10 Common Exercise Errors

Being responsible for the design and delivery of an exercise can be a daunting prospect, especially if you are new to the task. You may feel a sense of trepidation as you contemplate exactly what it is you have been asked to do. Thoughts of previous exercises, good and bad, may enter you head as you recall how you and others felt during and after those events and wonder if you can emulate the success or avoid the traps.

Firstly there are the different, and perhaps conflicting, aspirations of the various parties involved. Senior management will have a view as to what they want to achieve, although not all will actually take part. Middle management may well have different views mixed with real concerns about what will be expected from them and the disruption the event will cause. Shop floor staff may be concerned that they will be exposed amongst peers or superiors or asked to carry out roles they are less familiar with. Add to this hurdles relating to logistics and the likelihood that things will not go exactly to plan on the day and you can see why a little anxiety is a natural state of any exercise director. To help ensure that your exercise is a success you need to avoid the following common errors:

Five Design Based Errors

  1. Failure to Define the Aim: If you fail to define an aim and supporting objectives for your exercise you will find it very difficult to design a coherent and focused event. You will also be unable to evaluate performance, as you have no criteria.  
  2. Poor Time Appreciation: Exercises, particularly more complex simulation or live events, take time to plan and prepare for.  Work back from the allotted date to ensure you have enough time and get a project plan in place.
  3. Logistics: Plan logistics before you start to develop scenarios in detail. If you haven’t got the space, technology, equipment, refreshments and support staff to deliver your fantastic scenario then you’ve wasted your time.
  4. Poor Communications: Tell people well in advance about the exercise, its format, aim and objectives but not the detailed scenario. Give them time to prepare and update them regularly.  There are very few exercises that really benefit from a no notice format. Think hard before you decide to go down that route.
  5. Adopting the Hero Approach: Don’t go it alone. Get a team to help you. You will need people to help write the scenario, organise participants and deliver technical and logistical support. Find the experts to aid you and get them involved from the start.

Five Delivery Based Errors

  1. Immediate Armageddon: Avoid the trap of going to DEFCON 1 right from the out.  Give people time to read into the exercise and find their feet. Escalation can follow quickly once that is achieved.
  2. Exploring Rabbit Warrens: This is when the failure to define the aim becomes apparent and the participants, due to the exercise structure, explore rabbit warrens. This wastes time, is frustrating to the participants and ultimately means the real issues do not get addressed.  Know how you will pull heads out burrows if this happens.
  3. Thinking it is Your Exercise: The exercise is for the participants not for you.  Avoid the temptation to force them down routes or to take choices that you think they should.  Assuming they are on the right track, and not down a rabbit hole, let their decisions have meaning. Be flexible enough to adjust the exercise as required but keep an eye that the aims and objectives are still being delivered.
  4. Thinking it is a Committee Event: Exercise delivery requires strong facilitation. Make sure you listen to the views of others but be prepared to take timely decisions that keep the exercise on track.  The exercise director must lead the team that is delivering.
  5. Capitulation: Do not let a strong willed individual in the participating team take control of the exercise.  They may be leading the team in the spot light but they are not delivering the exercise. That is your job. Call out and challenge disruptive behaviours such as over zealous criticism of realism or subversive attempts to simply by pass issues or problems thrown up by the scenario.