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Kill a BOGSAT for Christmas!

What is a BOGSAT, and why are they dangerous?

Like pornography, a BOGSAT is difficult to define but you know one when you see it. It is, in essence, an unstructured and often poorly prepared discussion, but one that purports to deliver credible and evidence-based analysis to assist decision making. The reality is that the outcomes of a BOGSAT will too often be flawed decisions derived from false assumptions and based on individual opinion or personal bias.

Why does this matter to you?

It goes without saying that we should all strive to make the best decisions in support of our service personnel; their lives depend on it. Furthermore, in the current climate of constrained budgets it is beholden on all of us to deliver optimal solutions. This can only be achieved using effective decision support mechanisms. With increasing scrutiny and potential for the in-depth audit of decisions there is a personal risk in using sub-optimal decision-making processes. The unstructured and poorly planned BOGSAT falls into that category. So please, for everyone’s sake, stamp them out!

Recognising a BOGSAT

BOGSATs must be differentiated from events such as a well-run Military Judgement Panel (MJP), workshop, seminar, Course of Action Wargame or seminar wargame. But the key part of that sentence is ‘well-run’; unless some necessary steps are taken all of the above can degenerate into a BOGSAT. If this happens the evidence-based outcomes that should result will, in all probability, be replaced by ones that lack credibility or are flawed.

BOGSATs exhibit one or more of the following characteristics:

  1. Poor structure.
  2. Unclear aims.
  3. Lack of planning.
  4. Having insufficient, or the wrong, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) present.
  5. An initial briefing that lacks detail.
  6. Insufficiently detailed instructions sent out prior to the event.
  7. Insufficient context to enable a meaningful discussion.
  8. A vocal or high ranking panellist dominating the discussion.
  9. Insufficient facilitators and/or scribes.

Preventing a BOGSAT

In common with most suggestions on this web site, preventing a BOGSAT sounds simple. But do not confuse simple for simplistic, and do not assume it is easy! Unsurprisingly, a successful event is predicated on methodical planning based on a thorough understanding of the type of activity you intend to hold (workshop, MJP, seminar wargame et al), which delivers a structured and logical occasion. The Army adage ‘Prior Preparation & Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance’ holds true. Attention to detail and a logical and rigorous planning process are required. One example of such a process is given in the Wargame Design Steps on the How we do it page.

Some factors that you might consider that will help prevent an event degenerating into a BOGSAT are:

  • Level of information. Presenting the appropriate level of information to participants is critical. Too much and they will be overwhelmed, too little and they will not be able to make an informed judgement.
  • Context. Having a context for discussion provides structure and helps people visualise and engage in the event. One example is a scenario, possibly with a series of vignettes adding greater detail. The setting, scenario and vignettes used should be derived from an analysis of the information to be considered and any data that needs to be captured; they should enable discussion of relevant factors. This is not to say that a scenario is compulsory for all activities, but one should at least be considered.
  • SMEs. Once you know the topics to be considered and the appropriate level of detail, ensure that the correct SMEs are present. The role of the SME is to ensure that decision makers have sufficient understanding of a topic to make an informed decision. An SME’s role might be proactive (delivering a brief) or reactive (simply answering questions arising).
  • Assumptive predictions. People often assume that they can wrap the proverbial wet towel around their head and predict the outcomes of an analysis. Making this assumption bears significant risk and should be avoided if possible. It immediately makes the analysis subjective and precludes any unexpected findings and insights being found. Any assumptions that have to be made during the course of an ongoing analysis must be recorded as such.
  • Briefings. Points to be briefed to participants and facilitators should be captured throughout the planning process. These will probably be numerous. A planning team often becomes so familiar with the subject and structure of their prospective event that they forget that it will be new to participants. The opening briefing(s) should cover the basics to ensure that everyone is conversant with what they are expected to do and how they will do it.
  • Testex. Once the planning and preparation for an event is complete, try to break it! Hold a Testex a few days before the event where someone outside the planning team tries to cause a failure in the processes, mechanisms and tools that will be used on the day. Expect flaws to be found; that’s the point of the Testex. And be grateful that they weren’t uncovered on the day itself and there is time to rectify issues. The key word is ‘Test’. It is not a ‘Rehearsal’ because that implies that issues and problems have been resolved.
  • Recording of findings and data capture. There must be a method for capturing findings and data. This could range from a high-tech data entry system (for example to allow a panel to vote on the priority of the factors under consideration) to a dedicated scribe.

While a BOGSAT might have occasional and limited utility they tend to carry significant risk, particularly when passed off as, or substituted for, a credible evidence-based mechanism for decision support. The risks are likely to reside with the sponsor, be that an individual, desk or branch. We owe it to our servicemen and women and to ourselves to stamp out the BOGSAT.