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8 Keys to Preventing Sabotage of your Ability for IT Innovation

by - ThoughtFocus | September 22, 2023 |

The Simple Sabotage Field Manual, published in 1944 (declassified in 2008) by the CIA on its website, provides strategies for destroying an organization from within. These practices are still prevalent in corporations today, and ThoughtFocus is working to disrupt these practices by training clients in DevOps and Agile Scrum. The manual serves as a guide for ‘what not to do’ and shares strategies for preventing self-sabotage which still holds good today in this digital world. 


Here are a few classic outlined 1CIA Instructions or field manuals for sabotage2 and how ThoughtFocus finds it relevant in the current digital world and provides its own perspectives on these constructs



Organizations and Conferences – 

1. CIA’s Construct: Make ‘speeches.’ Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your ‘points’ by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. 

 ThoughtFocus’ perspective: Time is crucial in business and development teams, requiring a focus on action and progress. While scrum events are time-boxed to avoid unnecessary distractions. When discussing personal anecdotes, focus on the mission and the next step rather than individuals. Avoid long speeches with personal anecdotes, ensuring the focus is on the goal. 



2. CIA’s Construct: “Insist on doing everything through ‘channels.’ Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.” 

ThoughtFocus’ perspective: You should always exercise open communication and full transparency. You can lean into your Scrum ceremonies for dedicated opportunities for this, but ideally, every moment is a chance to communicate. I have witnessed critical production issues that result from having to message people specifically and individually, rather than simply opening communication in a centralized area where the right people can see and interact with the task at hand. Without this, teams play games on the telephone and prolong communication and therefore work. 



3. CIA’s Construct: “Advocate ‘caution.’ Be ‘reasonable’ and urge your fellow-conferees to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on. 

ThoughtFocus’ perspective: In a fail-fast/safe environment, failure is critical feedback for a product. In digital, failures should be seen as learning opportunities, and quickly identified to build a stronger product. The inspect and adapt phase is crucial, followed by due diligence and continuous progress. 



 Managers – 

4. CIA’s Construct: “In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers.” 

ThoughtFocus’ perspective: Prioritizing work in a backlog ensures efficient decision-making and avoids “unimportant” tasks. Prioritizing tasks from top to bottom ensures a clear focus on completion. High-quality cross-functional teams are formed in every engagement, with no inefficient workers but those with more expertise. Expert work is assigned to team members as needed, ensuring efficient and effective work completion. 



 5. CIA’s Construct: “Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.” 

ThoughtFocus’ perspective: Two situations where people prefer to hold conferences are decisions by committee and working in tandem. The decision by the committee involves prioritizing moving quickly over getting something 100% right the first time. It’s easier to prioritize moving over getting something 100% right the first time. Working in tandem involves driving action using methods like swarming, pairing, and collocation, rather than discussing the problem. 



6. CIAs’ Construct: “Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.” 

ThoughtFocus’ perspective: Software development is a verb, so it is crucial to empower your teams with autonomy and trust through DevOps and automation processes. This allows them to deliver value quickly and without constant approval, ensuring they can deliver value without hindrance. 



7. CIA’s Construct: “Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw.” 

ThoughtFocus’ perspective: The minimum viable product (MVP) model encourages releasing something as soon as possible, avoiding waiting for perfection. It prioritizes agility, time to market, and pivoting over completeness. The focus is on adapting, working in sprints, and aiming for iterative development. Avoid lengthy discussions over minor details, allowing the team to reach a mutual decision and move on. This approach can lead to more success than focusing on perfection. 



Employees – 

8. CIA’s Construct: “Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.” 

ThoughtFocus’ perspective: Cross-functional teams were created to address the issue of a lack of competent team members. They ensure skill sharing and can move in priority to the business without being limited by execution levels. Leaders can make moves based on their business needs without relying on the right people. 



ThoughtFocus’ foundational principles, such as DevOps, Agile, and Scrum, help organizations achieve their time-to-market goals through faster delivery of products while maintaining high-quality standards. Open communication, cross-functional knowledge sharing, and a failure-focused environment are essential. These methods can be stored in your tool belt, allowing you to question potential threats or seek coaching from ThoughtFocus. Contact us for more information at for more information. 



External sources: 

1. Read the CIA’s Simple Sabotage Field Manual: A Timeless Guide to Subverting Any Organization with “Purposeful Stupidity” (1944) | Open Culture 

2. HSDL – Simple Sabotage Field Manual