The team have worked with many companies over the years and not just in the Security Industry.  We have relaunched a cast steel manufacturer back into a particular business vertical, doing all of the planning though implementation and delivery not just to launch but to push already established suppliers out of the market.  The business is now worth in excess of £100m.

In addition, team members have helped an NHS charity deliver better obstetric training in the UK and overseas by putting their thinking onto a more business footing so that charitable monies could be better focused.

We have overseen the set up (and closure) of several businesses in the marketing arena and the design arena.

We have helped deliver marketing support to many organisations and businesses and understand the complexities of getting SEO right, of getting people onto Google Page 1, of increasing web traffic, of achieving the effect your business needs.

We write about new approaches to business (see below) and frequently give tips out in our blog.

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Can business learn from military planning?

“I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The military love to plan but what do the military know about business?  Are there any lessons I can learn from the military planning process that could help me?

These are questions that you should be asking for the very simple reason, you, as a tax payer and employer, are paying the military not just for the people and their equipment but for them to develop and refine their processes and these includes planning.

The Government and press continuously update us how the military are progressing in different conflict zones and often we hear of the dreadful price paid by many service men and women in the line of duty.

Despite the heavy costs, the military have success on a daily basis that we rarely hear about.  This success is due in no small part to the way the military apply themselves to the planning and execution of the activities they need to carry out to achieve the effects that lead to real progress in conflict zones.

Many of these activities are exactly the same as business is doing on a daily basis, and this includes selling. The military are selling themselves, their activities, their presence to the local populations and selling their capability in a way that deters people from wanting to attack them on a daily basis.

Military activity is all planned and their planning processes are rigorously tested and have been used to good effect in the commercial world, but very little is written about them.

The military have a common planning methodology used in most scenarios many of which do not involve fighting, and include activities ranging from high-level negotiations, supply of fast moving spares and goods, to the building of infrastructure. The parallels between military operations and the commercial world are very strong.

So what?  The methodology used has been developed by people and organizations funded by you.  It isn’t secret or military specific and there are lessons you can apply to your business environment.

The military love processes and due to the scrutiny of operational decisions those processes have to be recorded and auditable.  However, the luxury of having time to prepare detailed plans rarely happens so the basic planning processes are simple and quick to apply.  Without realizing it military planning has built in lean and quality principles.

The standard military planning process to is called the 7 Question Estimate. This process is flexible, so the format shouldn’t be followed dogmatically; it is an adaptable template.

The overall planning process is in 4 stages:

  1. Preliminary Activity: this is the thinking phase where you ask “What do I want to do/achieve and why?” “What risk am I prepared to take?” and “How important is this?”
  2. Situational Analysis: this is all about yourself, your customer/clients and your competitors as well as the current market
  3. Work through the 7 Questions to develop the Plan.
  4. Implement and most importantly continually review the Plan.

The 7 Questions, from a business perspective, are:

  1. What are my competitors and customers/clients doing and why?
  2. What have I been asked or told to do or what do I want to do and why?

(Understanding the why in these questions is important)

  1. What tasks, for what effect, can I deduce that my customer/client needs me to do? (This will give me my KPIs)
  2. What actions must I take to achieve each effect?
  3. What resources do I need to achieve each effect?
  4. When and where do the actions take place in relation to each other?
  5. What control measures do I need in place or to propose?

3 Outputs

  1. Direction to the team (or yourself) and this should include:
  2. What’s going on?
  3. What we’re going to do and how success will be measured?
  4. Who is going to be working with us?
  5. Who has to do what and by when?
  6. How we’re going to communicate over the course of the project

Every member of the team should know what the project intent is 2 levels above their grade, this keeps everyone working to the overarching common goal.

  1. Project major points summary. This is an overview for everyone to check before reading the plan. It keeps busy people on the same song sheet and also stimulates thought; in essence it forms the first few pages of the plan.
  2. The plan. There could be many different iterations but the best advice is to cover the most likely and most dangerous scenarios. The format of the plan is irrelevant but it should be as simple as possible and be something that you will use. It is vital that there is a continual review of the major points in the plan always asking, “Has the situation changed?”

The planning process, where practical, should be replicated at every level to ensure common ownership. No matter what Eisenhower says a plan that is written and sits on the shelf unused, is a waste.

It takes a little practice to get the techniques right but afterwards you will realise what a simple, transferrable planning process this is, able to inform your sales and marketing strategies or to drive any project forward.  The keys are simplicity, understanding, everyone working to one common goal and continual review.

Philip Ingram MBE spent 27 years as a military planner.  He has recently successfully used this process in developing a market re-entry plan for a cast steel manufacturer, developing a training export plan for a NHS Charity, developing a novel vehicle marketing strategy for a small inventor and in project planning for a new online business focused on the multi-billion pound global security market. He now works for us.

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle”.  Sun Tzu – 6th Century BC

Military Intelligence in business?

Sun Tzu’s quotation is apt; in business your enemies are your competitors but your customers have an equal say.

The press is always full of stories that enhance the mystique of military intelligence but are there any lessons for business?

The first point to note is that as a taxpayer you have paid for the national and military intelligence organisation’s. You have paid for their information collection systems and the processes they have developed to bring all of this information together into intelligence. So you should know about those areas that are not classified especially if they could help your business.

Military intelligence is a military discipline that exploits a number of information collection and analysis methods to provide decision support to commanders.

This is achieved by providing an assessment of multi-source information, focused to meet the needs of the decision maker. These “information requirements” start the process of direction, collection, analysis and dissemination called the intelligence cycle.  Military Intelligence is almost exclusively focused on “the enemy” but there is a clear need to have an understanding of your own capabilities in order to assess the enemy’s ability to influence yourself.

Business intelligence is a set of theories, methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information. It is focused on yourself where as Competitive intelligence has a focus on company competitors. In reality business intelligence can and should include the subset of competitive intelligence.

The Intelligence Cycle is equally applicable. However, it is important to clarify what is meant by intelligence.  Simply put data is processed into information and information when collated and assessed becomes intelligence.  It is the assessment that is critical part of the whole process.

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Donald Rumsfeld 12th Feb 2002.

DIRECT:  The decision maker needs to confirm what he or she knows and fill in the gaps of information they don’t know.  This is the most critical part of the whole process as everything else is focused on meeting the decision makers needs.  If the correct questions are not asked then it is highly probable that the answers that come back will not fill the knowledge gaps.

COLLECT:  Military Intelligence collection falls into 4 main disciplines.

OSINT:  Open Source Intelligence – information from readily accessible sources such as the press or Internet.  This collection methodology is as widely used in business as it is in the military.

SIGINT:  Signals Intelligence – data and information from intercepted communications by what ever means it is communicated.  Whilst at first glance you may think this is purely the purvey of the military and GCHQ but it is widely applied in business.  “This call may be recorded for training purposes” is often heard in business; employees use of company internet is also frequently monitored and with Google analytics the monitoring of internet traffic is now common place by embedding simple code on your website.

IMINT:  Imagery Intelligence –  information derived from imagery.  Satellites, aircraft, Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAVs) are some of the “sexier” collection platforms but the military also uses a man with a camera Google Earth and where available Street View. Where would the estate agents be without these tools?

HUMINT: Human Intelligence – Simply put information for intelligence purposes derived from human beings.  In the movies this is the collection discipline associated with James Bond, in real life it is the collection discipline of MI6.  How often have you had business gems which come from “I met an old mate in the pub and he told me……” This is the simplest form of HUMINT collection at work.

PROCESS:   Data and information in its raw state can be misleading but by fusing data from a variety of different sources, error rates are reduced.  There are a number of different tools and process that can be adopted to help fuse different types of data but they all involve a centralized database or data warehousing capability.  The tools then allow the data and information to be visualized, grouped and analysed so that the analyst can produce an assessment.

It is the assessing of the information and making that informed valued judgment as to what it means is what turns the information into intelligence. The people carrying out the assessment should be the most experienced and capable in the team but shouldn’t include the decision maker in order to remain objective.

DISSEMINATE:  This is getting the intelligence with supporting information to the decision maker in the format required and on time.  Intelligence is never an absolute certainty but it is much better that the decision maker gets 80% on time and knows that it is an 80% answer than 100% never. He or she can then refine their direction to start the process over again if needed.  Hence the Intelligence Cycle.

There are real cross overs between Military and Business Intelligence and lessons could be learned in a better way if there was a mechanism to aid mutual understanding. You have paid for the military to develop their processes, you should see if applying these can help improve your business practices.

Philip Ingram MBE is a military intelligence expert.  He has used his skills to real success in business both in the manufacturing and service industries and now works for us.