Quick and Dirty

[May 9, 2019] During my 40 years of military service, my Engineer friends and I have been assigned some near-impossible tasks. More often than not in combat, these new tasks have ranged from building new bases in a few weeks to clearing intricate anti-personnel and armor obstacles in a few hours. Usually, we used a quick and dirty method.

One day a good friend of mine and I were called into a U.S. Army 4-star General’s office for a new mission. We were both full colonels, each with over 25 years of engineering experience. There wasn’t much that could surprise us and with enough money and materials that we couldn’t get done. This visit turned out to shock us both.

We were told that the U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has just promised the Iraq Theater of Operations an additional $1 Billion. The challenge? To come up with a plan and spend the money by helping only Iraqi citizens and do so in less than 60 days. My friend had the balls to say, Oh, so you want the quick and dirty technique.

It was 2000 hours (8 pm), and we were to brief the fully-staffed plan the next morning at 0600 hours (6 am).1 The short story is that we proposed several hospitals, schools, and utility projects that easily consumed the money. Fortunately, the $1 Billion didn’t come from U.S. taxpayers but from a combination of “found money”2 and charity-donated money.

My friend also proposed that we could spend yet another $1 Billion if it came to it. As an aside, socialist governments, like that which Saddam Hussein ran, rarely spend their money to help their citizens. Most of it goes to friends and relatives for a lavish lifestyle; so much for socialist-style governments helping their countrymen and women.

The way spending the money (according to our plan) was completed in less than 60 days as required, the projects werewritten up for news publications worldwide, U.S. laws were obeyed, and Iraqis were helped in the effort. Was there corruption? Yes. Was there “missing” money? Yes. Was the money spent carefully? No. This is because there was no alternative but to use a quick and dirty method; minimal oversight, unproven contractors, and little guidance.

Any time the quick and dirty method is used, there will be problems. We explained this during our session with the 4-Star. The mission came our way and, like any good leader, we got ‘er done.


  1. Anyone who has worked any issue in a 4-star military command knows that staffing takes days at best, even in a combat zone. We did come up with a plan, and it was run by all the key staff sections which gave us their up-vote. My friend liberally used SecDef Rumsfeld’s name and President Bush’s “guidance” as a crude bludgeon for those who were reluctant to give their okay. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.
  2. Found money was usually cash, paper money from non-Iraqi governments that troops discovered when searching Iraqi government buildings. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/1428506/Troops-tempted-by-Saddams-780m-hoard.html
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

25 thoughts on “Quick and Dirty

  1. Gabe

    Great points Sir. Thanks for having me on the blog.

  2. Jonathan B.

    Another article to print and file in my ‘must read’ folder for my coworkers. Thanks!

  3. Sadako Red

    Gen. Satterfield, excellent article to keep the thinking juices going. What this article meant to me is that those of us as leaders will experience times in our lives that call for extraordinary efforts. Most of those will be largely unplanned and require us to act quickly and decisively. You and your friend had to do it here in your example. I’m sure this is just one time but there were many more that may make fascinating examples for us to read. Please feel free to put them out for us. Thank you.

    1. Bryan Lee

      Hey, Sadako Red, please write more articles. I’m your biggest fan.

    2. Joe the Aussie

      Always great to see you on here at Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Actually I was thinking of the Western, The Quick and the Dead which came out in 1987. I remember going to the movie and enjoying it greatly. Starring Sam Elliott, Tom Conti, and Kate Capshaw.
      Stars: Sam Elliott, Tom Conti, Kate Capshaw |

      1. Doug Smith

        I too like Westerns and also SciFi movies. You can learn something from them too.

      2. José Luis Rodriguez

        My favorite quote in the movie, Purdy Mantle: “It ain’t never too late, unless you’re dead.”

        1. lydia truman

          Con Vallian: “Shoot to kill. Wounds don’t impress them. They’ve all been shot before.”
          A real man’s man!!!!!!
          🙂 🙂 🙂

  4. Yusaf from Texas

    With experience, I will argue, that using quick and “dirty” methods posses fewer risks than maybe we are discussing here. The application of experience reduces problems when directly compared to doing nothing or just sitting by idly. Another worthy article in General Satterfield’s wonderful blog.

    1. Eric Coda

      I think you onto something here, Yusaf. Relevant experience counts for a lot. As you have probably read, Gen S. has noted that relevant experience is crucial for leaders to have and be effective.

  5. Harry B. Donner

    I’m new to Mr. Satterfield’s website and have enjoyed the articles he writes. This article struck a nerve. Yes, I too have applied quick efforts to get things done in a hurry. The results are often unpredictable.

    1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

      Welcome aboard, Harry. You can always post comments anytime. We try to make the comments relevant but sometimes it’s just to let others know we are still here reading and thinking.

    2. Lynn Pitts

      Welcome Harry. Good to have you as a new reader and one who makes comments.

      1. Fred Weber

        I agree, welcome Harry. Good to have you part of the team.

  6. Army Captain

    Good article, good story. Thanks.

  7. Max Foster

    Loved your article. Most of us who have actually worked for a living know about the risks of the application of making things happen fast. Usually there is a lot of money involved, the result is far from perfect, and we often have to go back in and fix problems we created when we originally applied the quick and dirty method. Thanks for another spot-on article.

    1. AutisticTechie

      Good analysis, as usual, Max. Thank you. Correct! There are enormous risks involved in doing things fast. It costs more, it fails more, and the results in the long run are often not very pretty.

    2. Gil Johnson

      … yet sometimes we actually are forced to use this method. However, I will point out that how and when the quick and dirty ways are applied are subject to the culture of the organization.

  8. Georgie M.

    The ‘quick and dirty’ method of getting things done. Who would have known it? Great article.

    1. JT Patterson

      George, just my thinking too.

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