High-level operations orders (OPORDs) are produced at the division or corps levels and are very similar to what a project manager would expect to see in an initial project charter, such as the high-level scope and justification for the operation (project). The basic OPORD contains five paragraphs defining:
- Service and support
- Command and signal
An OPORD would become incredibly cumbersome and difficult to navigate if all of the information for an entire, complex military operation was rolled into just those five paragraphs. By breaking portions of the operation down conceptually by functional area, staffs enable commanders and leaders to quickly find the portions of the order that are most relevant to their particular area of responsibility. Although a full understanding of the entire operation is required, zeroing in on the critical tasks that are germane enables more effective continued planning.
The OPORD’s situation paragraph describes how the military unit arrived at the point that this operation is necessary. This is very much like what you would see in the project charter where the sponsor (with or without help from the project manager) describes the business reasons for undertaking the project. Adding context and answering the “Why?” about an operation or a project enable those who actually do the work to conceptualize the process. It also promotes creativity in the solution-building process.
The mission paragraph of the OPORD is where the staff describes the desired outcome of the project. Just like the project charter defines the high-level objectives of the project, the mission paragraph points to what has to be done, but it does not prescribe a solution. A good mission statement answers who, what, where, and when. Often, it will also to some extent answer why—not the strategic or high-level “Why?” that is defined in the situation paragraph, but the operational-level “Why?”
The execution paragraph of an operation order is like a text-based version of a work breakdown structure (WBS), WBS dictionary, and scope statement. In other words, it is your scope baseline. The execution paragraph describes the work that needs to be done and when it needs to be done in order to accomplish the mission.
The new view of project management is that a project can be delivered on time, on budget, and within scope and still be deemed a failure. Why? Failure to satisfy the sponsor or key stakeholders means a project failed.
In the execution paragraph, the concept of the operation is defined as well as the commander’s intent. It is possible to have met the objectives defined in the execution paragraph and still not be successful in the operation if the commander’s intent was not met. How could that happen? The same way that a project team can deliver everything that is defined in the scope baseline and still fail to meet stakeholder expectations: things, situations, attitudes, political climates—everything is subject to change. Even if a plan was defined and structured to meet the commander’s intent at the beginning and the project was executed perfectly, intent still may not have been met.
In project management, project managers communicate to key stakeholders in order to set and manage expectations. We manage expectations to shape perceptions. If we can manage the perceptions of our key stakeholders, then we have the greatest chance of project success. So, we can come up with the best execution paragraph ever, but if the situation changes, that plan may no longer meet the commander’s intent.
Two things that military operations and projects have in common: problems and changes. In order to deal with them, project management has the “Perform Integrated Change Control” process. Military operations and orders have the Fragmentary Order (FRAGO). In project management, everything is supposed to be formal and signed off upon before execution. The FRAGO is the commander’s approved, written change order. In both instances, an impact analysis must be performed to determine the secondary and tertiary effects of the change.
Service and Support Paragraph
The service and support paragraph describes the high-level logistics requirements for the operation. Most of the logistics information will be defined in the Sustainment Annex and its associated appendixes and tabs. If it is a large operation, the logistics involved can be quite complex and would be impossible to sum up in a single paragraph. In project management, we have our procurement management plan, one of the sub-plans to the project management plan, project human resources management plan, and resource breakdown structure to prescribe how logistics will support the plan. Procurements, resources (both material and human), and logistics will be included somewhere in the Sustainment Annex.
Command and Signal Paragraph
The command and signal paragraph is essentially the project communications management plan. This paragraph will define the succession of command should the commander become unavailable, communications methods that will be used, frequencies used, and the alternate and contingency plans for those communications. Most of the information on communications methods and which reports will be submitted when will be further and more completely defined in the Signal Annex to the OPORD.
All of the processes that have been defined and built to support the MDMP and the production of orders are similar to those that have been defined by PMI® to support the development of project management plans. There are processes and procedures that both the military staff officer and the project manager can look to from the other’s perspective to enhance production of more-effective orders or plans.
I hope that you have enjoyed this series so far. I look forward to producing the next installment, where we will look at the annexes in more detail.