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LEARNING AND INNOVATION

 

Learning

Although it is sometimes thought that the Plan Do Check Act cycle was introduced by Deming, the German army has been operating such a cycle since the beginning of the 19th century. It led to the evaluation of the battle at Jena and later also to evaluations of every combat action that mattered. And it was not about a cramped method of feedback with a focus on what went wrong, but feed back with intention to explicitly state what could be learned from it. These so-called Erfahrungsberichte (the word says it all), was an extremely powerful element of the quality management system. All combat actions were evaluated and could lead to adjustments in the command concept and doctrine. It made the German army an unprecedented powerful learning organization.

 

The Erfahrungsberichte were compact and quickly shared horizontally with other units so that they could adapt to for instance new enemy tactics or weapons. , In the vertical hierarchy commanders were expected to to critically examine their own efforts and those of their troops by the system of the Erfahrungsberichte. The commanders, in turn, expected to hear from their superiors whether and where there were weaknesses in their performance. There was, however, no question of not complying with this system: the OberKommando des Heeres (OKH) demanded honest and accurate reports on the quality and combat power of the various units. If a unit underperformed, the commander was expected to report it and take measures to improve the weaknesses identified. By not reporting the weaknesses, the commander was more heavily charged for not reporting than for the weaknesses themselves. 

 

In addition the General Stab was constantly supplemented with evaluations and analyzes in the form of Erfahrungsberichte of important combat actions so that they had up to date knowledge and could adapt preferred tactics.

 

Innovation

The Germans had an incremental way of innovation: they constantly adapted their weaponsystems to the demands of the battlefeiled.