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Viewpoint: Try a military approach to business projects

Posted on November 10, 2016

Michael Rodriguez, IP partner, contributing writer for Austin Business Journal, published November 10, 2016

AO, FOB, OPSEC, and so forth, we all know them in the Armed Forces. These numerous acronyms help leaders and their teams define operations, commands and exercises. A list of them for each service could go for miles. One that applies to both business and the combat zone is a five-paragraph order referred to as SMEAC or SMESC, which many remember by memorizing “Sergeant Major Eats Sugar Cookies.”

In combat, SMEAC is used to help the commanding officer identify quickly what is needed to complete his mission. Applied to business, SMEAC can help provide a clear idea of how to begin, identify clear goals, execute and involve your employees in a project in the workplace.

With any project, there is first the “S” which refers to situation. What’s the problem or challenge you are facing? What obstacles do you need to overcome? Defining this in simple terms helps begin your project — not enough resources, clients are leaving for competitors, we aren’t meeting our quotas, etc. The “M” refers to mission — what is the goal and what is your strategy for solving the problem or challenge? In the previous examples, your mission could be identifying economies of scale, lowering prices to be more competitive, or hiring temporary help to meet quotas.

“E” refers to execution. How will you reach the goal? That is, what tactics will be used to accomplish the mission? A tactic is an action you take to make a strategy happen. Analyzing a production line to streamline efficiencies or participating in job fairs and posting positions online are both examples of tactics.

Next comes the “A” (or another “S” depending upon your military branch) which refers to administration and support. In this phase of planning, you are identifying the logistics required to complete your mission. How many people do you need? What skills, services or equipment are required?

Finally, the “C” refers to command and signal. Command is one of the most important factors in executing a project. Command means first looking at the other organizations that have to be involved and communicating with those organizations. If you are planning to hire more people, you need to involve human resources. If you are planning to increase your virtual presence, you should consult with your IT or legal team. If you are planning to advertise or launch a social media campaign, you may want to consult with your marketing or client relations team.

Overall, SMEAC gives you the template to execute a sound project and address ways to combine different personalities, resources and agendas into a well-executed project that benefits the whole organization. This method of planning ensures a focus, even if additional obstacles arise, which further enables you to adapt and improvise as needed.

Military leaders are trained to plan and accomplish their goals. Businesses can learn a great deal by looking at how our military operates. Better yet, in honor of Veterans Day, let’s remember those who have served or continue to serve our country and realize that our veterans have a vast amount of project management experience. No matter what acronym they use, our veterans are a great asset to our country and to the workplace.

Michael Rodriguez is an IP attorney and managing partner of Munck Wilson Mandala’s Austin office. He is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves and has received numerous commendations for his active duty service in 

“Reprinted with permission from the Nov. 11, 2016 online edition of Austin Business Journal. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.”