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SMEAC... The Five Paragraph Order Means Business.

As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind. Every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder.”

John Glenn, Marine fighter Pilot, Former astronaut & US Senator (Ohio)

SMEAC is Project Leadership

For over two generations, the U.S. Marine Corps and the Army “Five Paragraph Order” (FPO) has been a mainstay of officer and NCO training. Leadership is taught in the service branches, religiously and rigidly, and from that environment leaders are made and skill in managing processes is practiced.

All projects are led, not managed. You manage your checkbook. You lead your team. In project leadership, whether reorganizing an office wide filing system or introducing a competitive product in a new market, how effective the project will be comes down to one word: planning.

The Marine Corps is especially proud of the FPO. It exemplifies deliberate and effective project planning. No officer or NCO of value would attempt to gather support without the FPO, or “SMEAC”, and a capacity to communicate the plan succinctly and fully.

SMEAC, of course, is an acronym. Yes, the military has practically invented acronyms, but this one has a serious utility, and is universally acknowledged in the Corps and the Army. SMEAC is used in both large and small unit operations, and engenders a certain expectation from all personnel in the unit, which is enormously helpful in communications. If an element of SMEAC is missing, the last-person-on-the-left will know it and can sound off.

There are several beauties to the traditional military SMEAC. It is predominately oral, which focuses attention and forces simplicity. Listening skills are crucial. As mentioned earlier, SMEAC can run the gamut from the routine to the calamity.






(What follows are three parallel examples of each:

1. Military application, 2. General office, and 3. Virtual business.)


1. Military: Enemy strength, disposition, capabilities and priorities.

2. General office: Landlord will replace all carpet over two weekends and file cabinets and desks must be empty.

3. Virtual: New barcode label system for national vendor rollout, and must be seamless to customers.

The situation will always be the predicate for a good action plan. Knowing the obstacles and challenges reduces unnecessary contingency planning, and sharpens the focus. All projects have both predictable and unforeseen resistance factors and knowing these problems helps to clarify the situation.


1. Military: Who, What, When, Where & Why we must engage the enemy and take that hill.

2. General office: Provide time and material during work day to organize and empty file cabinets and not disrupt service and allow for a safe work environment.

3. Virtual: Turn over system with internal and external vendors and customers at the appointed times.

The Mission is the briefest element. Often the best mission plan starts with the end in mind… what is the goal we must achieve? Once this is envisioned, plan backward accordingly. There will most likely be several intermediate objectives prior to securing the hill, and each of these may beg for its own FPO. Once the goal is clear, everyone understands his or her role in the mission execution vividly.


1. Military: Attack plan, operating instructions, overall intent, and specific assignments in support of the mission.

2. General office: Each employee has a defined area to pack up and must follow a proscribed schedule so service is not disrupted.

3. Virtual: At scheduled time(s) systems will go “live” and sister networks will be prepared to absorb stray consequences.

The Execution is the lengthiest part of the FPO. Every detail of “how” must be examined and clarified. In small groups, the give and take is most effective at this time, and should be encouraged, once discipline (behavior) rules are understood. Chances are good the team members may have a better idea to smooth the process, but allow the necessity of mid-stream questions for key points only.

An amusing aside here. You know your team. A SMEAC review can turn into a Three Stooges pie fight if you let certain personalities take over.

Mr. Irrelevant” always brings up weird stuff so minor and stupid you want to throw yourself out a window. Please don’t. Be direct and say, “Not now, please,” or “We’ll discuss it later.”

Madame Know-it-All” consistently tells you what’s wrong with the plan without knowing the whole plan, and always without providing reasonable alternatives. Be direct and say, “Interesting. I’ll cover that later.”

The Jumper” must have weary legs, because he or she is always jumping to conclusions, often wrong. Be direct and say, “Stop jumping to conclusions. Save your questions.”


1. Military: Bullets, bandages, beans, & bad guys.

2. General office: Tote boxes provided ahead of relocation/pack schedule. Diagrams of locations clearly marked. Packing materials to be provided.

3. Virtual: Servers and backups located at X. Backup redirects and switches and help lines available at specific times for certain vendors are available.

Remember that logistics was invented by the military. Most service members you know have never been in mortal combat, but all of them know how to examine the requirements of a project from a hundred different angles. If you don’t have the right staffing and equipment, you will fail. This part of the FPO, the admin & logistics part, ensures your ability to make the project happen and to keep it from slipping away.

If your achievement cannot be sustained, you have a bad plan. In business terms, you have a finance person for the plan, and an accountant for the execution. Finance people look ahead and predict and plan. Accountants tell you what happened and how much it cost you. Think like a finance person here.


1. Military: Where will the leaders be? What are the contingency signals? Emergency signals? Who is calling the FPF? (ask a vet what that is)

2. General office: Who’s in charge of each stage, and responsible for follow-up and assistance?

3. Virtual: Who gets called if there’s a glitch? Will there be status reports with pertinent information to monitor progress or problems?

Where will the communication and coordination come from?

What are the benchmarks?

Who does the trend analyses and decides to run a contingency, if necessary?

When will we know if we succeeded?

Safety tip: as part of your planning process, have an after-action outline drawn.

You want to be able to control the presentation of the success (or explanation for failure) of the project. It will be too late to pick up the broken glass when you are standing on it. Start your presentation during the situational development right at the beginning of the project plan

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