Process Modeling in a Military Headquarters

Processes are the basis by which people or machines develop a product or perform a service.  Whether formal or informal, visible or invisible, processes are employed by military organizations at all levels of command.  They are the foundation of mission accomplishment and must align with the organizational strategy to ensure that efforts are synchronized through the layers of command.  Some units rely on explicitly defined processes, but headquarters units generally pay little attention to processes and have no formal program for documentation or analysis.  As a result, many tasks are accomplished in an ad hoc manner, varying in terms of time, repeatability, and quality of output. When processes are clearly defined and subsequently well-understood, the organization operates more efficiently because it can count on a consistent set of steps and a generally accepted timeframe for accomplishment.  Military headquarters must identify, document, analyze, and manage their critical processes so that they are aligned with the organizational strategy.  Failure to do so jeopardizes mission accomplishment, the most important aspect of any military organization.

In a military context, the business process is part of a hierarchical continuum based on U.S. Code Title 10: Armed Forces, the pinnacle of authority for the armed forces.  Based on Title 10 and governed by DoD policy, each military department subsequently develops a top-down approach to fulfilling its role in the strategic national defense framework.  Military strategic and campaign plans ensure that the organization’s direction is consistent with the guidance of their services chief.  These Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps conduct planning to identify their institutional and operational missions.  An organization’s institutional mission is more generally broken down into a number of Lines of Effort (LOEs) and subordinate tasks.  These should all integrate seamlessly through the layers to Title 10 at the top, but the process is the foundation of it all.  Many military headquarters are inclined to concentrate on the mission and its lines of effort to the exclusion of the process at the foundation of the strategic framework.

Clearly defined processes inform military leaders on breakdowns in their ability to accomplish tasks.  Maintaining an awareness of process breakdowns enables leaders to see and attack problem areas at their source.  Identifying, documenting, analyzing, and implementing clear and concise process improvements throughout organizations means less re-work and better-quality products and services.  Consider enlisted boot camps and officer candidate schools.  These organizations produce a very consistent and high quality product.  Enlisted service members and officers have been formed through these institutions due to a strict adherence to process for much of our history.  In each case, processes are efficient, effective, repeatable and documented to produce consistent outcomes over time.  

There is a spectrum of adherence to process.  Senior leaders generally want stricter adherence to process, because this is how they demonstrate compliance with objectives and consistency.  This produces clean lines of operation and the ability to see measures of effectiveness and measures of performance.  If line workers are not strictly complying with their business processes, there is little way to produce repeatable results and measures of performance are compromised.  This limits leadership’s ability to plan and predict due dates and establish timelines.  Conversely, workers desire more flexibility to deviate from processes to introduce creativity to improve upon past performance.  This tension of opposing forces between management and line workers must be balanced to achieve consistent, repeatable result over time.  It is generally not advisable to script every move required by a workforce.  In many contexts processes should be like a framework on which workers construct a solution rather than a rigid set of step by step instructions.  Commander’s Intent addresses uncertainty and provides direction if there is flexibility within the process.  Another method for instilling process flexibility is to establish a process change board where suggestions for process modifications and/or updates can be evaluated.  Decision making authority can be tailored to the organization’s values such as by vote or decision by management with consideration provided to the employees. 

Motivating military organizations to adopt process documentation initiatives can be difficult.  To model processes, an organization must siphon off resources to document their processes and perform the analysis.  Organizational process mapping redirects resources away from the urgent and limits work on tasks that are always pressing.  This is something that few military staff officers are willing to do, especially in an environment of constrained resources and increasing mission requirements.  Leadership must be convinced that such an effort is worthwhile even if there is no immediate Return on Investment (ROI).  ROI may come months, or even years after the process improvement phase is completed.  Initiating a process improvement plan is not easy and instead requires the utmost discipline and dedication at all levels.  Process modeling initiatives lacking in either of these two qualities will result in failure.  For process improvement initiatives to be successful, all layers of leadership must be onboard and synchronized.  This does not usually happen quickly, especially in an environment where leadership changes every 2 to 3 years.  Changing a culture requires consistent top/down oversight, a long-term commitment to change, a marketing strategy, and a dogged adherence to implementation.

Process modeling and the subsequent analysis within military headquarters are absolutely essential for them to reach their potential.  They will otherwise endure inefficiencies and lack the necessary process insights to identify and resolve underlying risks to mission accomplishment.  In the case of a major mishap, finding the source of the problem will be enormously difficult without clearly defined processes.  A well-managed military headquarters should identify, document, analyze, and manage their critical processes with flexibility and creativity in mind.  Clearly defined and streamlined processes provide an organization’s leadership with a vision of how they will accomplish their critical tasks, institute LOEs, and finally achieve the commander’s strategic vision.  If processes are ignored, however, the organization will be less resilient, less capable, less effective in meeting mission goals, and far less likely to be able to identify and address root causes of inefficiencies.

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