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Effective Business Decisions the Military Way

Irrespective of whether we function as a operational/frontline/project leader or as members of a team, on a daily basis we come face to face with a fast moving, chaotic,  high pressured and competitive world, in which every aspect of business becomes progressively more challenging. Inevitable, an important hallmark for leadership is decision making. Leaders are going to be faced with situations or problems that require timely effective decisions that can affect people and organisations in profound ways.

Since 2001 the British Army has used the Combat Estimate as its Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) at a tactical level.  The purpose of the Estimate is to make a decision for a course of action, appropriate to level of management, from a body of information or picture of a campaign or major operation. As the situation changes, the mission and relevant factors are reassessed logically. In this sense, the Estimate can be looked on as a continuous cycle which can be returned to when needed.

This MDMP at the frontline/combat level is a tool utilising seven inter-related questions (7Q). They are universally used on current operations and remain an effective quick planning tool.  This MDMP must be sufficiently flexible and must not, however, constrain your decisions. The 7Q must be applicable across a spectrum of business scenarios. It would be inflexible to have different processes for different types of scenarios; therefore the 7Q tool needs to be adaptable to enable leaders to consider the entirety of any problem they may encounter. The role of this tool or any other decision making tool is it ensures a fully comprehensive, structured and logical analysis of the problem. Furthermore in times of pressure it allows you to consider all the relevant factors but more importantly ensures we are all thinking the same with a common template.  In short, it brings order to potential chaotic situations by identifying a Course of Action (COA) that will resolve the problem.

Examples of the questions are listed below but have been slightly modified to away from a military context.

  • Q1.  What is/are the situation/competitors/clients doing and why and how does it affect me?
  • Q2.  What have I been told to do and why?
  • Q3. What effects do I need to achieve and what direction must I give in order to develop a plan?
  • Q4.  Where best can I accomplish each action/effect?
  • Q5.  What resources do I need to accomplish each action/effect?
  • Q6.  When and where do the actions take place in relation to each other?
  • Q7.  What control measures do I need to impose?


Without a baseline understanding, Q1 to Q3 can become a laboured process and leaders may spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to understand the context of their situation. Current emphasis before and during any project or major event will develop a deeper understanding and will greatly speed up decision-making.  This early stage is crucial in identifying the effects required.


Q1  will involve gathering intelligence on your competitors, clients and the environment that you may have to work in. You may look into their capabilities and possibly their next course of action which may be as extreme as bringing a significant new product to market.


Q2 is known to the military as the Mission Analysis stage and may be conducted concurrently with Q1. It is important at this stage that you fully understand your superiors intent ‘two up’ (your bosses boss) and the mission and overall intention or aim of your boss in order to understand his own part in the plan.  It’s very much about understanding the organisation’s vision and main effort of the business. During this stage you would find out if there are any specific or implied tasks that definitely need to be achieved and whether there are any constraints on your freedom of action which may include time frames and resources. The outcome of this question will be absolute clarity on what effect you must achieve and why. Furthermore at this stage you identify your own ‘Request for Information’ (RFIs) to ensure your time is not wasted on peripheral concerns to action your plan.


Q3 is about allowing time to absorb the refined information output before identifying the effects you wish to apply. Your intent and direction should come out at this time to your planning team if you have one.


Once you have established your analysis of the overall effects required, Q4-5 are about developing your plan with courses of actions and additional contingencies.  Resources need to be thought out logically from what has already been allocated to you or what you may have requested in order to complete your tasks for the overall effect.  Q6 is relative to the synchronisation of other business units, clients or stake holders and often requires explicit coordination and rehearsals.  Finally Q7 are measures you can put in place for your own coordination and visualisation of the plan journey.  These could be milestones, further progress briefings, feedback or pertinent timings if required.


Overall the 7Q must be designed for use not as a fixed template but as a means of stimulating the thought process. The process is dynamic and sensitive to change. This means that as new information is received, leaders may have to review previous questions to ensure that planning remains valid. Implicit in the process is the need to integrate all the functional areas within the planning staff so they do not work or plan in isolation.

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