Wednesday, September 10, 2014

President's address on ISIL, 10 September. The Six Sigma analysis

I worked for a big company for more than 20 years.  The company was goal driven, which is to say that every project, and every performance review, included a goal.

Some of the goals were mathematical, and a few were "voice of the customer".  But every project had a numerical goal.

You have 55% of the customer base in this sales territory? Your goal is to have 65%. Next year, we'll try for 70%. 
Your customer approval rating is 87%? It needs to be at or above 91% by next year. 
Your production line has 7 defects per million? Let's get that down to 3 defects per million. 
You met your production schedule 91% of the time? We need that to be 95% of the time, and get even better next year.

It's just weird that Congress – and the president – don't have any goals. They can hand-wave about how they'll improve the economy or – today's topic – "defeat ISIS" but there's rarely any actual metric they can reveal to tell us how they did.

President Obama's speech today was an example of that. 
Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy. 
First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. 
Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American service members to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi Security Forces. Now that those teams have completed their work – and Iraq has formed a government – we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission – we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We will also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL control. 
Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I again call on Congress to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all. 
Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into – and out of – the Middle East. And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the UN Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort. 
Fourth, we will continue providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization. This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.

Transcript of the speech is here.

OK. I know it's your strategy, but the only number in there is 475 service members. The rest is waffle.

  • What does "degrade" mean? How much capacity do they have, and how much needs to disappear before they are "degraded". 
  • What does "destroy ISIL" mean? Wipe out everyone who's fought with them? Stop them using the name? What if some remaining fighters join "New Improved Al Qaeda" in 2016 - are they still ISIL?
  • How many terrorists are "threatening our country" and how many do you need to kill to stop them threatening it?
  • How strong is the (Syrian) "opposition" and how will we know when it has been strengthened enough?
  • How much funding does ISIL get and how much will "redoubling" our efforts cut the funding. How will we know when we've "cut off the funding"? Zero dollars a year? Ten million? They made a buck fifty last year so we should continue to bomb?
  • What are defenses, anyway? Is a trooper in Iraq a defender in any real sense of the word? If we're going to strengthen them, how strong do our defenses need to be? C'mon. Is it 50 billion or 50 million? What are we going to spend? How do we know when we've strengthened them enough?
  • Are we countering the warp of the ideology, or countering the warped ideology? How much countering its warped ideology is enough countering? Is there a way to tell if the ideology is now straight? Or are we saying that we need to get positive Twitter mentions down from 300,000 a month (guess) to less than 200 a month (equally a guess)? Or do we have to neutralize fiery imams? If so, how many are there? How many need to go?
  • How many foreign fighters go to the Middle East in any given time period and how many per year (or month) do we need to reduce it before the "flow is stemmed"?
  • How much international mobilization is needed? What is the definition of "mobilized"? What's the goal? What's the stretch goal?
  • How do you define a "community" and an "ancient homeland" and how many drivings from ancient homelands are acceptable? If ten people leave the US because of fear of ISIS, is that actionable? Or does every single Yazidi have to be at gunpoint before we can allow military action? 

And so on and so forth for the rest of the speech.

We used to say, in meetings as we planned our goals, "What does victory look like?" and "How will I know if I've succeeded?"

There are, believe it or not, regulations against saying you'll drive an (American) rival out of business, but it's certainly fine to state you'll meet their sales force one-one-one and get 1/3 of their business.

If a medium-sized (we were a few billion dollars) company requires all its managers to state outright what they hope to achieve with their project or their year at work, I think we should insist the POTUS do the same before he starts blowing people to bits on the other side of the world.

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