Thought for the day: IT training military style

Fieldcraft is about achieving objectives by combining separately learned skills. Great results can be achieved if these...

Colin Beverage  

Fieldcraft is about achieving objectives by combining separately learned skills. Great results can be achieved if these principles are applied in the boardroom, says Colin Beveridge.





It seems that the “L” word has reared its ugly head again lately, with every man and his dog wittering on in the IT press about the need for more Leadership.

This is a perennial topic that comes around as regularly as post-Henman depression at Wimbledon, and about as productive. Yet we remain obsessed with the elusive ambition of improving Leadership in IT, while ignoring far more fundamental problems.

Which is why I want to promote the “F” word for a change.

Not, I must hasten to add, the usual “F” word that most users associate with the IT department. No, I am talking about Fieldcraft, a term that will be instantly familiar to anyone with a military background or with an interest in the world of espionage.

Fieldcraft is all about the art of survival and is a core element in the successful training of every soldier, building on the mechanistic, classroom-taught, disciplines of map-reading and weapons training. Fieldcraft is about moving beyond theory and towards doing it for real, under pressure.

Fieldcraft is about learning how to achieve objectives by using and combining separately learned skills, generally through a series of carefully planned exercise scenarios. Very valuable lessons, indeed, as they make the participants think for themselves, rather than simply performing routine drills.

Fieldcraft helps the military student to put their training into an operational context, a dynamic real world where people, circumstances and conditions create tensions and challenges that cannot be found in cosy classrooms and laboratories.

Sounds a bit like IT project management to me. So why don’t we include some fieldcraft in our project management training?
I am not suggesting that we run round the boardroom, dressed in combats, camouflaged up to the eyeballs and shouting “bang-bang, you’re dead” at the finance director. Tempting, though it may be.

But I am suggesting that we take immediate, positive action to improve the training of our project and programme managers. Sure, they may have been on the Prince2 accreditation course, or sat through the Microsoft Project tutorial. But most new project managers are grossly under-trained in how to apply their tools and techniques in an operational context; and this lack of training often reflects unfavourably on the outcome of our projects and programmes.

In the modern corporate world, the real weapons of mass destruction frequently take the apparently innocent form of change requests and project initiation documents.

I strongly believe that it’s high time for a bit of IT fieldcraft training, given by experienced veterans, not academics.
And, of course, this training needs to happen in controlled conditions, before we ever even think about letting candidates loose on an unsuspecting organisation, with live ammunition. Without proper IT fieldcraft training, the project management process is likely to remain scary for all concerned.

Some people may well agree with this more rigorous approach to training our change agents but then plead local exemption, on grounds of cost and time. These same people may choose instead to focus their management attention on something that is far cheaper and, conveniently, much less deliverable: Leadership.

The message is though, that there is no “f” in leadership… I’ll get my coat.

Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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