Wednesday, 10 April 2013 08:44

Planning Big Builds - It’s a Military Operation

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Major technical projects, like modern warfare, have become increasingly complex as they become more sophisticated. As the requirements involve more systems and departments, how do you plan for the seemingly unforeseeable? Dr. Roy Gardner, Director of Psycle, investigates.

Military staff procedures have changed immeasurably in the last 100 years. With the increasing complexity of warfare involving previously disparate disciplines working in synchronization, military leaders have had to devolve responsibility for staff procedures, decision-making and planning.

The same is true for major technical builds. It is no longer possible for one person to make all the decisions about what is best or preferable across the entire suite of skills and technologies involved in a major project.

The Nature of Planning

Like military operations, major technical projects are uncertain and unpredictable. If you are integrating with third-party systems, it is difficult or impossible to anticipate how they will react or how things will develop.

Even the results of seemingly straightforward actions are difficult to predict, with the potential for human error.

Given this, it’s important to remember that the goal of good planning is to develop a project framework that allows for the project to continue toward the goal in the midst of uncertainty, rather than removing all uncertainty from a project plan.

How we do this is to follow the US Army’s example of how to problem solve. As the US Army Planning and Orders Production document outlines:

‘…define and analyze a problem, develop and analyze possible solutions, choose the best solution, and implement a plan of action that solves the problem.’

All the best project plans involve two elements:

Science and Art

The science of planning encompasses all the elements of the projects that can be measured. These things can be accurately predicted, and indicators of success and failure.

The art of planning involves unpredictable or unknown factors. The key to success is the development of a framework and environment that allows individual planners to create flexible plans to cover a variety of circumstances, and will include an accurate and detailed risk assessment.

How do we create a framework that allows science and art-based planning to sit side by side? By creating an effective mission command.

The role of mission command is to give a clear definition of the project leads’ desire for the project, and to provide clear guidance on how to make decisions and show initiative within that intent.

Done properly, the project lead will find they are making fewer decisions, and as a result are able to focus more time and energy on the project critical ones. Commanders hold a “loose rein,” allowing subordinates freedom of action and requiring initiative on their part. Commanders make fewer decisions, allowing them to focus decision-making on the most important ones.

Now, if we could just stick to these simple procedures, perhaps our wars and public-sector technical projects would run far more smoothly!

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Dr. Roy Gardner

Dr. Roy Gardner is Project Director at Psycle, a digital production company
responsible for major bespoke developments for organisations including CIBSE, Open University and Department of Health.

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