In the realm of innovation and projects, effective planning is crucial for success. While there are numerous methodologies available, one approach that teams can learn from is the military planning process. The military has honed a systematic approach to planning that ensures missions are accomplished efficiently and effectively. By adopting certain aspects of the military planning process, teams can enhance their collaboration, decision-making, and overall project outcomes. This article will explore the six phases of the military planning process and how they can be applied in teamwork situations like Scrum.

Disclaimer

I’m not a fan of violence. Most military personnel will tell you that the best solutions to crises are the ones where no shots are fired. When violence happens, however, we can learn from it. I believe these extreme situations have lessons that also apply in daily life.

The 6-step process of military planning

The actual military planning process is unlike the movies. It’s much more inclusive and does not revolve around individual heroism. Instead of heroism, it’s about leadership on all levels. 

The military process has 6 phases: define the end state, situation analysis, develop the plan, execute, reprioritize, and evaluate. They loosely map on the Scrum events you know: product goal, sprint review, sprint planning, sprint, daily Scrum, and sprint retrospective.

STEP 1: Defining the End State

The first phase of military planning involves clearly defining the desired outcome or the “end state” of the mission. Similarly, in Scrum, it is essential to establish a shared understanding of the objectives. The military call this the “commander’s intent.” 

In Scrum, the end state is called the “Product Goal.” In practice, however, I see many Scrum teams skip this step. They collect a list of tasks from the organization and start executing them. We can learn from the military that a clear commander’s intent allows team members to make informed decisions and adapt their approach as needed. That’s more agile than just executing a bunch of tasks. And it’s more fun and creative too.

In larger military operations, the end state is cascading. It is broken up into a hierarchy of mission areas, and the detailed plans are relegated to the respective units.

STEP 2. Situation Analysis

In the military planning process, conducting a thorough situation analysis is vital. This involves gathering relevant facts and assumptions about the mission: resources, risks, and opportunities. 

The analysis should also establish the scope and boundaries of the project, ensuring that everyone is aligned and aware of their responsibilities and constraints.

Likewise, in Scrum, collecting and analyzing the necessary information to make informed decisions is crucial. By conducting more analysis, Scrum teams can gain valuable insights into the project’s context, identify potential challenges, and develop appropriate strategies. Analysis doesn’t necessarily take much time. It is often a matter of asking the right questions and inviting the perspectives of experts. 

Sadly, teams often avoid confronting questions or analyzing facts relevant to their mission. Frustrating misunderstandings with the leadership are the result. On the other hand, defining a clear end-state and cooperating on the analysis builds trust.

STEP 3. Develop a plan

Once the situation has been analyzed, the military planning process moves on to developing a plan. Scrum teams do this by creating a product backlog and sprint backlog that outlines the necessary tasks, deliverables, and intermediate goals. 

A great Scrum Master will guide the process by showing the team how to collect options, prioritize decisions, define actions, and commit to these actions. By making the plan goal-based, it is easily adaptable, and thus more agile.

STEP 4. Execute

Execution is where the military planning process transitions into action. Similarly, in Scrum, this phase corresponds to the work in the sprint. During the execution phase, the Scrum team focuses on reaching the sprint goal, fostering collaboration, and effectively utilizing available resources. Complexity, external chaos, and the ‘fog of war’ ensure things rarely go as planned. More work than you can possibly do clogs up your sprint. Should you freeze? Delay the planning? No! That brings us to step 5.

STEP 5. Re-prioritize Actions

Adapting and responding to changing circumstances is essential in the military planning process. Scrum teams can apply this principle by regularly reassessing their progress toward the sprint goal. The military call this: remember the end state.

With the end state in mind, in the chaos of the battlefield, there are many things you can do. But some actions contribute more to the end state than others. The military credo is: ‘Prioritize and execute.’

In business, we have the Daily Scrum to re-prioritize tasks and adjust the approach when necessary. Having Daily Scrums with the end state in mind allows Scrum teams to remain agile, responsive, and better equipped to deal with unforeseen challenges.

STEP 6. Evaluate

The final phase of the military planning process involves evaluating the mission’s outcomes and learning from the experience. The military cultivates a culture of openness, ownership, and growth. Don’t judge; just learn. To me, it sounds a lot like the Growth Mindset

In Scrum, evaluation is done in the Sprint Retrospective. That’s when the team reflects on their performance, identifies areas for improvement, and applies lessons learned to future iterations or projects. By fostering a culture of learning and ownership, Scrum teams can continuously refine their processes and enhance their overall performance.

Conclusion

The military planning process offers valuable insights and practices that Scrum teams can leverage to improve their planning, execution, and adaptability. Scrum teams can enhance their collaboration, decision-making, and project outcomes by adopting ideas from the military planning process: defining and remembering the end state, cascading goals, clear scope, mission boundaries, contributing actions, leadership, ownership, and re-prioritizing. Incorporating these elements will enable Scrum teams to thrive in dynamic project environments, delivering successful outcomes with greater efficiency and agility. 

Want more? I found the works of Stan McChrystal and Jocko Willink very inspiring. They contain great insights into leadership, communication, and organization. Many thanks to Rob IJsseldijk, for kindly explaining the process to me and making this article possible.

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