The “Completed Action” Principle

Completed Staff Action

The United States Air Force developed its version of the Completed Staff Action concept  decades ago.  Properly (which always includes ethically) applied as a general operational principle with a common sense approach, it has been “proven in action” by a legion of private and public enterprises, as well as in independent endeavors — even those far removed from “profession”, “craft” or “vocation” in the usual sense. 

I was exposed to the concept and principles long ago, and have used, modified, mutated and kit-bashed it ever since, with good results whenever I persevered in thoughtful, proper and common sense application!  It also helps to keep bureaucracy from interfering with mission

This summary iteration is therefore part Air Force, part common sense, part me (balancing the common sense part?), simplified in order to impart the basics…

and to let you Complete the Action!

Completed Staff Action is the study of a problem and the presentation of a solution, by a team or organization member assigned to solve a problem, in a form that enables the client, team leader or supervisor to simply indicate approval of the completed action!

Completed Means Completed!

And You Think YOUR Problem is a Tough One!  (c)2007 Randy D. Bosch

And You Think YOUR Problem is a Tough One! (c)2007 Randy D. Bosch

The word completed” is critical, both at milestones and at final delivery. 

The more difficult a problem, the greater tendency for a work product including potential solutions to be presented to a client (and, a team leader or supervisor is a client) in a piecemeal fashion. 




Authority and Responsibility Have Prerequisites

Every individual at every level of an organization of any kind needs clear authority and responsibility to work out the details of and complete any sub-task or overall problem that they have been assigned or have accepted.  They need to be empowered to define, comprehend, create if necessary, access and correctly apply appropriate resources.  They need to be well-enough equipped and empowered to consult other persons only if they cannot determine specialized details by themselves or when pre-planning suppositions begin to become demonstrably inadequate, including beyond the range of contingency plans.  

Respect is Earned         (c)2011  Randy D. Bosch

Respect is Earned (c)2011 Randy D. Bosch

If “they” cannot accept reasonable assignment with agreed-upon expectations and reasonable resources, standards and authority, you have the wrong individual or team. 

If “you” cannot provide the same, someone else needs to be in charge! 

No “Bounce-Back”!  No “Reverse Delegation”!

In many problem situations, a typical impulse of an inexperienced person or team, and too many “experienced” ones, faced with an obstacle is to ask the client what to do. 

This “bounce back” reflex often repeats when the problem is or seems to be difficult.  It is often accompanied by frustration that makes it easier to ask the client what to do than to really commit to solving the problem.  For those of lesser experience, it appears to be so easy for them to give you the answer.  Resist that impulse!  A motivated individual will lapse into it only if they do not know their job and were unprepared for the assignment other than by ambition.

Between Advice and Consent

It is an individual’s duty to ADVISE their client what THEY ought to do, not to ask them what the individual ought to do.  They need answers, not questions.  The job is to study, analyze, check, re-study and re-check until a single proposed action is identified – always the best one of all that were considered and possible.  The client is then equipped to approve or disapprove.  In most instances, genuine completed work results in a single document or product prepared for the signature or approval of the client, without any accompanying comment necessary.

Except for the archives and for milestone reporting, writing a memorandum to the client, does not constitute completed work.  Writing a memorandum for them to send elsewhere does constitute completed work.  However, developed views and ideas need to be placed before the client in finished form so that they can make them their views simply by signing their name.  If the proper result is reached by the “finished form” solution to a problem, they will usually recognize it at once.  If they need comment or explanation, they will ask for it.

The requirements for completed work do not preclude the use of a “rough draft” in place of a “highly finished form” as part of the process for solving some problems.  However, a rough draft must not ever be a “half-baked” idea.  Neither must a rough draft be used as a means for shifting “up the ladder” the burden of formulating the action.  It must be complete in every respect except that it lacks the requisite number of copies and need not be in “published” form.

Completed Action requirements may appear to result in more work for the individual, but provides more freedom for the client, and reduces wasteful repeat work for everyone.  This accomplishes two goals:

  • The client is protected from half-baked ideas, voluminous inconclusive memoranda, and unstructured oral presentations;
  • The person who has a real idea or solution to sell can more readily find a market.

High Stakes

Test the completeness of your action, your work, by asking yourself, If you were the client, would you be willing to sign the document or design that you have prepared, stake their organization’s and personal fortunes, safety and reputation on it, and stake your reputation including your job on its being correct?

If your answer is “No”, do everyone a favor, yourself included.  Take the allegedly “completed” work product back and work on it until it is completed work!  Of course, if an insurmountable barrier appears that would prevent satisfactory completion, do not take a “bridge out, resume speed” or martyr-like approach!  That would trumpet your last assignment! Communicate! 

Delegation would best never be made to or by anyone who is consumed by hubris, stubbornness or in denial of their lack of values, ethics, capabilities or responsibilities.  If you consider the power to delegate to be equal to an “If you have a dog, why bark?” relationship, you are terrifyingly likely to be an abuser of the privilege.


Well, dangerous to those who do not desire “Completed Action” for your problem, when implemented in a GOOD cause!  Either always be moral, ethical, principled and responsible in any leading OR any following role, or get out-of-the-way and just dream to delude yourself rather than spread confusion, chaos and risk evil for the rest of us.  Consider that…

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.”            T.E. Lawrence


About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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