Lessons from the Battlefield

Soldiers marching in parade

Our U.S. military is the finest in the world. Oftentimes we hear stories of brave soldiers taking on challenging assignments around the globe—and behind each mission comes an enormous amount of strategizing, preparation, training and rehearsing before one step is placed on the battlefield. The military displays the highest level of skill in planning, executing, debriefing, understanding ‘lessons learned’ and then incorporating those learnings back into the planning process. 

When I think about gearing up for a large outsourcing transition or system implementation, there are several techniques and principles we can draw from our skilled military leaders and soldiers. Key examples include:


An Army commander would never pull civilians off the street and bring them into battle without proper training, preparation and experience. Similarly, project managers should not staff up a transition or implementation with unqualified project resources.


As a first step, the military always drafts up a well thought out plan. The plan is then vetted with a broad team of advisors, on-the-ground leaders and logistical specialists. I’ve seen many inadequate implementation plans—not enough detail, key dependencies missing, unrealistic dates and misallocated resources to name a few. Resist jumping into battle (or execution), and ensure the plan is sound, actionable, and measurable. And, always have a Plan B just in case.


Soldiers are never without proper gear, which is tuned and tested for the right environment. The transition team’s “equipment” includes project methodologies, tools, templates and communication methods. The project manager must select the right equipment for the specific project environment/culture and ensure the team is well versed in deploying these tools. Just as soldiers polish their weapons frequently, the transition team should regularly tune employed methodologies and tools to the evolving environment.


We often hear the term ‘boot camp’ associated with rigorous military training. Key members of a transition/implementation team should also go through a ‘project boot camp' to ensure a high level of training in equipment (noted above), vendor packages, new technologies, strategies, etc.


Transitions or implementations typically take months or years to complete and at key intervals we plan for increasingly complex rehearsals for testing, data conversion and business readiness. Along the lines of a military preparation, these rehearsals should be well organized (e.g., from the war room), scripted, realistic, measured and then evaluated for ‘lessons learned’.


A critical element of any battalion or project team is a leader who above all takes responsibility for setting direction and executing on the plan. Leaders must ‘earn their stripes’ and have the respect and trust of their troops. The best project leaders have risen from the ranks and fought in the trenches.


One can imagine a barrage of evolving data coming in from many sides, new issues, risks, and changing assumptions and constraints. The ‘triage’ team is responsible for assessing the damage (issues), prioritizing the troop’s efforts (fixes), and readjusting the plan. For transitions/implementations, ensure your best people are properly allocated and focused on your project ‘triage’ team, as inadequate or late decisions can quickly derail milestones and budgets.

In summary, missions are successful when well-equipped and trained resources are led by experienced leaders who focus on strategy, planning and execution. If you jump into project ‘execution’ mode without undertaking proper planning and addressing the aforementioned techniques and principles, then your transition/implementation will suffer. When the ‘life or death’ of your project is on the line, look to the techniques employed by the real heroes who put their lives on the line every day. They are excellent role models to follow, both on and off the battlefield. 

On Veteran’s Day, we express our thanks and gratitude to those who have served our country and continue to do so.