In our last installment of this series, we looked at the similarities between Course of Action (COA) Development in the military decision-making process (MDMP) and the various processes in the Planning process group as prescribed by PMI®. It is important to remember that since neither orders production in the military nor writing a project management plan (or its sub-plans) in project management are linear processes, we will often see ourselves returning to processes that we have previously discussed. Plans (or orders) will always be updated when more complete information becomes available or assumptions are confirmed or proven to be false.
The fourth process of the MDMP is COA Analysis, or War Game. COA Analysis is designed to flesh out the most suitable COA from the range of options developed in step three, COA Development. At the end of COA Analysis, a commander and his/her staff will be prepared to choose the COA that allows for the maximum use of available assets (forces), have awareness of how events may unfold (plan risk responses), choose where and when to apply the force’s capabilities (identify the critical path), and identify the coordination requirements that will synchronize efforts across different teams (communication management).
The cornerstone of COA Analysis is war-gaming. War-gaming is comparable to many of the processes in project risk management. Although there is not a set risk management plan that a commander will use during COA Analysis, a commander’s staff will generally have a good understanding of the commander’s risk appetite. Based on the commander’s risk tolerance, the staff will go through the war game in a logical sequence. War-gaming is an iterative process of actions that friendly forces will take (project events or milestones), likely enemy reactions (identify risks), and friendly counter-reactions (plan risk responses). War-gaming is a time-consuming process and is designed to take one of the shell COA’s developed in step three and develop it into a detailed plan. During the war game, each COA’s strengths and weaknesses are discovered, unforeseen events are exposed, and problems are identified.
There are eight steps to war-gaming. For the sake of brevity, I have grouped a few of them together.
- Gather the tools. This is akin to just making sure that you have all of the information, tools, templates, and completed COAs so that you have the most complete information available to you. In project management, this is having your project charter, draft scope baseline, and all of your organizational process assets available to you so that you can refer to them as you go through the process.
- List all friendly forces. In project management, this would be like having a copy or your resource breakdown structure and your resource calendar.
- List assumptions. Many of a project manager’s or project sponsor’s key assumptions will be listed in the project charter. For the military officer, it will be listed in the running estimate.
- List known critical events and decision points. In the MDMP, this is done so that those events that will directly influence mission accomplishment are brought to the forefront. Anything that requires significant coordination and all essential tasks will be listed. In project management, these critical events are called milestones. When you construct your project schedule network diagram, one of the most important tasks is identifying the critical path. The critical path will show you which tasks cannot be missed or where additional resources may need to be directed if you start experiencing schedule slippage. For the staff officer, knowing the critical events and decision points up front will enable them to understand where the main effort must be focused.
- Determine evaluation criteria.
- Select the war-gaming method.
- Select a method to record and display results. In project management, there are many places where project managers state the evaluation methods and metrics that we will use to gauge the feasibility or health of our project. Within our organizational process assets, we have a trove of templates, tools, and historical documents that we can use to record and display our results. These results will be used later in MDMP where a decision support template is developed in order to assist the commander in recognizing when a decision is necessary and what that decision should be based on the action, reaction, and counter-reaction method. For the project manager, this would most closely associate with the risk register, which will define our contingency plans for anticipated risk events.
- War game the battle and assess the results. This is where commanders and their staff actually try to anticipate the dynamics of a battle’s actions, reactions, and counter-reactions. This is like an extreme version of alternatives analysis where every possible enemy response to any possible action the force takes is vetted. This helps commanders redirect forces, allocate support units, estimate durations of tasks, refine communications plans, and perform many other command-related decisions. When project managers perform alternative analysis, we should look at every possible way that we can use every possible asset in order to complete the project in the most efficient manner. Although the MDMP is extremely rigid in its doctrinal conduct, it also has proven to be very effective in helping commanders and their staffs to uncover previously disregarded events that can affect the outcome of an operation. The war-gaming step in the MDMP is an example of one area where project managers could borrow methodology from the military in order to validate our project management plans.
In the next installment of this series, we will take a look at steps five, six, and seven of the MDMP (COA Comparison, COA Approval, and Orders Production) as they relate to project management methodology.