Until very recently, ground war tactics emphasized control of the movement of forces and materiel. In this style of conflict, the flanking maneuver is a way of cutting off access of forces to resupply, and cutting off their ability to advance or retreat. In a typical flanking maneuver, force is applied to one side of the main opposing force, or perhaps to its rear, where the opponent's forces are less well protected. By contrast, a frontal assault applies force to the strongest face of the opposing configuration.
solely of plans
for "frontal assaults"In project management, we also perform flanking maneuvers, but we use other names for the tactics. Military flanking maneuvers, however, are often more sophisticated than those of project managers. We can learn much from studying even basic ground tactics.
When we encounter an obstacle in a project, we have three basic choices.
- We can quit
- We can solve it
- In the military domain, we mount a frontal attack, possibly with enhanced forces. In project management, we add staff, budget or schedule.
- We can circumvent it
- In the military domain, we execute any of a variety of flanking maneuvers, or we bypass the position. In project management, we find a workaround, which might involve a redesign or using an alternative technology.
Project plans generally consist solely of plans for frontal assaults. We decide how we'll solve the problem, and we prepare a plan that implements that solution. We make few, if any, preparations for flanking maneuvers or alternatives of any kind that might be useful if we encounter obstacles. When we do, we call such plans "risk management," and too often, they're sketchy.
Military plans are usually more sophisticated. They include plans for acquiring intelligence, which is essential if adjustments are required. And they include possible adjustments too.
A more sophisticated project plan has resources allocated to three elements:
- Gathering and fusing intelligence
- Even though the plan focuses on a specific approach, we study alternative approaches right from the outset. If problems develop, we already know a fair amount about alternatives.
- Executing alternatives in parallel
- By executing at least one alternate approach in parallel, we facilitate collecting intelligence, and ensure a running start if the favored approach gets stuck. We might even provide insights that are useful in the favored approach.
- Looking far ahead
- A reconnaissance team working far ahead of the main body of the current effort searches for and provides early warning of hidden difficulty or unrecognized opportunity. If necessary, they use placeholders for yet-to-be-developed project elements.
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For an overview of tactics, see "65 Operational Firepower: the Broader Stroke" by Colonel Lamar Tooke, US Army, Retired. Combined Arms Center: Military Review, July-August 2001.
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More articles on Project Management:
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Here are some techniques for using scheduling to manage risk and reduce costs.
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- Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: III
- Project risk management strategies are numerous, but these ten strategies are among the most common.
Here are the last three of the ten strategies in this little catalog.
- The Risks of Too Many Projects: I
- Some organizations try to run too many development projects at once. Whether developing new offerings,
or working to improve the organization itself, taking on too many projects can defocus the organization
and depress performance.
- Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite
our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep?
See also Project Management for more related articles.
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- One of the more counter-effective strategies incorporated into performance management systems is the enterprise-wide uniform quota, known as a vitality curve. Its fundamental injustice breeds cynicism, performance fraud, and toxic conflict. It produces performance assessments that are unrelated to enterprise objectives. Available here and by RSS on October 16.
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- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects. Available here and by RSS on October 23.
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