Applying the Commander's Intent to Project Planning
Project plans quickly become obsolete and irrelevant if they are too detailed or if they become immutable. Traditionally, we sought to eliminate the possibility of change by extensive, upfront planning and analysis, as well as high-ceremony change-approval processes. The assumption that change can be prevented and controlled is untrue.
Leverage the Commander's Intent at every level of planning. Enable team members to plan constantly, incorporate learning and new data, and change their plans in order to succeed.
Dealing with Changes to the Intent
Having a Commander's Intent at each level of planning can also help team members realize when attention to a major change should be brought to stakeholders. It may happen that the Commander's Intent no longer seem like a good goal. At these times, a conversation should be started with the appropriate "commander." On agile projects, this is typically the product owner. Often, this will result in important information being shared at the right time—when there is time left to make good decisions based on it. However, in most situations, when the Commander's Intent is still intact and valid, people should feel free to adapt their plans as needed!
The Commander's Intent Empowers Teams
At any time, the team can make its own decisions to achieve the Commander's Intent most effectively. Self-organization is thus encouraged, and the right amount of oversight is clearly implied.
"If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you'll be amazed at the results."
-General George S. Patton
The Commander's Intent Enhances Leadership
Replacing an overly detailed plan at high levels of leadership with a well-articulated Commander's Intent can free leaders up from worrying about details. The Commander's Intent is the statement of success at their level—all they need to know is progress toward achieving it. Less time need be spent micromanaging, and more time can be spent on strategy and leading.
Planning—Not the Plan—Is Critical
The Commander's Intent is a valuable tool, but it is not complete on its own. People at any level must take the Commander's Intent and adjust their plans constantly. In the face of changing conditions and constraints, plans become quickly disposable. The thinking, analysis, and interactions that went into creating the plan are reusable as we quickly create new plans.
Commander's Intent in Large, Complex Projects
The cascading Commander's Intent can be incredibly powerful on large, complex projects. Decisions can be made at the most effective level. A team makes its own decisions based on its situation without the need for guidance from above as long as it still can achieve the Commander's Intent. Situations where the Commander's Intent cannot be achieved result in an escalation. In this way, only impactful changes and situations are escalated, avoiding the overburdening of higher levels of leadership. This also helps insure that solutions can be identified at the lowest possible level by people closest to any problems.
Commander's Intent = Empowering People To Act Independent of Management
By having clearly articulated and shared goals, team members are empowered to use their combined skills, experience, and learning to adapt and succeed in changing conditions with imperfect information. Teams can adjust to emerging information and changing customer needs while remaining focused on business objectives. The Commander's Intent is a concept that provides a simple way to make such goal focus a part of planning and execution for projects of any size.