In the military, there is always action of some kind, from training to maintenance, and behind it all, there is a plan. The framework for military planning is often described as the troopleading procedures, the military decision-making process, or as an acronym such as SMEAC (“S” Situation, “M” Mission, “E” Execution, “A” Administration/Logistics, “C” Command/Signal), or MCPP (The Marine Corps Planning Process), etc.
Successful leaders, both in and out of the military, need to know how to plan and manage projects, which includes adjusting plans as needed to ensure success. It’s project management that executes a marketing campaign, a business plan, or the building of a house or a freeway. In both business and military organizations, there are myriad approaches to management and planning, but all projects have a lifecycle and the same essential components.
The most recognized standard for project management is the PMI (Project Management Institute) process, an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standard. It’s based on the doctrine presented in the Project Management Body of Knowledge, which is a guideline for managing projects. If you can look beyond the differences in terminology, you’ll see that it’s very much like military planning.
All forms of project management are a means to solve a problem which, in the military model, can be what to train, how to resupply, or how to plan a battle. In the business model, project management goals may be building a product, providing a service, or achieving a particular result. The process outlined by PMI consist of five phases, beginning with initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and finally closing the project. The PMI process places these phases into the project’s lifecycle, which determines the focus of effort.
Initiating. In the PMI model, this is receiving a task, assigning responsibility or a project manager, and estimating the requirements. In the military model, this is receiving a mission from the command, assessing the mission tasks, conducting necessary reconnaissance, etc. The initiation phase is when initial planning begins, either assembling a planning team or sending out an NCO to gather and coordinate resources.
Planning. In both models, planning is a democratic process of analyzing the mission or requirements, determining a commander’s intent, identifying essential tasks, and deconstructing those tasks. It is looking for any conflict between tasks and resources, timing of events, and end state. There is also a quality component, which will measure the mission’s success. It’s a collaborative process, dependent on the collective and active participation of all participants.
Executing. The phase in which the real work begins, executing is the longest of all the lifecycle phases and where the bulk of the effort is placed. Executing is consuming resources—labor and material—to achieve the project objectives. As requirements, goals or objectives change or risks are uncovered, the plan is adjusted to adapt.
Monitoring and controlling. This phase includes the feedback loop, used to monitor and control where plans are adjusted through the change order process known as the FRAGO (fragmentary order). Through feedback, progress and quality of execution is monitored, controlled and evaluated. Reports are made and plans adjusted accordingly. It’s in this phase of the lifecycle that the commander or the project manager coordinates the main effort and its supporting elements to ensure mission or project success.
Closing. In the last phase of the project lifecycle, the project is closed when the mission is complete. Success is judged in terms of meeting time and quality goals and, often—even in the military—cost. The PMI process describes the project management challenge as the “triple constraint”: balancing resources, time, and quality requirements to achieve your goal.
Project management is essentially the same across industries, as military planning is the same across services and commands. Having a general knowledge of the process is helpful—what will get you a shot at a job is knowing the industry-specific language. As a service member, you may not have a great depth of technical experience in a particular industry, but you have leadership experience. Often the crux of the project management challenge is getting the team to work together, understanding the requirements, and, most importantly, effectively communicating to the stakeholders. Your ability to listen, collaborate, problem solve, and lead are traits that industry is looking for. Your challenge is to translate these qualities into the industry-specific language for your next career.