Designing supply chain models with the principles of mission command

Since I retired seven months ago, I have rendered advisory and consulting services to many organizations, especially those who are operating in austere regions or areas with a high level of uncertainty. I have been able to do this successfully because I can easily transfer the knowledge that I gathered during my active service years in the U.S Army.

As I design the supply chain solutions for these organizations, I see similarities between their endeavors and the principles and philosophy of mission command.  The principles guiding the organizations that operate in these regions and the principles guiding the military mission command are similar and I’d share them with you.

Mission command is centered on two concepts – the art of command and the science of control. While the art of command addresses authority, decision making and leadership, the science of control addresses information, communication, structure and the degree of control.  It is important to note that people and human interaction have always been the focal point and basic tenets of mission command.

When you probe further, these elements are the root cause of most of the challenges encountered in many supply chains especially in areas of a high degree of uncertainty.

The degree of control and structured elements often address centralization and decentralization which seems to be the core of sustaining a supply chain that is far away from the main system.

Unlike what we’ve been taught, supply chains are not linear. Even the network nature of supply chains are complex. Based on how you evaluate them, supply chains are plagued by megatrends, globalization, populism, climate change, cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, and big data. Depending on the client-organization involved, you can include virtual reality, internet of things, blockchain, future of work, geopolitics and sustainability. Governmental regulations can also be an important factor to be considered. The list is endless.

I agree that designing supply chains can be tasking, but understanding the elements and principles of mission command can simplify it all.

There are six principles make mission command achievable and they are:

  • Building cohesive teams through mutual trust.
  • Creating a shared understanding.
  • Providing a clear commander’s intent.
  • Exercising disciplined initiative.
  • Using mission orders.
  • Accepting prudent risk.

These elements are different courses on their own. However, the most important part of mission command that commercial organizations must focus on is trying to identify what the commander’s intent is.  The commander’s intent also known as the primer can be difficult to decipher and if not handled appropriately, can bring the whole design to a screeching halt.

The primer dictates the flow and pace of the mission command. In the commercial world, the equivalent of the commander’s intent differs from client to client but a general rule of thumb is that it is the purpose and overall reason why this supply chain is important. Once everyone understands this, overlaying the rest of the supply chain design should not be excessively difficult.

Understanding how the principles of mission command can help design supply chain models will alleviate secondary challenges like risk management, forecasting, predicting and anticipating shifts in supply chains. With this in place, the approved design will yield the expected result.