Our last discussion was on Course of Action (COA) Analysis, or war-gaming. During war-gaming, commanders and the staff run through the process of analyzing steps that the friendly forces will take, the enemy reaction, and the friendly forces’ counter reaction. This closely aligns with actions that a project manager would take, along with the project team, after performing a quantitative risk analysis and formulating contingency and fallback plans.
In this installment, we will take a look at the final three steps of the military decision-making process (MDMP): COA Comparison, COA Approval, and Orders Production.
In COA Comparison, each member of the staff (project team) will analyze each proposed COA from his or her unique perspective. Earlier in the MDMP, the staff has selected how each COA will be evaluated. The evaluation will normally be based on several criteria, such as simplicity, speed, and risk. Normally, the executive officer will determine how each decision criteria will be weighted. Each staff officer should use the established criteria during their own analysis, and each category of criteria will be judged relative to the finding of the other staff members. Simply aggregating the scores (score x weight) of each category will not always lead to the correct decision.
In project management, after the qualitative risk analysis is complete and each risk event has been given a PI (probability x impact) score, we then go a step further and assign quantitative values to the score. Performing a quantitative analysis in a military environment is much more difficult. Often the manifestation of a risk event cannot be measured in days or dollars here.
The staff will normally display the aggregated results of their analysis on a decision matrix. In project management, there is no standard matrix prescribed to display the results of our alternatives analysis, so project managers can “borrow” the decision matrix that has been developed for use in the MDMP. Each weighted criterion will be ranked from one to three (if there are three COAs available for comparison) and the COA with the lowest score is deemed to be the most suitable COA. However, the COA with the lowest score cannot just be blindly selected—the staff still needs to complete a sensitivity analysis to ensure that the COA selected is indeed feasible. All previous assumptions that have factored into the COA Analysis need to be reviewed to confirm or deny whether they are still valid.
The next step in the MDMP is COA Approval. As is often the case in military operations or in business, those at the executive level are often operating with more timely and relevant information than those working on their behalf. The selected COA (think PM Plan) will be presented to the commander for approval (sign-off by the sponsor or senior stakeholders). If the commander deems that the selected COA does not meet the stated intent, can be done better, or is modified, the staff will return to the war-gaming process and begin again.
This is the iterative nature of the MDMP. Just like in project management, changes can and do happen. While the staff is going through the planning process, the commander may very well be receiving new information that the staff does not yet have. This is common and is to be expected.
Another feature of the COA Approval process is that the commander signs off on the risk mitigation plan for all identified risks and underwrites the acceptable level of residual risk. When the COA has been approved, a warning order is issued to subordinate commanders so that planning can begin on their end. Relative to project management, the warning order is like having a well-developed project charter to begin setting the conditions for project success.
Now that we have decided on the COA that will be followed, we are ready for the last step of the MDMP: Orders Production. The military operations order mirrors a project management plan in many ways. Just as a project management plan is not usually a single document but an aggregation of many subsidiary documents and plans, the military operations order is made up of a base order and many additional annexes, appendixes, and tabs that provide additional detail. And, just as in project management, not every single operation (project) requires that every single annex or appendix is produced. The level of detail required is directly proportional to the complexity of the operation. That is, as more rigor is required to ensure successful completion of the operation, more detail will be put into the order, annexes, and appendixes.
In our next installment, we will look in depth at the operations order and examine how it is basically a project management plan written with different (military) terminology. I welcome your comments and feedback.