This article was co-authored with Ian Fisher PMP, PMI-ACP
When we first created this graphic and posted it on social media, we had no idea how well received it would be. After less than 24 hours it had several thousand views and engaging comments from veterans who saw the simple elegance and application. It dawned on us that we should follow up further to continue the conversation about various Project Management Methodologies and how they apply for active duty leaders.
To start: Agile is not about software development, which is what everyone seems to think. Agile, is more of a mindset in line with exactly what team leaders in the military are taught; “empower the team, communicate with the team, and remove barriers to their success.” This is a recurring discussion between the SMEs at PM-ProLearn and military audiences. The graphic shows how much adaptation and agility are needed as planning moves from higher levels down to those that are responsible for executing it. Adopting an “Agile Mindset” is something we talk frequently about with people because it is based in value-driven decision making, i.e. what is valued at the time is where the effort is placed. This mindset is geared towards projects where the “scope” is less defined, but the timeline and resources are constrained.
Predictive Project Management looks at the initial set of instructions from a Higher Order/Commander’s Intent and attempts to define requirements as completely as possible (Collect Requirements) and plan for them prior to starting the work (Define Scope). As an example, your unit was tasked with deploying a Battalion-sized force to a foreign country to take part in a theater-level exercise. So, we have an initial tasking; provide forces and equipment to the exercise. What happens next?
If you’re like most units, you schedule the conference room for your planning session and the zealous junior staffers bring a copy of MCWP 5-0, ADP/ADRP 5-0, or JP 5-0 depending on your service and you spend the next few days refining the requirements and gathering information using the Marine Corps Planning Process, Military Decision-Making Process, or Joint Planning Process (again, depending on the service). This is a very Predictive approach to planning, which at this level is generally necessary. After 2 or 3 days of healthy conflict (covering most if not all of the PMP planning processes), the Commander coming in to “check on progress,” 47 pots of coffee, and 23 dry erase markers designated as ‘combat losses’ you emerge with an acceptable Course of Action according to the Commander and the staff sets to the task of writing the Operations Order with all the Annexes and Appendices (Develop PM Plan). Of course, we can’t forget the critical supply of printer ink and paper for the endless PowerPoint presentations you need to give and hand out to all key leaders (Stakeholders).
In many cases, this is where the agility starts to take over as the lower-level teams at the Company and Platoon levels start to perform that ‘bottom-up refinement’ we hear about all the time. Value-based decision-making can be injected as these smaller teams begin to root through the OpOrder and annexes like pigs looking for truffles to find their roles/tasks and start to see how they will fulfill them (Agile Visioning/Envisioning). Company Commanders begin to prioritize their efforts (User Story Writing Workshops) to consume their part of the plan and use their staff to develop lower-level plans for their mission (Road Mapping, Release Planning, and Sprint Planning). There is still quite a bit of Predictive work being done at this point, but the introduction of Adaptive ideas and techniques begin to show as they start staging and embarking personnel and equipment to the theater for the exercise. Plans tend to change rapidly during execution; after all, “no plan survives first contact.”
The team is in theater and you’re ready to go. The Advance Party (ADVON) is starting to get things set up and in place as the Main Body starts to arrive in waves. Daily prioritization of work (backlog) with execution of the highest priorities that get refined daily (Work in Progress/Process). Oh… and don’t forget your daily stand up meeting (Daily Scrum). Once there, the Company Commander (CO), who arrived with the first wave from the Main Body, is asking why the ammo hasn’t arrived, how many days of supply do we have based on the count of personnel that have already arrived, and why hasn’t the Company COC been established. Essentially asking the Executive Officer (XO) and Senior Enlisted leadership what they have been doing for the last 2 weeks. Usually the answer is based on one of two things.
You have a leader who is wedded to the previous plan and simply followed orders in the sequence given based on pre-mission planning.
You have a leader who adapted to the situation and applied value-based decision making using an “Agile mindset.” This leader started re-prioritizing work based on the value to the team, the current environment being experienced, and resource constraints.
On the one hand you have a dutiful leader following orders, on the other you have an empowered thinking leader who is working to provide rapid value to the stakeholders and team.
Sound familiar? We would love to hear your stories of how Agile is or was applied in your military organization.
Do you think teams are empowered to make change at the lowest levels today?
What is required to have an Agile Team?
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