Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Prescott, US Army
Major Robert Clifford, US Marine Corps

STAVANGER, Norway Running a planning team is hard and requires experience, subject knowledge, confidence, and strong organizational and management skills. It also requires a patient leader who is able to work effectively with superior officers, peers, and subordinates.

Most military officers have little experience working or planning at the operational level of war, however, most have participated in planning activities before, whether in a Joint Operations Planning Group (JOPG), Operational Planning Group, or Operational Planning Team.

The leap between planning at the tactical level and the operational level can be challenging to most officers as the speed in which decisions are made, the joint capabilities required, and the clarity of guidance changes dramatically.

These deficiencies can be mitigated by education and experience, and the JOPG Leaders Course is one tool to increase the proficiency and effectiveness of an operational level staff in conducting military planning.

Over the last three months, the Joint Warfare Centre (JWC) has developed the JOPG Leaders Course curriculum and instructed four NATO military headquarters on how to improve the organizational management of their respective JOPGs.

The course was designed specifically to address and resolve consistent tensions observed by the JWC during the Crisis Response Planning (CRP), as part of Phase IIB of the exercise planning process.

Observed trends for increasing effectiveness have included: the need to improve organizational management, developing a more holistic understanding of the NATO Operational Planning Process, building a better appreciation of the complexities involved in the operating environment, and closer integration and collaboration across the staff.

The JWC assesses that if tangible improvements are not achieved during the CRP, commands will continue to underperform in their planning endeavours, and enter operating environments without the required understanding, foresight, and adaptability to effectively develop and execute planned operations, which are crucial for enabling the commander’s decision-making cycle. 

The course seeks to improve JOPG organizational management, increase proficiencies in operational-level planning, and improve understanding of the operational environment through scenario-based practical exercises.


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"The course seeks to improve JOPG organizational management, increase proficiencies in operational-level planning, and improve understanding of the operational environment through scenario-based practical exercises."


Within two years, the JWC aims to provide this course upon request to all participating exercise training audiences as part of their collective training support package. 

To achieve course aims, the JOPG Leaders Course consists of discussion-based lectures, situational vignettes, and practical exercises. 

The discussion-based lectures focus primarily on course pre-readings and audience members’ past planning experiences.

Throughout the course, lessons learned, best practices, and tips are provided to the training audience to share what successful planning tactics, techniques, and procedures have worked in various NATO commands.

To increase a JOPG’s organizational management and understanding of the operational environment, the curriculum centers around its organizational and administrative requirements, planning-to-plan, battle rhythm development, while introducing design thinking – the application of critical thinking techniques to help solve complex problems.

With the introduction of design thinking, training audiences increase their shared understanding of the exercise scenario and learn techniques to build collaboration while mitigating “group think” and other biases within the planning team.

Ultimately, the JWC-led JOPG Leaders Course is designed to help NATO commands anticipate potential issues, and ensure the appointment of a proficient and effective planning team before they conduct CRP.

For more information on the JOPG Leaders Course, send us an email at [email protected]


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