Studies on successful project management show that it is people—rather than time, money or quality of product—that makes the biggest difference in a project to deliver the outcomes it sets out to achieve.
And when it’s the actions of your people—a culmination of time, money and quality training—that constitutes the projects, you’d better make sure all four elements work well together, as Brigadier Michael Moon of the Australian Defence Force discovered when he set out to rebuild an army combat unit to take into East Timor to assist United Nations reconstruction efforts there.
Starting with the relatively low base of 250 personnel, Moon more than quadrupled the team to 1,050 personnel for the mission, which included reinforcing a number of army disciplines as well as involving a large amount of equipment.
Military style team-building is a cumulative exercise, starting with individual training, then building in clusters. “The team builds from small groups of about four or five, with a specific purpose, then builds into larger teams. We break them down fairly structurally into groups of about 30 then groups of around 120 and then around 650, all coming together for that large group figure of 1050,” explains Moon.
The specialist capabilities, such as infantry, logistics, medical capabilities, aviation, and communication, were therefore covered within the teams and then integrated into the collective at the end to ensure the group had enough capability overall.
The challenge here was the low base versus the short time Moon had to prepare the personnel. Given less than four months, Moon decided that the best way to handle training was to set a standard and give everyone a foundation that allowed flexibility, which would depend on the changing circumstances of the combat environment.
“In effect we had to agree to cap the capability, the objectives of the team, at a certain level basically because I could only do so much given the time,” he says.
“Military organisations are inherently hierarchical and based upon foundation capabilities all coming together. Because we were building from a pretty low base, we had to be absolutely sure about our team-building methodology and getting that foundation right because at the end of the day, once things changed in theatre, I found myself and the team going back to the fundamental team building we had done, that allowed us to shift into more complex areas.”
Moon also notes that the amount of information he had prior to beginning the project restricted his assessment of what needed to be done, hence the strength of the foundation training became doubly important when that amount of information grew and the nature of the job changed.
Designing a team with the capacity to be versatile served him well. “The situation changed very quickly on the ground when we had to go there, so I had to ask more of the force than it was designed and certified to do: the threat changed and became far more dangerous,” says Moon.
“The team stepped up to the mark when additional effort was required. It had to meet and exceed its original design specification almost immediately and it was put under additional stress in a military sense against a wily threat and it stood up to that and it did well.”