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Five Paragraphs

When I was in the Marine Corps we used a mechanism for clear communications.  It’s called the ‘Five Paragraph Order.’  This tool in the tool box may not only be used for clear communications, but for problem solving, and planning.

The Five Paragraph Order is also known by the acronym SMEAC, which stand for Situation, Mission, Enemy, Avenues of approach, and Command and signals.  I’ll civilianize the acronym, and switch the E for an O, standing for Obstacles, which changes the acronym to SMOAC, which is still easy to say.

Here we go!

Situation:  What is the current situation?  What is going on?  Define the situation.  What does it look like.

It is particularly important that if you are using this as a problem solving tool to write the situation down.  This helps define a problem, and defining a problem … actually determining what the problem is … is half way to the solution.  There is an old saying, “We get so focused on catching alligators that sometimes we forget that we came here to drain the swamp.”

Mission:  What do you want done?  How do you want the situation to be?  What do you want the situation to look like?

Obstacles:  What is going to get in your way?  What are you going up against.  There is another acronym used in this paragraph that is helpful defining your obstacles.  I can’t seem to civilianize this acronym, which is UNIFORM … standing for Unit, Number, Insignia, Force, Organization, Reserves, and Movement.

  • Unit – Put the obstacle in a category.  What is it?
  • Number – How many are there; how big is it; quantify the obstacle.
  • Insignia – what does the obsticle actually look like?  How can you recognize it when you see it?
  • Force – What does this obstacle have that is going to get in your way, cause you problems, or keep you from attaining your goal in general.  What does it have that you need to watch out for?
  • Organization – How is this obstacle organized?  How does it communicate?  Who is it’s boss?
  • Reserves – Does the obstacle have a back up system to keep you from where you’re going?
  • Movement – How does the obstacle get around?  Where is it going?  What are its habits?  Where will it get in your way; where, and when will it cross your path.

Avenues of Approach:  What are you gong to do about it.  How do you intend to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’.  This is where you pull out your map, and start drawing up directions.  You know from where you are starting, and you know where you’re going.  You also have an idea about what is going to get in your way, and where it’ll probably be lurking when you meet up with it.

Command and Signals: Who is responsible for what, when, where, why, and how.  This is where you put your administrative and logistics information … don’t forget your mission needs financed, you need to eat along the way.

Like I said, you can use this system for communicating, problem solving, and planning.  I use this system myself quite a bit.  I’ve also seen several like systems that have the same basic structure, and purpose, right down to the point where there are five elements, and the verbiage is changed a little bit.

I hope this tool has some use for you.  If not, I hope you enjoyed reading it anyway.  Till next time, remember, you are spectacular.

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  1. 2010/12/29 at 15:25
  2. 2011/05/30 at 12:24

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