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Use Military Ideas to Get Buy-in From Your Project Team

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Carl Phillip Gottfried von Clausewitz, (1780-1831) a Prussian soldier and German military theorist, wrote:

"War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty ... The commander must work in a medium which his eyes cannot see; which his best deductive powers cannot always fathom; and with which, because of constant changes, he can rarely become familiar."  

Projects aren't much different.

Military leaders and project managers both need the active support of their teams to be successful. But support involves more than just following orders. Active supporters work with you to achieve success in difficult circumstances.

Here are a few theories I've adapted from the military that may help project managers running a large project:

The right of one objection
This doctrine says that regardless of the rank of the person giving the command, if you have information that shows the command may be wrong, you are obliged to share that information with the issuer. Once the objection has been properly considered, the objector is expected to comply with the final decision.

Unfortunately, many project team members tend to keep information to themselves rather than risk getting in trouble with authority. To reduce the concern, adopt a policy guaranteeing no sanctions against a team member who raises the one objection. More importantly, information withholders become liable to an equal share of the consequences if they have kept quiet.

Decentralize execution planning to the lowest possible management level. This way, those who must execute the work have the freedom to develop their own plans.
 
At each level of management, the plan should dictate a subordinate's actions only to the minimum degree necessary. Ideally, rather than dictating a subordinate's actions, a good project plan should create opportunities for the subordinate to act with initiative.

Effective planning should facilitate shaping the conditions of the situation to our advantage while preserving freedom to adapt quickly to changes in the project's circumstances.


Planning should be participatory and evolutionary. The main benefit of planning is engaging in the process -- the planning matters more than the plan.

We should view any project plan as merely a common starting point from which to adapt as required -- and not as a script that must be followed. Plan far enough into the future to maintain the initiative and prepare adequately for upcoming phases, but not so far that plans will have little in common with actual developments.

Adapt these ideas to the circumstances of your project, and they should help you make your internal stakeholder management more effective and your projects more successful.
 

 

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3 Comments

All great stuff, but let's not forget that all military actives are embedded in a higher level mission. In the world of project management, this mission can be stated as the "needed capabilities."

The team must ask and answer "do these actions support the mission, provide the needed capabilities, and operate within the governance guideline of our project or company?"

With that understanding and action, the suggestion don't have a home in which to operate.

The main benefit of planning is engaging in the process -- the planning matters more than the plan. I fully agree.

And it's the guarantee factor to get the project successful. The earlier team member join the project even the initial phase, the better the project achieves.

By the way, using military theory in project implementation is a good idea. Because most ideas have been experiencing the war in practical.

This is really good stuff. I like these ideas and can see them being effective.

I especially like the idea that team members are to be given enough leeway in a plan to act with initiative. There is nothing as frustrating as feeling shackled to a plan on paper and feeling like an automaton rather than being allowed to fully engaged in accomplishing a goal to the best of your ability.

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