Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Business Administration

Major Professor

Matthew Mullarkey, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Manish Agrawahl, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Eric Eisenberg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Clinton Daniel, D.B.A.


complexity, planning, problem solving, reasoning, sense-making, strategy


The complexity of today’s operational environment where military organizations are conducting campaigns to address some of the nation’s most urgent problems has grown exponentially. To address this expanding complexity, the Defense Department introduced ‘design’ into its problem-solving doctrine as a method to understand the new and dynamic challenges associated with this increasingly complex environment and provide a tool to augment its current doctrinal military decision-making process. However, it appears military ‘design’ as prescribed by the Department may be only marginally effective at producing viable solutions for solving the complex, ill-structured problems that current military campaigns were developed to resolve. This study seeks to understand the issues facing the Department’s design methodology by examining two areas: 1) the common challenges facing senior planners responsible for solving complex problems, and 2) the model or process that best enables design approaches to support military decision-making.

This study is comprised of exploratory, qualitative research that examines these areas by using a combination of interviews, case research and design science research regarding the relationship of design thinking to the military problem-solving process. The research began with interviews of Plans Chiefs from the Department’s most experienced warfighting headquarters from the last two decades to identify insights and data regarding the efficacy of military design thinking in the Department’s problem-solving process and develop an improved design model. Additionally, case research involving observations of planning teams conducting problem-solving processes in situ to develop solutions to crises provided corroborating data for the interviews. The case research identified current practitioner design challenges and products needed to validated Subject Matter Expert observations and recommendations for improving military design.

The research provided a number of results useful for modifying current military design methodologies to improve its campaigning process. It concluded with the development of a novel Military Design Model (MDM) for integrating design thinking with current military decision-making processes and the joint operational planning processes. This model modifies current doctrine with the introduction of a Solution Space and Model Space in addition to the current Problem Space while placing the development of an operational approach for the campaign within a larger framework of the Operation Space.

Overall, the research suggests that abduction is a better reasoning system for designing campaigns as it relies upon inferences to define success as well as modifying current academic theory regarding the scientific method cycle of research to more accurately describe the relationship between identification of inferences and the generation of hypotheses. It also identifies and explains the interdependencies between the proposed military design spaces. Finally, the case research discovered products and processes from practice useful in both deliberate and crisis planning processes based on the proposed model for integrating design with the military decision-making process.