Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mission Planning

A recent study by the US Army War College investigated critical behaviors of senior military leaders. Few skills ranked higher on the required attributes list than the ability to plan missions, solve problems and make decisions. In fact, the top four behaviors detailed in the Army study highlighted the importance of mission planning skills in successful leaders:

-- Clearly explains missions, standards, and priorities.
-- Sees the big picture; provides context and perspective.
-- Can make tough, sound decisions on time.
-- Keeps cool under pressure.

Times like these demand leaders who can plan, make decisions, and maintain a steady hand, especially under duress or during times of crisis. The next several posts will highlight what it takes to plan a mission. These steps can be applied to any problem, whether to start a business...or to save one, whether to deploy an Army or to deploy a new product.

Combat leaders use a basic approach to mission planning - called the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). When followed, it produces the leadership behaviors that the Army has highlighted as priorities for senior leaders: timely decisions, big picture context, logical plans, and clear mission orders. The MDMP is a reasoned approach to identifying and evaluating potential courses of action before deciding what must be done. It can be used for planning major campaigns or for discrete missions and operations. This is the battle-tested methodology that enables quality decisions and calm decision makers.

What follows in this series then, is a simple, four-step approach to mission planning:
1. Define the problem
2. Develop alternatives
3. Analyze alternatives
4. Make a decision and communicate the results

Leaders who fail to plan – plan to fail. Whether developing long term plans and strategies or putting out fires and conducting mission planning for day to day operations, leaders must be trained and equipped, with an appropriate decision making framework, to do so. These are characteristics we demand from our leaders, regardless of the operational context. It can be used for personal or organizational decision making – regardless of the scale, or the context, of the problem. Mission planning is…Leader Business.


Dan Erwin said...

The decisionmaking skills are an imperative. However, the ability to focus on and understand the big picture is sorely lacking in the majority of employees. To a significant degree, most big picture skills are not necessary until middle manager.... But many managers stumble over the big picture issues more than over the decision making issues.

Tom Magness said...

Thanks for your comments, Dan. I agree. You'll see in the first step of planning or decision making -- mission analysis -- it is critical to put the problem in context. The big picture is not intuitive and something that leaders must help teammates see. Things like context, priorities, big picture are always something that we can bring to problem solving. Hooah! TM