The Six Steps to Planning a Successful Mission (Lessons from Fighter Pilots)

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“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” — Cecil Beaton

When you plan a mission, you want it to right.

But how do you plan it so that you stay agile, but at the same time, you can leverage experience and deal with setbacks?

Fighter pilots have learned how to plan missions with great success.  After all, lives are on the line.  The good news is, we can borrow what they have learned and apply it to just about any scenario where we are planning a mission.

In the book Flawless Execution: Use the Techniques and Systems of America’s Fighter Pilots to Perform at Your Peak and Win the Battles of the Business World, James D. Murphy shares a six-step process for mission planning.

The Six Steps to Mission Planning

Effectively, begin with the end in mind.  Next, you identify the threats that work against you, and the resources you have to help you.  Find out what’s worked and what hasn’t from somebody who has already tried it and has experience to share.  Next, identify your best actions to take and have a plan for things that might go wrong.

According to Murphy, these are the step to successful mission planning:

  1. Determine the Mission Objective. A mission objective has to be clear, measurable, and believable.
  2. Identify the Threats. In this step, you identify your internal and external threats.
  3. Identify Your Available Resources. This includes people, money, systems, technologies, products, clients, time, known strengths, services or skills of the team that negate your threats or help you accomplish your objective.
  4. Evaluate the Lessons Learned. This step is where you use the experiences of someone who’s been there before.
  5. Determine Courses of Action/Tactics. This step is where you develop menus of possible courses of action. This is where you develop a timeline, including who does what when. This is where you develop a decision matrix. This is also where you take your plan apart and attempt to defeat it.
  6. Plan for Contingencies. This is where you create detailed scripted responses for possible events.

Key Take Aways

Personally, I find this approach very consistent with how I perform my missions at work.

I always start by clarifying what we want to accomplish in terms of objectives and outcomes.

Knowing what can go wrong and having fallback positions is a key to success. Leveraging past experience helps avoid or repeat past mistakes.

I play out a few possible courses and look for the best fit within the criteria. Probably the biggest distinction with the approach above is that I tend to use a constraint-driven model, particularly using time, and then figuring out how to deliver value within that time.

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