Product Owner and Team Advice from a USMC General

July 29, 2009 Michael James

While the U.S. military has historically relied on size and strength, a small book issued by Marine General A.M. Gray advocated an alternative approach relying on speed and skill as force multipliers. Effective Scrum teams, with business-savvy Product Owners, have also learned to outmaneuver larger competitors.

I’ve picked a few quotes to encourage you to read the complete text (less than 100 pages) here:

Note that Marine doctrine is constantly revised, and people continue to debate which nails maneuver warfare is the right screwdriver for.

Attrition vs. Maneuver

“In contrast [to warfare by attrition –mj], warfare by maneuver stems from a desire to circumvent a problem and attack it from a position of advantage rather than meet it straight on. The goal is the application of strength against selected enemy weakness. By definition, maneuver relies on speed and surprise, for without either we cannot concentrate strength against enemy weakness. Tempo is itself a weapon, often the most important. The need for speed in turn requires decentralized control….

“Successful maneuver depends on the ability to identify and exploit enemy weakness, not simply on the expenditure of superior might. To win by maneuver, we cannot substitute numbers for skill. Maneuver thus makes a greater demand on military judgment.

“Potential success by maneuver, unlike attrition, is often disproportionate to the effort made. But for exactly the same reasons, maneuver incompetently applied carries with it a greater chance for catastrophic failure, while attrition is inherently less risky.”


“The Marine Corps’ style of warfare requires intelligent leaders with a penchant for boldness and initiative down to the lowest levels. Boldness is an essential moral trait in a leader, for it generates combat power beyond the physical means at hand.

“Initiative, the willingness to act on one’s own judgment, is a prerequisite for boldness. These traits carried to excess can lead to rashness, but we must realize that errors by junior leaders stemming from overboldness are a necessary part of learning. Not only must we not stifle boldness or initiative, we must continue to encourage both traits in spite of mistakes….”

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