7 Questions Methodology

The Combat Estimate or 7 Questions methodology has been used by the British Military to decide a course of action (CoA) in their efforts to resolve a situation or problem. It has been used successfully by them and also no military leaders for decades.

Its aim is to present a question and then a set of headings that the user should take into consideration (and perhaps discard) when working out a resolution to their situation.

The basic set of questions below, can be angled towards the problem at hand but essentially stay the same:

  1. What is the situation and how does it affect me?

  2. What have I been told to do and why?

  3. What effects do I need to achieve and what direction must I give to develop my plan?

  4. Where can I best accomplish each action or effect?

  5. What resources do I need to accomplish each action or effect?

  6. When and where do the actions take place in relation to each other?

  7. What control measures do I need to impose?

 They boil down to understanding the current situation, the outcome you need to achieve and defining a plan that will get you there.

Since their creation a further ‘question’ has been added and as with all military methods, the name can’t change, so it’s been added in as a question Zero. It’s not really a question but an activity you should be carrying out all the time, so you are ready if something does happen!

   0. Baseline preparation and understanding

It has proved an adaptable set of questions and so in 2016 when being asked to look at how we could give better guidance and direction for Delivery Partners and Capable Clients to deliver a digital asset, it occurred to me that this would be an ideal methodology.

The workflows have a central column with actions such as writing a document, holding a meeting or briefing a stakeholder and a set of considerations to look at whilst answering the question.

Both the Capable Clients and Delivery Partners processes were created using the extensive connections built up within the Crossrail and Digital Advancement Academy and the COMIT (Construction, Operations, Maintenance Innovation through Technology) network. It is with thanks to organisations such as Network Rail, Highways England, Costain, Skanska, Arcadis, BAM Nuttall and elements of the Royal School of Military Engineering that it covers the depth of considerations to help answer the questions and deliver two digital Courses of Action.

One for Capable Clients and the second for Delivery Partners. I have placed the various sections on topics I felt most relevant to that question, but I do urge the reader to look at all the topics in both sets of questions!

This proven methodology starts with identifying key assets, creating a link matrix for each sector down to the agreed level, creating both physical and diagrammatic networks before carrying out a Criticality, Accessibility, Recoverability, Vulnerability, Effect and Recognisability analysis.

To conduct this analysis, a set of criteria is defined that will give the user a score out of 5 for each of these 6 CARVER headings. It can be a very subjective analysis but through experience very rapid. This is followed by 2 simple calculations where the scores for Accessibility, Vulnerability and Recognisability are combined to give a Likelihood score and Criticality, Recoverability and Effect are combined to give an Importance score. The total of all of them is the CARVER score, giving you a priority list for your limited resourced relief efforts in this sector.

This single sector assessment is then brought together with other sectors and an interdependent cross-sector analysis is conducted.

The final report identifies areas of concern that are critical to national infrastructure, where vulnerabilities lay and what planning needs to be put in place to increase resilience.

A demonstration project was recently conducted using a wastewater treatment plant as a microcosm of national infrastructure, as it contained interdependent “hubs and connectors” from Transport, Water, Communications, Power, Sanitation, Fuels and Chemicals. This study was conducted in using permissive and non-permissive data gathering techniques, to demonstrate what could be achieved in a disaster zone that was too hazardous for humans to be present.

The non-permissive team used autonomous technologies, open source data and their cross-sector infrastructure knowledge to deliver a full analysis of the site within 48 hours. This analysis closely matched the permissive team apart from a few minor differences.

This proven approach could be easily scaled up to deal with national infrastructure, taught to each of the sectors to ensure consistency and then brought together in a nationwide resilience database. This could also form the foundations of a National Digital Twin.

The Human element

Whilst I am writing this, the world is in the grip of an international crisis. COVID19 has swept across the globe causing a disaster and response unprecedented in human history.

During the crisis the nation must decide what is essential, so that only those who are needed to take risks do so, so we flatten the infection curve and help our health service to tackle the mass casualties when they happen.

Our infrastructure is not automated and requires skilled people to intervene at many key stages in its lifecycle. This critical national infrastructure will cease to support our society, if those key workers can no longer interact with their assets and keep them running.

Another level of CARVER analysis is required looking at the human vulnerabilities and the critical nature of these resources to support our way of life. Once identified then we must have additional people trained up or cross skilled from less critical departments to step into that person’s place if the worst happens!

As we move into the future and robotic and automated opportunities present themselves, the roles identified should be those prioritised.