10 Project Management Lessons From Combat That You Can Apply To Your Project Team

When I speak to various groups, I use my military and emergency management experience to teach leadership and project management lessons.

Recently I was asked if there was a difference between leading projects in a military and a civilian setting.

Yes, there are times in the military when project management is intense, and timings are compressed, but at its core, the principals are the same.

When I entered the military, I had no idea that that the training I received and the rules developed for infantry tactics were invaluable in leading project teams.

 Here is my top ten:

1. Plan. To survive combat, the infantry leader must think beyond the immediate situation and assess possible outcomes. The project manager should define how objectives will be met regarding scope, requirements, schedule, resources, risks, cost, quality and performance.

2. Study your Intel. In combat, knowing the situation on the ground is key to effectively adjusting your position. In project management, team composition, costs, weather and projects requirements will, most likely, change before completion, so stay ahead of it.

3. Check your kit. The tradition of the sergeant doing a weapons check is mirrored by the project manager’s check on available resources. Are the resource management & procurement management plans consistent with the project plan?

4. Check your communications. An infantry leader has a range of communication tool to stay in touch with those directing the operation and those executing the orders. Your communication tools should be diverse and tailored to the needs of all levels of internal and external stakeholders.

5. Know your team. Like the infantry leader, the project manager must be aware of team members’ capabilities as missions and projects fail due to the departure of a key contributor. Have the adequate backup and to shape your team, so its overall performance is greater than any one individual.

6. Never leave a team member behind. Combat team members must know that the team leader will take care of them. The project manager often demands extreme dedication from team members. In return, team members should be rewarded for successful project completion.

7. Know the territory. The infantry leader must be able to use the lay of the land advantageously. Likewise, a project manager must know the circumstances surrounding the project and must be able to internalize and articulate the goals of the project.

8. Be decisive. When an opportunity for failure looms, infantry leader is the person to evaluate the threat, enact a recovery strategy, and monitor the situation until the danger passes. Above all, the infantry leader and project manager must provide a clear vision of success.

9. Lead. The combat infantry leader often must make difficult decisions. Project managers are not involved in life-or-death decisions, but the stakes can be high.

10. The mission isn’t over until the paperwork is done. Once the mission is complete, the first order of business is to debrief & document the results. As project management: document the project, detail the results, move from implementation to sustained operations, and document lessons learned.