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TEPID OIL makes desired capability a reality

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Written by John Berry on 25th March 2022. Revised 5th December 2023.

6 min read

reduced Oil On Water susan-wilkinson-IdUBYKOE6q0-unsplashCritically, management is not about the manager – it’s about the people working for the manager and what they do with the technology they use. It’s about creating a capability with people and technology - a capability that meets a required goal.

I’ve pushed a model over the years suggesting that a firm needs a combination of technology function and human competence to achieve capability. Competence comprises the skills and knowledge in each person. The model is true and for many managers, and we could stop there and deep-dive into the skills, knowledge and technology function necessary for that manager’s context.

But fully defining the environment needed for the capability to succeed requires more.

Recent events reminded me of the acronym we used when implementing UK MOD projects – TEPIDOIL. The TEPIDOIL mnemonic is easily and practically applied to any required capability acquisition. Each element is called a line of development - a LoD.


Here’s what it’s about and how it relates to technology function and human competence.


One must assume that the right person has been recruited to the right job and they possess the required skills and knowledge to learn the job necessary in the capability.

Those foundation skills and knowledge will likely need to be built on.

The move from what the person is doing now to what they will be doing in the capability once realised takes training. Many capabilities aren’t reached because the jobholder doesn’t have the necessary foundation competencies and hence can’t be developed. And many capabilities aren’t achieved because elements like new equipment are introduced without function-specific training.

Training must be targeted, timely and effective.


This is our ‘technology’. It’s defined by its function. Together, taken simply, equipment (technology) and people make the core of the capability, but as I note below, other elements are needed to define capability completely.

I write extensively elsewhere on this site and in my latest book about selection of technology to realise capability.


In simple positivist terms, people are defined by their competencies – their skills and knowledge.

But that’s not all that’s going on. That’s not all that makes a person. Expanding the scope, a person is defined by their intelligence, personality, preferences, competencies, behaviours, beliefs, attitudes, values, experience, growth needs strength, self-efficacy, implicit motives, perceived abilities, and self-esteem. The manager only has direct influence over competencies. They have indirect influence over behaviours, beliefs, and attitudes. And they should consider all other characteristics when selecting the right person for the job.

Sadly, so many capabilities are not realised because the intelligence, personality, preferences, competencies, behaviours, beliefs, attitudes, values, experience, growth needs strength, self-efficacy, implicit motives, perceived abilities, and self-esteem of the people are wrong.

Check in my recent book for more on each of these. There's much that can be done to optimise those characteristics - but sometimes the manager must simply conclude that they have the wrong person in the wrong job - or even the wrong people in the wrong jobs.


Because Your People MatterInfrastructure describes the systems of the job and organisation.

It’s the support policies, structures, systems, and processes that enables the jobholder to do the job in its context. Many motivational speakers talk of personal qualities as if that’s all that’s needed. Often, it’s the infrastructure that thwarts personal performance.

It’s in infrastructure that the manager can make the most direct and immediate change. We advocate modelling to establish the infrastructure needed to support the people and technology. Often it's in the infrastructure that the most change is needed to realise the capability.


In business, doctrine is the communicated strategy; the policies that together with infrastructure, provide the job environment around the jobholder and their technology. Without communicated strategy, the jobholder doesn’t understand or know what the organisational goals are and why. Many firms fail to achieve capability because their doctrine - their communicated strategy - is confusing, causing poor motivation and general inefficiency.

Without a communicated strategy about what's to be done and achieved, even the best capabilities will fail.


All firms need an organisation. That organisation must enable the required capability.

There are many ways of defining an organisation. The elements (of the organisation) that are not discussed elsewhere in the TEPIDOIL mnemonic include management and culture – ‘the way we do things around here’.

Management and culture must go beyond the local firm, necessarily covering the supply chain, the customer, and all other stakeholders. Organisation defines how the managers will cause the capability to succeed in their context.


All capabilities require information.

In a sales capability, there’s data on the customers. In an R&D capability, there’s the body of knowledge and information about the R&D tools enabling their function. In a capability that uses geographical information system, there’s the map data. Whatever the information it must be accessible by the people and the technology. And quality of output of the capability is substantially determined by the quality of the information.


All capabilities consume materiel. Manufacturing, for example, consumes raw materials. If the rate of consumption is not matched by the rate of re-supply, the capability suffers, and customers will be unhappy with the resulting delays.

The same is true across the firm.

The ‘logistics’ system ensures that the capability always has the materiel it needs.

The military term 'materiel' is used here to indicate the diversity in consumables or things that need to be re-supplied to the business 'front line'. It may be more than just parts or new sales stock. Wide analysis is needed to determine all things needed to sustain the capability for the required duration.


The mnemonic is used to test if the manager implementing the capability has everything in place. Every element – T, E, P, I, D, O, I, or L – must be specified, planned for, budgeted, and implemented. Each must be developed. Any one element missing will thwart the new capability.

In organisations where capability is released for use when ready, any omission or weakness in the TEPIDOIL LoDs must necessarily stop release while corrective action is taken.

There are many ways in which this might be done. A release committee with representatives of each TEPIDOIL LoD might be asked to meet and discuss. They might be asked to declare any deficiency - any reason, from their perspective, why the capability should not go live. Or the capability manager might be asked to complete and publish an audit on the capability using the TEPIDOIL mnemonic. A zero-defect report or a report with minor corrective action might enable release, while a major issue might stop all.

The manager’s job is therefore to develop, test and attempt release, and the TEPIDOIL mnemonic is a good working structure.

Once released, the manager's job shifts to capability maintenance and improvement, again developing improvement plans spanning TEPIDOIL.