Communication Tools from the Army

During my Army service I learned many things that I have already forgotten, such as the composition of a Soviet Motor Rifle Regiment, and a few things that I could never forget. Three tools that I used extensively during my military career were 1) the Estimate, 2) Battle Procedure, and 3) the Orders Format. All of these are communications tools. The Estimate is a logical way of analysing a situation and making a plan. Battle Procedure is a logical method to get you on the road to your next mission, and the Orders Format is a standard form of conveying the details of your plan to those who are going with you.

Some specifics of these three tools have changed over the years, but these combat-tested tools for effective communication remain in use. If you strip away the military specific stuff, they are quite practical for civilian applications as well. The combat estimate is a short version of the detailed Estimate and is based around seven questions, which I have slightly revised:

  1. What are competitors and clients doing and why?
  2. What have I been told to do and why?
  3. What effects (these can be described as your specific tasks) do I want to have on the competition and/or my client?
  4. Where and how best can I accomplish each effect?
  5. What resources do I need to accomplish each effect?
  6. When and where do the actions take place in relation to each other?
  7. What control measures do I need to impose? (e.g. what detail of project management is necessary)

Here is a revised Battle Procedure, in non-military form, geared around a client project:

  1. Get a warning that a new project is going start.
  2. Pass this on to your team.
  3. Do some quick research into the sector, the competition, the client and the opportunity.
  4. Get the official go-ahead for the project [probably not as much detail as you would get from a military superior, but then your boss doesn’t know the Orders Format].
  5. Conduct a detailed analysis and research based on the available time.
  6. Figure out what you have to do, by when [do this by working backwards from your critical deliverable dates/times].
  7. Write a detailed message (see next paragraph), with your time estimate, to your team members and partners.
  8. Advise anyone else from whom you may need support during the project (printing, translation, etc.).
  9. Sit down with the whole team (or virtually) and ensure that everyone understands the project, the constraints, the deliverables and who is responsible for what.
  10. Ensure that all activities are coordinated (remember, it’s your project).
  11. Get going.

Finally here is a civilian version of the Orders Format, used to communicate your plan to others:

  1. What’s going on
  2. What we’re going to do and how success will be measured
  3. Who is going to be working with us
  4. Who has to do what and by when
  5. How we’re going to communicate over the course of the project
  6. Who’s responsible for making decisions

If twenty years of military service can be summed up by the mastery of three communication tools, I think that it shows the importance of effective communications in organizations. Since retiring in 1998 I have had three jobs — university-based researcher/consultant, dot com executive, and now freelancer. On reflection, I can say that almost all of my projects over the past 8 years have been about communication, such as:

  • explaining how to conduct training
  • coaching how to use technology
  • communicating through design
  • selling an idea through a business plan
  • telling how I would do a project through a proposal
  • putting together diverse opinions into a cohesive vision
  • connecting people through conversation

Basically, as more and more of us connect in our work, we need effective ways to communicate. Though not perfect or comprehensive for all business needs, these military tools have stood the test of time.

5 Responses to “Communication Tools from the Army”

  1. ron turnbull

    I continue to use all of the military planning tools that you mentioned in my civilian positions too. Think of them as templates for success. Thfey’ve never let me down and let me communicate complex projects and plans effectively.


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