Seeing Trees and Forests

Trees and Forests
It’s to easy to focus on a single tree and miss the fact that the rest of the forest is on fire.

Have you heard the expression “Can’t see the forest for the trees”?   Simply put, it means that someone gets so caught up in the details of the situation that they lose track of the bigger situation.  This is a situation I see often by a variety of people in different positions but for the purposes of this article, we’ll be talking about Net Techs.

As I said recently, the Net Tech’s primary job is not to necessarily be on the keyboard himself but instead to manage what is going on with NETOPS as a whole.  I will admit, I am guilty of loving to be on the keyboard as much as the next guy, but we are responsible for the network as a whole, not just a single problem.

A quick story to illustrate my point; a year or two ago a unit was here on rotation.  The Net Tech had planned to establish a HCLOS between the Main and the BSTB which was only a few hundred meters away.  What should have been an extremely easy link, ran into problems.  Rather than having his Soldiers troubleshoot the problem and him supervise, the Net Tech instead became directly engaged and spent the better part of 2 days over at the BSTB trying to get this link in.  The BSTB was already up on TDMA, so this wasn’t a critical situation or anything else like that, just a project that he wanted to get working.  Unfortunately, while the Net Tech was at the BSTB, the rest of the network ran into problems which he was not aware of, and then delayed working on.  In this case, the Net Tech got so focused on a single tree, he failed to see the rest of the forest that was on fire around him.

So how do we not get tunnel vision?  First and foremost, realize that you have to be a manager.  Task your people, put them to work, and follow-up with them frequently.  I can’t begin to count the number of times I ask a Net Tech about something he has one of his Soldiers working on only to be told that he hasn’t gotten an update on the situation in 8 hours.  Now I am by no means saying that we should constantly be asking for updates (I am sure we have all worked for people like that before), but depending on the problem they are working, getting an update every hour or two should be the norm in my mind.

Next, it is important that you set priorities not only for your team but for yourself as well.  What is really important when it comes to allowing the Commander to talk to his units?  We all have our pet projects that we really want to get working, but that doesn’t mean that they are the most important thing at a given point in time.  Realize that those priorities can change at the drop of the hat, and that you have to recognize and acknowledge when that happens.

As I have said numerous times, the Net Tech should be the last line of support for fixing a problem, not the first.  That means ensuring that problems go through an escalating troubleshooting process starting with the operator, moving up to your NETOPS Soldiers and the JNN Soldiers, and finally reaching you and your FSRs.  It is much harder to see the big picture when you are actively engaged in working a problem.

Eventually, the time will come when you do have to actually work a problem, but even then, you can’t get that tunnel vision.  If you are still physically present in NETOPS, stop for just a minute every once in a while and reorientation yourself with what is going on in the rest of the shop.  Just because you have been there doesn’t mean that you have actually been paying attention to everything else that has been going on around you, and likely missed something.  If you have to leave the shop to work a problem, make sure that someone there is looking at the big picture.  Who is in charge when Chief leaves?  Do they know what that means?  And finally when you get back, get an update on everything that is has been going on while you were gone.

How to see the Forest

We have all heard it before.  We’re standing in current operations when someone yells “Attention in the TOC” and continues with some important (or not) piece of information.  This simple action serves as an important synchronizing function ensuring that everyone in current operations to what is going on.  We see this synchronization occur all the time in current ops, but almost never inside the S6.

Another story (since I love stories and have a ton of them) an LNO came up to the help desk to report that his BN was having problems pulling something off of CPOF.  The help desk did some investigating trying to figure out what was going on and then escalated the problem over to the server section.  The server team worked the problem for over an hour.  After a while, someone in NETOPS overheard the server team say something when he was nice enough to inform them that the unit’s CPN had been down for hours.  If only we had said “Attention in the S6….such and such is down”.

One other thing that current ops does frequently but we fail to do in the S6 is the 2 minute drill.  The 2 minute drill is a chance for key leaders to be quickly brought up to speed of the status of important issues.  These briefings are supposed to be short and concise without worrying about the details.  Often the only time the BDE S6 or Commo Chief get an update of what is going on overall is during the shift change twice a day (assuming they do one and are actually there for it).  Any time a key member of the S6 has been gone for an extended period of time, they should get a quick update from each of the sections to find out what is going on.

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