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As a veteran mentor, I hear a lot of questions about what skills veterans have that translate into civilian occupations. What are the best jobs for veterans? People always mention leadership, time management, initiative, etc. but these are the intangibles of a job description.  There is one skill set that all veterans have: Veterans are project managers.

A few years ago while I was active duty I heard that all Staff Non Commissioned Officers (E6-E9) and all military Officers are Project Managers. Now as a PMP Certified Civilian Project Manager, I can tell you I completely agree.

While this comment was mainly directed at US military, my guess is that it applies to every uniformed service around the globe. Almost everything a military leader does is a short duration event that creates a unique product service or result. In short: A project (A MISSION).

Additionally, the processes used by all branches of service to plan, execute, and manage operations mirror the same project management processes used by the civilian sector, specifically those used by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

As a Logistics Officer in the Marine Corps, a Future Plans officer, and now a Project Manager, I have had the unique opportunity to experience and use the Marine Corps Planning Process and the PMI Project management process at a myriad of levels.  My goal is to describe a project flow and in parenthesis fill in the military terms along the way. I know this will be rather “simple” in terms of project complexity but it will hopefully make a point that is easily understood.

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Every project begins with a charter, a statement of work, a purchase order, or a directive; something that outlines exactly what needs to be accomplished: the constraints, restraints, and timelines associated with key tasks. It is the big picture (Higher’s mission order). Included in the charter are key stakeholders (units, higher, adjacent, attached, supporting, supported), key dates, (mission statement), and key deliverables (mission task).  

The charter does not have all of the fine details as it is the job of the project manager (Action officer/Operations officer) to develop the project management plan (unit order to subordinates and attachments).

Once the charter has been received and initial key stakeholders (Unit commanders and staff) have been identified the project manager can begin to plan (military planning process).  The planning isn’t done in a vacuum but will involve key personnel (problem framing).

The planning usually starts by reviewing past projects in order to learn from any past successes and mistakes (After action review). Once this is completed a planning meeting is held. At this initial meeting the groundwork is laid to allow for further planning.  The cost management plan (Budget), the schedule management plan(POAM), the scope management plan (mission), begin to be defined and tasks are handed out to key personnel (Staff estimates, estimates of supportability, FRAGO).

The remaining subordinate plans to the project management plan: Quality, Human Resource (S-1), communication(S-6), Risk, Procurement (Supply) are developed in conjunction but may take more time to develop as further framework is created around the project (Same as with any military plan).  

After there is a clear understanding of the project to be accomplished (mission statement), the method/plan (Course of Action) can be developed.  Planning is done concurrently and as the work breakdown structure (Tasks) begins to take shape questions will arise and conflicts will begin to develop. Risks will begin to be identified and need to be managed (ORM).  Detailed risk planning and management are continuous.  Also being identified are key resource requirements for personnel and equipment (Shortfalls), along with cost planning.

Make or buy analysis is completed (What equipment needs to be temp loaned or purchased). All of this is brought together in the Project management plan.  The detail and frequency of updates depends on the scope and complexity of the project and will be under the direction of the Project manager.  Sometimes stakeholders will want frequent reports and updates (commander update brief) and other times they are hands off.

As certain aspects of the plan are finalized execution can begin.  This doesn’t mean that all the details are present but that enough information is available for other elements of the team to take action.  Sometimes lead times require certain parts or equipment to be ordered before the final plan/schedule is completed.  (Chow plan, embarkation, bill of materials etc).

veteran project managers

Once the final plan is published, it must be communicated to all stakeholders, tasks assigned, and work must begin (publish the order, give the brief, cross the LOD). After work begins, the plan still has to be updated as things change. Sometimes schedules flex, equipment isn’t the right quality, work talks longer, there are accidents, events, setbacks etc.  

All of this must be communicated through the reporting process (Battle/Mission update brief(BUB)/Commander Update Brief (CUB)).  As deliverables are completed they must be verified for quality (PIR, CCIR), and as aspects of the project are completed and ready to be delivered to the customer the deliverables are validated.  (Battle Damage Assessment)

Throughout the entire project change management has to be done.  All requested changes must go through the change management process (Intel updates, BUB/CUB, mission updates from higher) to ensure that the changes are approved and within the scope of the project (our mission). There is significant risk of scope creep if change is not managed correctly.

This can cause the focus of the team to deviate from its original charter and risk successful completion of the project: on time, on budget, with quality deliverables (mission success). Sometimes changes are approved for a project does increase the scope which will require additional equipment, personnel, and time. (Change in mission) Proper communication and planning ensure that changes don’t destroy the project.  

After a project has been completed it must be closed out.  After actions need to be conducted to collect lessons learned, people need to be laid off, equipment needs to be returned, and the customer needs to be billed.  (AAR, Joint Limited Technical Inspections on principal end items, individual issued equipment turn in, post deployment leave etc)

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Project Charter = Higher’s order, Assigned Mission, Task

Key deliverables = Task/specified or implied

Business Need = Mission

Key Stakeholders/Proj Team = Table of Organization, Higher, Adjacent, Subordinate.

Stakeholder Management = Battle rhythm. Key meetings with updates

Project management plan = Unit order with appendices

Scope = Mission, limitations, restrictions, timelines

Work Break Down Structure = Subordinate Tasks,

Time/Schedule = Timeline, milestones

Cost management plan = Budget

Quality Management = Inspections, Pre combat checks, rehearsals

HR Management = S-1. Identify Critical specialties

Comm Management Plan = Comm Plan.  Primary, Secondary, Tertiary

Risk Management = ORM.  Identify, plan, mitigate, supervise.

Procurement Plan = Equipment Density List, S-4/Supply

Project Resources = Table of Org and Equipment

Change Request = Intel update, event, mission update from higher

Enterprise Environment = Intel preparation of the battlespace (IPB)

I know that this is simplified and there is a lot more to planning, managing, and executing a project, but I hope this helps give a framework for service members to help them understand that the processes they currently use are parallel to the civilian processes.  Once I understood this it helped calm my emotions as I was studying for my PMP exam and really allowed me to understand the material.

I am extremely passionate about helping veterans and work with a startup company (PM-ProLearn  www.pm-prolearn.com)  helping to train veterans to become PMP Certified. I have continued to work to help and mentor veterans to get PMP certified and enter into the project management field.  

Hopefully this article helped you better understand the PMBOK terms and methodology and demystify the Project Management planning process and give you confidence that you have skills that are extremely marketable and sought after.