In the military there is always action of some kind, from training to maintenance, and behind these activities there is a plan. The framework for military planning is often described as the troop-leading procedures, the military decision-making process, or some other title. Essentially these planning processes and procedures are the same; and success in or out of the military is often based on the need to know how to plan and manage projects. Managing is planning, and it is the constant process of adjusting and adapting plans to ensure success.
In the government and business, it is 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 essentially the same 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 the receipt of mission, it is assessing the mission essential tasks, conducting initial reconnaissance, etc. The initiation phase is when initial planning begins, it is assembling the planning team, it is gathering additional information and coordinating resources.
Planning. In both models, planning is a democratic process of analyzing the mission or requirements, it is determining a commander’s intent, identifying tasks and deconstructing tasks. It is looking for conflicts between tasks and resources, the timing of events, and it is defining end state. There is also a quality component, which is determining how to measure mission success. In both military planning and business planning this is a collaborative process, it is dependent on the collective and active participation of all participants.
Executing. This is the phase in which the real work occurs, executing is the longest of all the lifecycle phases and where the bulk of the effort is placed. Executing is the process of consuming resources—labor and material—to achieve the project objectives. Execution is where the plan to meet the requirements goals or objectives meets reality, it is where risks are uncovered.
Monitoring and controlling. This phase is the feedback loop, it is used to monitor and control the project activities as they progress to meet the project goals. It is where plans are adjusted through the change-order process, or through a FRAGO (fragmentary order). In this phase through observation and reporting, progress and the quality of execution is monitored, controlled, and evaluated. Here is where the commander or the project manager coordinates the main effort, its supporting elements, and resources 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 veteran, 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.
The views expressed in GovFlex blog postings are solely those of the author.