How the Military Scales a Technology Leader

First Round Capital recently shared advice from Adam Pisoni (co-founder of Yammer) about how to scale oneself as a technology leader. He gave five tips, including one he learned from General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal. This made me wonder what the military solution equivalent would be for Adam’s other 4 suggestions. After a bit of research, here is what I discovered:

  1. Roles & Responsibilities

According to Adam, “Without clearly defined accountabilities, it’s easy for companies to become paralyzed by decision debt and arguments.” The military uses something called the “G-staff model” to help define roles and responsibilities. Each branch of the military uses this model to define one leader as responsible for each of the roles below:

G1 – Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, G2 – Deputy CoS for Intelligence, G3 – Deputy CoS for Operations, G4 – Deputy CoS for Logistics, etc.

From there, they have a team to support the execution and function. The U.S. Army Material Command does a good job of explaining it here.

  1. Monitoring Progress

Adam covered this one well by using lessons from General McChrystal. Adam credits McChrystal for “creating a process where every single day for 90 minutes, thousands of people from all over the world would dial in to a rapid-fire update meeting. Each group had 90 seconds to say what they did, what they’re doing next and what the risks or blockers are.” By holding a weekly standup, McChrystal was able to ensure that everyone possessed the appropriate amount of baseline information to execute missions quickly and effectively.

  1. Retrospectives

The major lesson here is that members of the tech industry should aim to “stop repeating mistakes.” The military uses After Action Reports (AARs) to evaluate the success or failure of missions and learn how to improve for the future. I tackled how the Navy uses AAR in a previous post about development, and Craig Mullaney does an excellent job explaining the AAR in more detail here.

  1. Planning and Prioritization

Adam outlines a strategy for how to best create plans, but I think the most interesting part is how he concludes: “based on your new priorities, decide what you’re going to STOP doing.” To accomplish this, the military uses the appropriately named Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP). The MDMP is a 7-step process that is explained in detail in this textbook, but essentially comes down to understanding the mission, developing appropriate Course of Actions (COAs), war gaming the COAs, and then executing.

  1. Managing Tension

As Adam points out, tension between employees is inevitable. Evidently, the military agrees. They have a position – the executive officer (XO) – who helps to resolve tension within a unit. Going into each new project/initiative, the XO will convene all relevant parties/stakeholders to identify issues, allocate decision-making space, and hash out solutions. Adam agrees with this process and says, “instead of digging in and trying to resolve tensions as a leader, your only goal should be to make tensions public.”



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