This article describes the military problem appreciation process – an analysis process that has application at a business execution level as well as in day-to-day operations and business improvement. It is drawn from the experience of commanders in the most complex and risky context of all: WAR.

The purpose for me writing this article is twofold: To answer some questions that continually confuse those confronted with the often daunting task of identifying solutions or courses of action for a particular problem or situation, and to provide you with a simple checklist for using this process.

Setting Some Rules

Before getting into the content, I should first set some rules for you as a reader of this article.

  1. This is an aide memoir, and not some clearly defined and rigid checklist
  2. Always ask these questions: (a) Is there a better way of doing it, and (b) Is there value in doing what it says here or is it just a non value adding task that ultimately wastes my time?
  3. This process is applicable to all manner of problems – military, policing, business and personal – it has a place at all times where logical thought is required

The Questions

The questions that often arise, but remain unanswered in the mind of an emerging planner or problem solver are:

  • What is problem analysis?
  • How do we conduct problem analysis?
  • What are the contents of a problem analysis?
  • Once we have completed a problem analysis, what does it lead to?

Let’s see if we can answer those questions by referring to the term ‘problem analysis’ with a new term [for some] – ‘appreciation‘.

What is a military problem appreciation?

The Australian Army provide a very good definition of the term – “An appreciation is a logical process of reasoning, the object of which is to determine, from facts known or assumed, the best or better course of action to take in any given circumstance.”

What does that mean?

It is simply a logical process from which to identify a course of action appropriate to some circumstance. The key words are ‘identify an appropriate course of action’.

Sherlock HOLMES, the great detective of fiction, used the ‘APPRECIATION’ process to solve his problems by logical assessment of all known facts. From these he made logical deductions which resulted in the determination of which person was responsible for the crime.

Every time you make a decision as the result of some prior consideration, you have made an appreciation. There are no hidden or magic formulas in this process.

The ingredients of a sound appreciation are:

  • Logical reasoning
  • A sound knowledge of tactics at the level at which you are working, whether it be corporate, business, or operational levels
  • Consideration of all aspects applicable to the situation
  • Not allowing yourself to be confined by rigid parameters – thinking outside the box to use a modern catch phrase – (I have always promoted the thought that just because someone did it before you does not mean it is the best way to do it now)
  • Common Sense

The Essence of an Appreciation

The essence of an appreciation is a process of clear thought and logical reasoning.

This is not always easy when making an appreciation, particularly when the problem seems to be a familiar one. The mind always tends to leap ahead to an apparently obvious course of action and the argument is then made to fit the conclusion. This snare is commonly known as ‘situating the appreciation’.

I have one word of advice to those of you who do this – don’t.

There is often only one answer to a specific problem, but there are many problems to which there are no set answers. To solve such problems all relevant factors must be considered. The solution may not be the only one, but, if the argument has been reasoned logically and thoroughly, it should be workable and much sounder than one produced on the spur of the moment and without sufficient thought.

Regardless of whether the purpose of the appreciation is to clear the planner’s own mind, or to present a clear picture of a situation to a higher authority, a logical structure should be adhered to, for this ensures that no factor escapes the planner.

In simple situations some headings in the appreciation format can be dispensed with after common sense appraisal of their application to the situation being appreciated. When presenting a written appreciation, the format detailed in this chapter may be followed.

An appreciation is now simply a matter of:

  • Clearing your mind as to your requirement.
  • Assembling the factors applicable to the situation.
  • Assessing each factor in turn and coming up with a logical deduction which could affect your final plan.
  • Assess the courses open.
  • Determine a logical plan.

How do we do an appreciation?

No surprises here guys. We simply break the problem down into its component parts so that each may be examined in detail. An appreciation usually consists of five distinct parts, the first two parts resolving what must be done and the remaining three parts deciding how it should be done.

The parts or steps to be taken are as follows:

  1. Study the existing situation – what are we confronted with
  2. Decide on the aim to be attained – what is it we have to achieve (not to be confused with the aim of the appreciation itself, which is to identify a course of action)
  3. Consider all factors, select the relevant factors and draw deductions – what are the factors that will or may impact on the course of action we choose, in one way or another
  4. Consider possible ways of attaining the aim – what options do we have
  5. Decide on the best course of action to attain the aim – what will be do

What are the contents of an appreciation?

This format will provide a leader with a basic structure for clear thought and logical reasoning, and develops the ability to think automatically along the right lines and so make a sound and rapid decision in any situation.

Before we actually discuss the contents, do not fall into the trap of thinking that I am promoting this as THE format for doing an appreciation. Those of you who read through this paper and say, “hang on a minute, I once did an appreciation and we did this or that, or I saw someone do this once”, risk being caged by the boundaries of a piece of paper that someone once wrote.

You are all correct in what you say, but think outside the box people. Remember the rule at the beginning of this article; this is not some clearly defined and rigid checklist that you have to follow. Be a leader, and lead the way with logical reasoning and thought processes. You should build on this structure and only use what is applicable to your situation.

If you do apply anything rigidly, it is this principle if you want your plan to have the best chance of success. If you are in business, maybe millions can be made or lost on the basis of your decision.

Format of an Appreciation

The format usually includes the following headings:

AIM – What am I to achieve?

FACTORS – What will hinder or help me?

COURSES – What could I or the other *parties do in light of these factors? (*competitors, enemy, offenders etc depending on your business)

PLAN – What will I do?


The aim must be clear and concise, singular in concept.

In defining the aim, it is essential that the task be examined to see what is involved and what limitations may have been imposed. Only those limitations which are absolute should be included in the aim. (eg: by a particular deadline) Limitations which permit alternatives should be considered as factors. (eg: within a budget of $1 million)

There are five easy tests to apply to an aim, although they may not all be capable of application when the aim is first selected:

  1. Will my aim secure a definite result in our / my favour?
  2. Does the wording express exactly what I want to bring about, and yet give no indication of how to
  3. obtain it?
  4. Is it in accordance with my instructions, responsibilities, accountabilities etc?
  5. Has it a reasonable chance of attainment in the situation?
  6. Is it the utmost I can do?

The aim must be kept constantly in mind during the writing of every subsequent paragraph of the appreciation and all reasoning must be directed to its attainment.


A factor is any fact or circumstance which will influence the achievement of the aim. The factors should be considered in a simple and logical method as follows:

Note down all the points of relevant information as they come to mind. Exhaust all relevant factors using brainstorming.

Be wary of following any one factor through to its final deduction before you have completed this process. You risk missing important factors, in addition to something I call opposite outcome factors. Whilst not always pertinent to the process, sometimes these factors are and should be considered individually.

Example 1:

The factor (a) the airstrip will be closed if it rains, has the opposite outcome factor of (b) if it does not rain, aircraft traffic will be normal.

Example 2:

The factor (a) The price of iron ore will drop if demand in China slows, has the opposite outcome factor of (b) the price of iron ore will rise if demand in China increases.

Once all factors (and relevant / important opposite outcome factors) are identified, you can then:

  • Consolidate all factors into logical groupings with relevant headings.
  • Arrange the headings in a logical order.
  • Draw deductions from all factors listed.

Drawing Deductions From Factors

To draw deductions, consider each factor individually and ask the question – So what? The answer arrived at is a deduction.

Deduction Example 1


Approval for extra capital expenditure may not be granted under the current financial restrictions.



We need to identify an outsourcing option that maintains outflows within operating expenditure.

Deduction Example 2


A water culvert runs along the rear fence line of the suspect’s residence.



A covert approach can be made on foot by both day and night, to within 50m of the rear of the residence.

Deduction Example 3


The new plastic moulding technology is available on the open market.



All competitors will be able to produce the product at the same cost and rate of production.



We will need to gain a competitive advantage in other ways – for example through customer service and follow up.


Having carefully considered the factors and drawn relevant deductions, now consider the courses of action open.

In determining the appropriate course of action, there is a need for the leader to consider all options open to him/her, and, if relevant, to the competition / enemy / offender, whichever the case may be.

When examining the courses open, the following points should be considered:

  • Use all relevant deductions.
  • Examine each on it’s own merits. Do not, at this stage, weigh the merits of one against the other.
  • State each course clearly, positively and concisely.
  • Avoid complicated courses and those which are similar to each other.
  • State concisely the advantages and disadvantages of each course of action available.

Selection of a Course of Action

This is the culmination of the whole process. The following points will assist in selecting the best course of action.

Compare each course, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each against the others.

The comparison should be developed logically so that the selection becomes the natural conclusion. Conclude with a definite recommendation of the course to adopt.

Someone once said to me years ago, that new ideas should not be introduced at this stage. Why not I ask? Our task is to add value, not allow ourselves to be constrained by institutionalisation or bureaucracy, to the detriment of our decisions. If you think it is necessary and adds value to what you are doing, go right back to the start and revisit every stage of the process. Think outside the box people.

What do we end up with at the end of the process?


A proposed plan should be prepared. Your plan should fit within the following parameters:

DETAIL – Avoid too much detail (waffle), be concise and to the point – outline the course of action.

CLARITY – It should be clear, definite and practical for the employment of available resources.

ACTION – It should follow the proposed course of action.

WHAT IT IS NOT – The plan is not a business viability study or an engineer’s drawing, or a risk management plan, or an operation order, or whatever you use to turn thoughts into actions

  • I view it as more of a concept or structure from which we may get to those particular things, it an outline of what we will do
  • If accepted by higher authority, it serves as the basis for the production of those details without undue delay.

What could the plan lead to?

Always remember the definition – “An appreciation is a logical process of reasoning, the object of which is to determine, from facts known or assumed, the best or better course of action to take in any given circumstance.”

So what could a plan lead to?

If you said – a business feasibility study – you would be correct. If you said – an operation order – you would be correct. In fact if you said anything that causes your plan to be realised as an action, you would be correct.

Remember, think beyond the past, what’s been the norm. You could end up with policies and procedures, corporate strategic plans, a recruitment program etc, etc, etc.

Now beware – those of you who are good followers risk being limited by the following aid memoir.

Appreciation Process Aide Memoir

1. Pre-requisites

  • 1.1. Open mind
  • 1.2. Correct premises – (evidence from which deductions are drawn)
  • 1.3. Validity and reliability

2. Aim

  • 2.1. Clear and concise
  • 2.2. Limitations
  • 2.3. Attainable
  • 2.4. Singular in concept

3. Factors

  • 3.1. Note all factors – be exhaustive / brainstorm
  • 3.2. Group under logical headings
  • 3.3. Arrange headings in logical order
  • 3.4. Draw deductions – ask ‘So what?’

4. Courses

  • 4.1. State each alternative course of action for everyone (you, competition etc)
  • 4.2. State advantages and disadvantages of each
  • 4.3. Compare each course (think about the probable course of action of others)
  • 4.4. Select the best course of action – do not be afraid to consult

5. Plan

  • 5.1. Prepare outline plan


This is an extract from the works of George Lee Sye. Where he and his company, Soarent Vision, best serve customer organisations is in helping them achieve great business results through being way more effective in 3 specific areas – Business Execution, Organisational Change and Continual Business Improvement with methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma. For more information, visit the website – 9 Skills Factory

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