Military Orders Process vs. Project Management Methodology, Part 1

Round 1: Receiving and Analyzing the Mission

For a project manager (PM) who has served as a military officer on a battalion or higher staff, the parallels between the military decision-making process (MDMP), the orders production process, and project management doctrine prescribed by the Project Management Institute (PMI) are difficult to ignore. Both the MDMP and the processes outlined in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge—Fifth Edition (PMBOK® Guide) are iterative in nature, allow for the introduction of changes to the original plan, assign tasks and responsibilities, and involve the concept of managing the scope of the operation or project.

The project management plan’s sub-plans, such as the communications management plan, risk management plan, and configuration management plan, are not unlike the annexes, tabs, and appendixes produced to supplement a military operations order. It’s the project manager’s role to synchronize all the moving pieces within the larger plan, monitor schedule and budget, and keep the project team on track. In the MDMP, the executive officer is charged with similar duties. He or she must keep the staff synchronized, keep them on schedule, and ensure that deliverables are being produced to standard.

Looking more in-depth into these similar processes and deconstructing them step-by-step can offer valuable insight into the many other parallels between the MDMP, orders production, and project management methodology. It can also demonstrate why project management training and achieving Project Management Professional (PMP) certification can expand the capabilities of military professionals.

Before we discuss the similarities between a military operations order and a project management plan, we should examine the general framework of each and how each is generated.

  • Why does a PM prepare a project management plan?
  • Why does the military write an operations order (OPORD)?
  • How do the steps of MDMP align with PMI’s five process groups and ten knowledge areas?

Project managers wouldn’t have jobs if organizations didn’t do projects. Projects are normally started after a business need is identified, an opportunity is recognized, or if a problem needs to be solved. Someone within the organization will do a cost-benefit analysis or feasibility study, and if it makes sense value-wise, boom… a project is born.

Things in the military are not much different. Not all OPORDs are written to conduct combat operations. Some are written to direct training requirements or to cover the implementation of a new program. When a command is given, a problem to solve arises, or an opportunity to seize develops, an OPORD will be produced to direct how it is going to be done.

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to take a look at the seven steps of MDMP and generate a link as to how they align with project management doctrine. We are going to examine the different inputs used, tools and techniques applied, outputs that MDMP produces, and how they mirror those used in project management.

The seven steps of the MDMP are:

  1. Receive the Mission
  2. Mission Analysis
  3. Course of Action Development
  4. Course of Action Analysis
  5. Course of Action Comparison
  6. Course of Action Approval
  7. Orders Production

The first six of these processes link most closely with developing the project charter. That is, basically, how we go about deciding how we are going to do what we have been asked (or told) to do. Orders production, the last step, is how we actually write the plan.

Again, this is a nonlinear, iterative process and isn’t just something that is jammed out in a single session. Think of it like this: when a PM is in the process of developing the project management plan, he or she is also developing the other plans (for example, planning for scope management). The military officer writing an OPORD is doing the same thing: preparing the annexes and appendixes that supplement the actual OPORD before the final order is finished.

MDMP Step One: Receive the Mission
The first step in the MDMP process is receiving the mission. Similarly, when a project manager develops a project charter, he or she will receive some basic information, such as the statement of work (SOW). The SOW will include a product scope description, business need, and how the project will align with strategic business objectives. Normally, a military unit will receive a mission from its higher headquarters with similar information. The higher headquarters’ order to the lower unit will not stipulate how to do the mission, only to do it.

Why create a project? We create projects to solve a problem, fulfill an organizational need, or seize an opportunity. It’s no different than why military units conduct operations: to solve military problems, seize the initiative, or achieve a strategic military objective. When a unit receives a mission (MDMP Step One), it will contain information such as what they are supposed to do, when to do it, why they are doing it, and where they are doing it. When the PM receives the SOW with the product scope description, it is not a definitive explanation of exactly every feature that the product will contain. It’s a general framework that has to be researched, developed, validated, and eventually accepted by the sponsor through the “define scope” process. The project manager doesn’t immediately know how the end product will look. This is similar to what the subordinate commander and his or her staff must do when they receive the mission. Through the next step of the MDMP, they begin to analyze the mission.

MDMP Step Two: Mission Analysis
So you’ve received your SOW or your mission from your higher headquarters. Now what? Before you can start making a plan, you need to understand what, exactly, the project sponsor or higher commander wants. In project management, this understanding is gained through the 24 processes in the planning process group. This is where a ton of the work in project management occurs, as these processes can be time-consuming and are highly detail-oriented. In MDMP, the mission analysis process has seventeen different steps or processes and is also in-depth, detail-oriented, and time-consuming. In both MDMP and project management, these processes are where you figure out what you are facing and what assets or resources you have to make the project or mission happen. It’s where you start to develop your timelines and schedules, determine the constraints and risks you face, identify tasks that must be accomplished, and through these processes, define your scope for projects or get the commander’s approval of your mission statement.

Stay tuned for future posts where I’ll further analyze the associations between the processes. Next up, we will take a look at MDMP Step 3, Course of Action Development, and how it relates to alternatives analysis in project management.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Stober is a PMP-certified project manager with over ten years of experience managing projects. His experience includes managing projects for the U.S. government in the United States, Middle East, and Europe.

Updated June 25, 2014: Corrected the reference to PMI’s “five knowledge groups and ten process areas.” PMI has five process groups and ten knowledge areas.

 

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  1. Billy Roberson Reply

    Hi Dan: Just came across your blog as I’m looking to move into Project Management, post military retirement. This was very helpful…I’ve seen discussions of the translations of MDMP to PM Methodologies, but this was nicely done. Also, really helpful as I work on my PMP certification and apply to positions that ask for a understanding of PMBOK.