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:
- Films Not About Project Teams: I
- Here's part one of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to
be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: I
- Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges
do they face, and what can we do about them?
- When Change Is Hard: II
- When organizational change is difficult, we sometimes blame poor leadership or "resistance."
But even when we believe we have good leadership and the most cooperative populations, we can still
encounter trouble. Why is change so hard so often?
- Managing Non-Content Risks: I
- When project teams and their sponsors manage risk, they usually focus on those risks most closely associated
with the tasks — content risks. Meanwhile, other risks — non-content risks — get less
attention. Among these are risks related to the processes and politics by which the organization gets
- Projects as Proxy Targets: II
- Most projects have both supporters and detractors. When a project has been approved and execution begins,
some detractors don't give up. Here's Part II of a catalog of tactics detractors use to sow chaos.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
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