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Product Development

Food Chain Management – How to Win When Everything Changes All the Time

The contrast between planning and execution in military operations and business highlights the dynamic nature of warfare or the challenge of market dynamics. Plans provide a framework, a starting point, but it is the execution that navigates the unpredictable and chaotic environment.

By Tyler Van Horn, Managing Partner, Cairn Leadership Strategies

In the theater of military operations, the dual forces of planning and execution play out with stark clarity. The success of any mission hinges on the seamless interplay between these two critical elements. As General George S. Patton famously stated, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” This encapsulates the essence of military strategy: the balance between meticulous planning and decisive action. The lessons apply in business planning as well, though the experience may be closer to General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s observation that “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Planning in Detail

In both military operations and food and beverage manufacturing, planning is the bedrock upon which missions and businesses are built. In both situations, planning involves rigorous due diligence, the crafting of a detailed primary plan, and the formulation of comprehensive contingency strategies.

Due diligence in a military context means gathering intelligence, understanding the enemy, and assessing the terrain and environmental conditions. This step is crucial for formulating plans that are not only ambitious but also grounded in the realities of the battlefield. When a food or beverage product is launched in a new market or reformulated based on regulatory dictates, due diligence is critical to business success. Regulatory and product development teams use tools such as Compliance Analysis to look across multiple market requirements and prevent costly mistakes.

Creating a detailed primary plan then translates this intelligence into actionable strategies. In the military, these plans outline objectives, troop movements, logistics, communication protocols, and rules of engagement. This level of detail ensures that every unit knows its purpose and how it fits into the larger mission. The application for a food or beverage launch is no different. Food development teams cross R&D/innovation, regulatory, brand management and marketing. Everyone has a role to play in a product launch. However, for both the military and food manufacturer, knowing that no plan survives contact with the enemy intact, contingency planning is vital. It prepares the military force and the business to adapt to surprises and setbacks, ensuring that the mission can proceed even when the initial plan is compromised.

military and business planning and execution
Photo by Lance Cpl. William Wallace. The appearance of U.S. DoD visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

Excellence in Execution

Execution in military operations and business is where plans and action converge. It’s the phase where pages of detail are transformed into tangible outcomes. Successful execution rests on three pillars: clarity of roles, effective communication, and unwavering trust.

Clarity of roles ensures that each unit and individual soldier or staff person knows both exactly what their tasks are, and what their capabilities are when it comes time to execute contingency plans. This clarity is crucial for the coordinated effort required in complex military or business operations, where the failure of one unit can jeopardize the entire mission.

Communication must be clear, secure, and continuous. In the fog of war, information is a lifeline. Effective communication ensures that units are synchronized, that changes in the operational plan are promptly relayed, and that commanders can make informed decisions in real-time.

Trust, perhaps, is the most critical element in both the military and business worlds. In the words of Colin Powell, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.” Trust between commanders and their troops, and among the soldiers themselves, fosters unity, morale, and the willingness to face danger for the mission’s success. Trust also forms an essential foundation for team success in the private sector.

The Interplay of Planning and Execution

The contrast between planning and execution in military operations and business highlights the dynamic nature of warfare or the challenge of market dynamics. Plans provide a framework, a starting point, but it is the execution that navigates the unpredictable and chaotic environment of combat. Both elements require flexibility, adaptability, and resilience.

A well-conceived plan anticipates various scenarios and articulates clear objectives. However, it’s the ability to execute—to adapt and overcome in real-time—that often determines victory or defeat. This dynamic interplay is the essence of military or business strategy, requiring leaders to be both visionary planners and decisive commanders.

The symbiotic relationship between planning and execution in military operations underscores the complexity and fluidity of modern warfare. In food manufacturing, leaders need partners with the industry expertise, expert staff and data tools to support product development and ongoing production. By paying attention to both planning and execution, military and business leaders can steer their forces and staff through uncertainty and toward mission success. It’s a delicate balance, demanding both foresight and action, where the ultimate goal is to achieve objectives with precision and efficiency.

About Tyler Van Horn

Tyler graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2001 and served over twenty years in the Army as an Infantry and Special Forces officer. Tyler deployed twelve times throughout his military career, leading specialized teams through the planning and execution of high-risk ground combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations around the world. During his service, Tyler was decorated with five Bronze Star Medals, including one for Valor during a hostage rescue operation in Syria.

After transitioning from the Army, Tyler continues to pursue his passion of helping leaders and teams become the best versions of themselves. He is currently a Managing Partner at Cairn Leadership Strategies. Read more about Tyler here.

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