Capability Based Planning… and Grass

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Is it possible to explore aspects of capability-based planning using out of control grass? As it happens, I’d like to establish a small but effective farm – but what’s that got to do with the price of tea in China you may well ask.

Goals, Strategies and Capabilities

Paraphrasing Sun Tsu and more recently, the Business Motivation Model, strategies are the means by which we achieve our goals. To be effective, any given strategy will require certain capabilities (corollary, the strength of key capabilities will allow strategies to be employed by one organisation that are not realistic for another). So if I am to build a farm, I’ll need to choose strategies and ensure I have the right capabilities to support them.

As many reading this may know, capability-based planning originated as a military discipline but it is now widely used by enterprise architects. There are many capability-based planning frameworks out there with different dimensions of capability (e.g TEPID-OIL, DOTMLPF, POSTEDFIT) but all are really just more granular dimensions of People, Process and Tools.


So let’s start from the beginning, where all good things start, and take a look at motivation. Let’s assume I have the following goal, “To run a hobby farm that allows 4 people to be (mostly) self-sufficient“. Let’s add a constraint: “No more than 10 person hours can be spared for property maintenance per week“.


A strategy that will achieve the goal while allowing for this constraint could be “Use low maintenance food trees, supplemented by vegetable gardens” – I will plant food trees initially, supplemented by gardens later, and keep the grass down while the trees get established.


From this starting point we can identify a number of capabilities that will be required, including landscape design, planting, and grass control. In fact, the property is so lush that grass control is one of the key things I need to be able to do, and it will easily challenge my time constraint if done inefficiently.

Now, I have a grass control capability (people = Galen; tools = ride-on mower; process = start mower and mow grass).
My neighbour Andrew has a substantially more impressive grass control capability (people = Andrew; tool = tractor/slasher; process = start slasher & slash grass).
Another neighbour Kelly owns a horse and also has a grass control capability (people = Kelly; tools = horse; process = horse: eat continually & Kelly: move horse from paddock to paddock).

The people component in each case is different (I don’t have training in the use of a slasher, nor know how to handle a horse). The slasher requires more training to operate than the ride-on, and is more expensive, but its output is higher. The process for controlling grass with the horse is quite different from the other two options.


Now here’s a thought: capabilities are cumulative – the valley where we all live (an Organisation Unit of a sort) has a grass control capability that is the summation of our 3 capabilities. This may seem inefficient (I own and maintain equipment, Andrew maintains his slasher) – but actually this is GOOD.

Usually I make use of Andrew’s capability (remember the time constraint), but sometimes it is too wet to use the slasher, which would tear up the paddocks and my ride-on does the trick, although it takes longer. I sometimes mow for Kelly around her house (where she doesn’t want the horse!).

So capability overlap can increase resilience, albeit with lower cost-efficiency.

Business Services

The valley’s cumulative capability can be provided by a number of services – if we offer them up as such, with a service contract of some kind either loosely or tightly defined. These services are governed interfaces to the individual capabilities. Andrew has a formal service established, with rates, availability times and so on. My assistance for Kelly is not a formal service and probably never will be. Capabilities and services can be horizontal or vertical (more on the different ways to model behaviour in another post).

Capability Readiness

Of note, there is some interesting thinking going on in military spheres around ‘capability readiness’, i.e. the understanding that it is not cost-effective, nor indeed possible, to maintain a capability at maximum readiness at all times. Think of capital project based organisations that require different capability maturity and capacity when in the build phase than when in operation – little operational support capability is required during build, though governance and delivery capabilities are critical at this time.

Relating that to the grass (of course!), in winter the machines can be serviced over a period of weeks (and Andrew can take a holiday) and the grass won’t get away. Try that in summer and you will find yourself facing a forest of swaying stalks that will humble the mower and indeed the horse, unless he has a few hungry friends.

So capability-based planning… and grass. Am I stretching the analogy too far?