlighted a critical distinction, one that is largely unaccounted for by most initiatives: the difference between the ‘formal policy’, ‘common lore’ and ‘reality’. The gap between the last two are often the biggest issue. I find that there are a lot of ‘assumptions’ that feed common lore that are not valid (or may have been at one time, but changed).

    In most cases, businesses succeed in spite of themselves — but waste tremendous resources doing so.

  2. Yes, the split between doctrine and operational procedures is the core issue here. Instead of spending tremendous resources to write the operational procedures based on knowledge from the last conflict, it’s much better to capture it from the field of the current one. That gives the Army staff responsible for maintaining the field manuals a much more up-to-date, relevant set of information that fits in the “reality” category that Rotkapchen mentions.

  3. […] French Caldwell of Gartner offers his take on the Army’s pilot project to gather experience and revise field manuals using a wiki: The Army saw the failures of doctrine in Iraq, and how the gaps were filled by social networking. To the Army’s great credit, they learned the lesson and then brought the social networking in-house and have supported it. […]



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