The One Thirds Two Thirds Rule: 1/3 – 2/3 Rule for Military Leaders

The One Third Two Thirds Rule is an important rule for military leaders to follow when it comes to mission planning. Soldiers execute, NCOs supervise, and officers plan. Write that down and remember it.

As an Army Officer, it’s critical to learn mission planning, MDMP, and the Troop Leading Procedures, so you can do your job properly and your subordinates can do their job properly. The 1/3 – 2/3 rule states that a military leader should not spend more than 1/3 of the time allocated to accomplish a mission with the planning phase.

Examples of the One Third Two Thirds Rule

If your unit has a mission to accomplish six days from now, you should finalize your plan by the end of day two. That gives you 48-hours to conduct the Military Decision Making Process or Troop Leading Procedures (depending on the size of your unit). That’s plenty of time to get things in order and complete your plan. The remaining four days, your subordinates can do their respective planning and complete the mission. The longer you take to complete and publish your plan, the less time your subordinates have to make the mission successful.

If your unit has a mission to conduct nine hours from now, you should finish and publish your plan within the next three hours. If you do your job right, it shouldn’t even take you that long. This gives your subordinate leaders six hours to make things happen. Get the picture?

NOTE: You also want to publish a Warning Order immediately while you finalize your plan. Try to publish your Warning ORDER within a few minutes (to hours) of receiving your mission from higher headquarters.

Violating the 1/3 – 2/3 Rule

This rule gets violated frequently (unfortunately) in the military. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been given an OPORD or mission to accomplish with little or no time to plan. And worst of all, in many cases, the higher headquarters knew about the mission for days or even weeks beforehand. By the time I learned about the mission, I almost had to “wing it” and “shoot from the hip” just to make things happen. Of course, I got the job done, but it would have been a much smoother process if the higher headquarters had followed the one thirds two thirds rule and gave me sufficient time to do my own planning.

Heck, I’ve also been guilty of violating this rule myself, from time-to-time during my military career. I’m by no means a saint, nor am I perfect. As a Company Commander, sometimes I didn’t give my subordinates enough time to plan and execute missions. I either had a lot on my plate and didn’t manage my own time effectively (for mission planning purposes), or I received the mission from higher headquarters at the last minute.

Whenever this happened, the mission did not go the way I wanted it to. Even worse, my subordinate leaders were forced to “shoot from the hip” as well. In retrospect, I would have done a better job following the one thirds two thirds rule whenever possible.

The Moral of the Story

The moral of the story is that you should follow the one third two thirds rule as much as possible. If you are supervise others, you must be an information sharer, not an information hoarder. Whenever you learn about a mission, send out a Warning Order immediately to the people who will be assigned to the mission. Share the information that you do know. Start your military planning immediately and finalize your game-plan as quickly as possible so your subordinates will have time to do their own mission planning.

Even if your plan isn’t perfect, that’s okay. It’s better to have an 80% solution ahead of time than it is to have a perfect solution too late. Do the best you can with what you have. Develop the best plan you can with the information that you do have, and push the orders out to your subordinates as quickly as possible. As you get additional information you can push out FRAGOs and updates as needed.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the One Third Two Thirds Rule is a military rule for mission planning. Military leaders should never take more than 1/3 of the allocated time allowed to plan for a mission. That way their subordinates have 2/3 of the available time to do their mission planning and accomplish the mission. I hope that helps.

What are your thoughts? What type of experience do you have with mission planning? What do you do to manage your time effectively so your subordinate leaders have enough time to do their planning? Leave a comment below to let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you. If you have any questions about the 1/3-2/3’s rule, you can ask them below too.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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25 thoughts on “The One Thirds Two Thirds Rule: 1/3 – 2/3 Rule for Military Leaders”

  1. Chuck, I’ve been referring to your site since I was a 2LT and Maintenance PL in a Forward Support Company. Now a Major and primarily staff functions at NGB. Just yesterday another staff officer sent a email to all the program managers with a tasker due by COB today (yesterday). It was a critical task involving funding for next FY, but I referred him to your site and this post about the 1/3 – 2/3 rule with an “just some ODP for you…” in my email reply. Im now full-time Guard, but over the first half of the Guard chapter of my military career I was part-time. Your site has been a great reference for me personally and to share with others. ~ Mike Scott, MAJ/LG, National Guard Casualty Program Manager.

  2. Great information! I agree with you with what you say about headquarters. Indeed, I was in military and I experienced problems linked with orders issued at the last minute whereas they were held by headquarters for weeks and weeks. You can imagine what happened.

    I am glad you posted this article, I hope it will help active officers do the right job, especially those who hold information.

  3. The 1/3rds 2/3rds rule works in all facets of life. In business and even in the management of a household. And, I can see very much where it is a mandatory rule for the Army. I love how you explained it. This makes it make more sense than the way many other people explain it.

    Great post. It needs to be shared with leaders everywhere.

  4. I am presently considering how this rule can be applied in business. thanks for sharing and simplifying it. the book i first read about it from was significantly bogus… i have been using more than one-thirds of my time to understand it. :)

  5. I am currently a PFC in the Army Reserves and I know at my rank I am not going to be doing to much mission planning or even taking over a role of "leader" unless something very tragic occurs but I would like to know where I could get my hands on all of the "NCO leadership books and all publishing's that a "leader" would use to "lead" his/her troops I would love to be able to download them for free but if that isn't an option ill hand copy them into my "hard copy" and them type them into my computer, I have, up to this point, an NCO note taking book that I have written down all the information that I thought was useful or that could be useful in the future and to pass down to anyone that I know who is interested in joining the Army so they can be ahead of the game and be "high speed".anyways enough ramble. Thank you for your time Sir.
    PFC Short

  6. This is great time management information. I know people who get lost in the planning stage and never make it to actually preparing or “doing.” The civilian working world is also fraught with leadership getting information about a project and its due date, but failing to put it into play until the last minute. At this point, it gets delegated and becomes someone else’s problem. I’ve been in that situation too many times, and it seems that the first time I got it done (somehow) on time, that opened the door for me to get all of the last minute projects. Being good at it doesn’t make it any more palatable.

    1. This rule hasn't broken, its not even being observed. Glad we could last minute the shit out of something and make someone look good. I'm ready to go home!

  7. An average but complete plan that is effected on time is far better than a superior, incomplete plan, implemented late, or worst of all when it dips into subordinate units’ planning time to finish the job. Warning orders by company commanders and other officers in charge should be given just before each 1/3 begins, right? One Thirds Two Thirds Rule makes sense in private industry and public service.

    1. The 1/3-2/3 rule is designed to get mission orders out quickly so subordinate leaders have ample time to do their mission planning and execute the mission. Like you said, it really applies to every organization (or should anyway). Failing to give your subordinates enough time to plan, rehearse and execute the mission is one of the major causes of failure.

      1. Candace Ginestar

        A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week. – George S. Patton

        This is why using the Troop Leading Procedures are a very effective way to get things done while continuing to refine the plan. A lot of leaders will get caught up in the details, when most of the time all the NCOs need is to be told what the mission is and the part of the execution paragraph that pertains to them – then they can initiate movement while you continue to refine your plan.

        1. Good General Patton quote, Candace.

          I’ve always believed that executing an okay plan today is better than waiting for a perfect plan next week.

          Thanks for the comment.


  8. Neil O'Donnell

    Understandably, there will be times when Commanding Officers must withhold information vital to a mission until the last minute. Such instances should not be the norm. The One Thirds Two Thirds Rule sounds like a good blueprint for making certain subordinates have sufficient time to complete a mission. During the planning stage, it would likely speed planning along if NCOs and other critical personnel were included in designing the strategy.

    1. The whole purpose of the 1/3 – 2/3 rule is to give your subordinate leaders adequate time to do their mission planning. Even if you don’t have all the information you need for a complete mission order, you should still follow this rule. You can always issue FRAGOs and last minute updates as you get them from higher.

  9. While it’s always important to plan ahead, it becomes even more important to inform others about the task at hand when they are involved in carrying out the mission itself. If one person withholds information, it causes a chain reaction. If not handled appropriately a mission can crumble. I can definitely see why the 1/3 – 2/3 Rule for Military Leaders is important when planning missions.

    1. So true, Michelle. I’ve been on both sides of this issue in my career. There were times as a leader when I violated rule and saw firsthand the effects it had on my organization. And there were also times when my superiors violated the 1/3-2/3 rule in their mission planning and it had a negative impact on me and my unit. When possible, it’s vital to follow the 1/3-2/3 rule.

  10. … and the effective (if less efficient) leader anticipates when a WARNO is not going to be provided in a timely manner and arranges for his unit to be prepared anyway.

    I have yet to figure out how to achieve that to my satisfaction.

    1. Great leaders do anticipate missions and share the information with their followers, in order to be proactive. Sometimes this is much easier said than done though!

      Thanks for commenting, Don!


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