Strategic Planning In World War 2 And In Business











Good Strategic Planning Won World War 2 and is Required to win in Business.

Strategic Planning determined the winners of World War 2. Tactics (short term strategy) was an important factor in individual battles but Germany - the country that often used better tactics - was ultimately the loser of World War 2.  Germany lost World War 2 because of  strategic planning errors and the fact that the allies came up with a  better strategic planning -  "Germany first"  &  "unconditional surrender" - strategy factors which focused the allies minds on the desired goals of the war.

This web site discusses strategic planning used by both sides in World War 2 and the application of strategic planning principles to business and non-war endeavors.

Most of the same strategic planning principles that were successful in war also apply to business. 

The role of think tanks in management is discussed

Of course, any strategic plan, to be successful, must be carried out.  In that regard, Project Management is important and is discussed.


 Using Strategic Planning to Implement a Successful plan. 

"If you don't know where you're going, you might end up somewhere else".......Yogi Berra

Many people confuse strategy and tactics, and further confuse strategy and grand strategy.  In the course of my engineering career, I have worked with a number of organizations including private firms and also the State of Louisiana's Coastal Restoration Division where strategy and planning played an important role in building projects.  While with the private firms, I was involved in two massive government projects:  (1) The Minuteman missile project; and (2) the Apollo Program which put man on the moon on schedule. 

The Minuteman and Apollo programs were very successful and both employed good strategic planning and project management .  Both programs were goal oriented (had an identifiable outcome.) 

With the state of Louisiana, I worked for 14 years on the well-intended,  but under-funded, coastal restoration program, the need for which was dramatically demonstrated in 2005 when flood surges from Hurricane Katrina sliced through the deteriorated Louisiana wetlands coastal defenses and devastated New Orleans. 

Alas, the Louisiana Coastal Restoration program completed many individual projects successfully, but despite the individual victories, coastal Louisiana was not restored and, indeed, continued to deteriorate at a rapid rate.  In the coastal restoration program, a substantial amount of time and money was spent developing different strategies but no overall plan was ever developed that was completely satisfactory.   We used some great engineering and great project management techniques but the lack of money and the lack of a  plan acceptable to all parties reduced the effectiveness of the effort.   

However, please keep in mind that, even with more money and the best of strategies available for coastal restoration, New Orleans would have suffered heavy damage from Katrina.  Levee systems  failed during the hurricane.  At that time, levees were not part of the scope of coastal restoration.  Now, after the hurricane damage has been done, a determined effort is apparently being made to combine levee protection techniques with coastal restoration.

A major problem with the strategy that was in-place was the failure to have a adequate plan to utilize, for wetlands replenishment, all the sediment that annually flows down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.  The second strategic planning problem was the failure to include a plan for closing the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), a wide, lightly used, shipping channel connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the heart of the New Orleans metropolitan area.  The MRGO provided a perfect conduit by which the Hurricane Katrina water surge traveled to wipe out, first,  St Bernard Parish and, then, large portions of Orleans Parish.  Sort of a super highway to disaster! (Note - the MRGO was finally closed in 2010)

Levee failures throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area contributed substantially to the flooding.  In short, New Orleans was not prepared for such a powerful hurricane as Katrina.  The overall storm protection planning was poor.


Strategic Planning Definitions. 

It must be noted that there is a large overlap between the terms of strategy, grand strategy, planning, strategic planning, project management, tactics,  concept development and even management.

Strategy is a planned, deliberate procedure, goal-oriented (has an identifiable outcome), achieved with a sequence of planned steps subject to monitoring and modification. 

A briefer definition of strategy is that it is a specific way to achieve a particular plan, or even more simply, strategy is a "systematic plan". 

Strategy and planning are closely related.  The term, Strategic Planning  combines the two concepts.

Strategy operates  within the scope of the grand strategy.  Tactics and specific methods of action are used in smaller scale operations to implement the strategy for a specific campaign.

It should also be noted that military planning and strategy, as discussed herein, and other strategies, e.g., management planning, business strategy and political strategy, are closely related, although not identical concepts. 

Grand Strategy Definition.   This is the broadest conception of how an objective (or goal) is to be attained.   The grand strategy serves to coordinate and direct all appropriate and available resources (human, political, economic, etc) of a group to attain its objectives in a conflict. 

Several limited strategies may be applied within a grand strategy to achieve particular objectives in subordination of the overall grand strategy.

In summary, grand strategy is the boss.  In any endeavor, strategy and tactics are part of the grand strategy.


Tactics Definition.  Tactics is third on the strategy hierarchy:  Grand Strategy--->Strategy---> Tactics. 

Tactics are specific techniques or actions used to achieve a planned strategy.  Tactics are how the strategies are be performed.  They are of shorter time frame (usually one year or less). 

In simple and military terms, tactics are the art of moving troops systematically in short term maneuvers.


Strategic Planning and Tactics in World War 2  


 Allied Strategy

In World War 2, the Grand Strategy of the U.S. and its Allies was to force unconditional surrender on the Germans, first, and then the Japanese.  This was a neat concept in that it told all the Allies in no uncertain terms what their common goal was, and it focused the Allies attention on attaining the goal.  The bad side  was that it left no "out" for the Germans and Japanese so they had to fight to the bitter end. 

At the time, the "Germany-first" strategy was protested strongly by many in the U.S. who were bitterly upset at the Japanese over the Pearl Harbor attack.  They really wanted to get Japan!

(Note: In regards to unconditional surrender, the War on Terrorism under the Bush administration had undertones similar to World War 2 and might have gone on virtually indefinitely since all negotiations were apparently vetoed.  Unconditional surrender had become the thing!  This appears to be changing somewhat under the Obama administration.


German Strategic Planning in World War 2

German Strategic Planning Mistakes in Russia.  The Germans used some great tactics during the war.  General  Guderian, for example,  was a master of the use of tank maneuvering (tactics) and cleaned up on the French and Polish forces and on one Russian army after another by his superior tactics.    However, his strong ego interfered with the overall German strategy in the 1941 Russian campaign and may have cost the Germans the war. 

Guderian's corps controlled many of the available Panzer divisions and he was not into sharing these powerful mechanized divisions with others.  He was very "territorial".

Guderian came up short in the strategy planning category when he got Hitler's permission (he was Hitler's favorite general at the time)  to move his mechanized forces away from the upcoming assault on Moscow so that he could maneuver around the Russian landscape moping up on the hapless Russians. Guderian's superior officer, General Halder, knew Guderian's actions were poor strategy and fumed so much he suffered a sort of breakdown, but he could do nothing about Guderian.   He was dealing with Hitler's pet general and Guderian wanted to showboat his considerable talents.

Why was slaughtering Russians poor strategy?  Instead of wiping out meaningless Russian multitudes, Guderian should have been readying his deadly Panzer divisions for the assault on Moscow in late 1941.  If the Germans had captured Moscow, they could have wintered there in the severe winter of 1941-42 and they would likely have knocked the Russians out of the war the following summer. That would have been good strategy.  Instead, the strong winter caught the Germans in the open and devastated them.  They never recovered.

Hitler eventually saw his mistake in allowing Guderian so much latitude and called him to Hitler's headquarters and personally sacked him.  But it was too late.  The Russian campaign (and the war) was essentially lost.  Good strategic planning had been subordinated to short term tactics.  It's supposed to be the other way around.  In any kind of management, strategy rules tactics, no matter how brilliant the tactics! 

After being fired, the audacious Guderian, Panzer General, still had his brilliance but was never again allowed to play a major military role in the war.  Hitler had learned a lesson. 


Other German Strategic Planning Mistakes.  

The Germans, in their management of the war,  made other blunders in the planning and strategy department:

    1.  They should not have attacked Russia until Britain was defeated.

    2.  They should not have declared war on the US after Pearl Harbor. (The US had immediately declared war on Japan after Pearl Harbor but not on Germany.)   The U.S. might have concentrated its forces on the much-hated Japan and this might have given the Germans time to finish off Russia.

    3. When the Russian campaign started, Germany's major military strategy should have been to capture Moscow.  Instead, they split their forces three ways and gained hundreds of thousands of square miles of territory and killed a few million Russians, all to no avail.  They had to have Moscow, if they were to win.

    4.  The so-called Mediterranean  strategy should have been more closely considered by Germany.  It would have required the capture of Gibraltar and the cooperation of Spain would been been needed.  If Spain's cooperation was not forthcoming, Germany would have had to attack and occupy Spain, an action certainly possible for the powerful Germans.  But Hitler was against attacking Spain, a fascist country.

Still, once Gibraltar was  in German hands, the Mediterranean would have become a German pond.  Turkey, Germany's ally in World War I would have likely joined the German side and North Africa would have fallen into German hands.  The pressure on Russia would have been greatly increased.  England could have remained in the war, but, without North Africa, their options would have been limited.

    5.  After the early successes, Germany failed to mobilize properly.  Hitler - despite his ruthless reputation - did not want to upset the German people.  Armament production was maintained at a low level during the early years of the war.  Also, German women were not mobilized into the war effort as were the women of Russia, U.S., and Britain.  Speer and Goebbels knew what needed to be done but they could not get Hitler to change and second-in-command Goering was so lethargic (drug addiction?) that they could not get him activated on their side.


Strategic Planning After World War 2

In addition to the Allies strategic planning victories during World War 2, they scored a great strategic planning victory after the war, when they instituted the Marshall Plan to help Europe get back on its feet.

Immediately after World War 2, Europe was having trouble getting back on its feet, economically even though, many factories needed little repair work to reopen and a large pool of highly-educated workers were available.  The Russians refused to assist in rebuilding Europe and it looked like the whole struggling European continent might fall into their hands.

President Truman saw the problem and unleashed General George Marshall to find a solution.  General Marshall came up with a strategy - the Marshall Plan - and, in 1948, Truman signed the plan into law.  Europe began a quick recovery and was saved from disappearing into the Communist bloc. 

In fact, as Europe recovered, the economies of the Communist bloc started moving in the opposite direction and never recovered.

The Marshall Plan was an incredible victory for the U.S. and the free world.  It should be noted that the Marshall Plan was administered by the able U.S. businessman/politician, Averill Herriman.  Herriman was a project manager of great talent (see discussion of project management, below).

You can't do good project management work if you have nothing but yes-men working for you as did the Bush administration.  For example, can you imagine "Brownie" (discussed below)  in a project manager's position?

For more on German planning and strategy in World War 2, see Germany in World War 2.


Role of Strategic Planning in Think Tanks

The very name of think tanks implies the use of strategic planning concepts.  Alas, such is often not the case.  Many think tanks function primarily as lobbying agencies presenting the results most favorable to their continuing to receive funds from the financial donors that sponsor the think tanks.

Wikipedia defines a think tank as an organization, institute, or group that conducts research, typically funded by government or commercial clients, in the areas of social or political strategy, technology, and  armament.

Two of the earliest think tanks were the Fabian Society founded in 1884, and the Brookings Institute founded in 1916.  Probably the most famous think tank is the Rand Corporation which has provided military advice  to the government since 1946.  The Rand Corporation, formerly part of an oil company, is now an independent private organization.

The number of think tanks has increased sharply since about 1970.  Many ascribe the increase to the conservative movement and that movement's distrust of universities.  Two of the best known of the conservative think tanks are The American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation.  A well-known libertarian-conservative think tank is the CATO Institute.

A few think tanks exist entirely within the U.S. Government, however, the private think tanks are generally believed more free to propose and debate controversial issues than the government think tanks.

There is no doubt the think tanks have played an important role in strategic planning for the U.S. Government.  However, in the highly politicized atmosphere now existing in Washington, will the think tanks be able to maintain any semblance of independence?




Strategic Planning Failures of the Bush Administration. 

Two glaring failures in strategic planning  occurred during the Bush administration:

Iraq War & Occupation - Strategic Planning Failures.  Almost too incredible to believe is the Bush administration's faulty strategy and planning of the Iraq occupation.  Point-by-point:

>I could go on and on but you get the idea.  The Iraqi occupation may yet turn out to be one of the greatest debacles in US  strategic planning history.   

It should be noted that U.S. military tactics during the opening phases of the war were good with Iraq's military forces destroyed in the matter of weeks.  After the opening phases complete, the US tactics suffered from the  problems noted above.

Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans Flood -  Before the Katrina - New Orleans tale is completed, it is conceivable that it may exceed the strategic planning missteps of the Iraq War tale, above:

"Brownie, you are doing a heck of a job!"....President Bush in New Orleans.

Project Management, Strategic Planning.  It is important to touch on who is chiefly responsible for assuring that a strategy or proper planning is developed is carried out.  Of course, in war, the political leaders and the generals are chiefly responsible for developing strategy and planning but, in non-combat enterprises,   the so-called "project manager" is the person most responsible for seeing that a chosen strategic plan is carried out.  Project management is the application of the necessary techniques and skills required to complete a project.

Strategic planning and project management are related functions when the question of completing projects is on the table.

Book And Website References 


1.  Debt vs. Cash - Paul Krugman vs. David Ramsey.  The opposite save-spend philosophies of Paul Krugman and David Ramsey are discussed. Which is best?: cash-only (Dave Ramsey) or free-spending (Paul Krugman?)


Summary of Strategic Planning

The concept of employing Strategic Planning is important in many endeavors including war, business, and meeting environmental threats.  Good strategy & planning won World War 2 for the Allies and poor strategic planning lost the war for Germany who were masters of short-term military tactics such as the Blitzkrieg.





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Last Updated:        07/05/17