Military and Police

How United Airlines and Customer-Facing Businesses Can Learn from the Military’s War Game Process

“Businesses must use the War Game Process to make sure that they have plans that stand up to the harsh glare of public scrutiny and the unyielding repetition of social media.”

It seems like the last thing that United Airlines needs is a lesson from the military after its “passenger re-accommodation” fiasco, its public relations mishandling of the situation, and the overall tone deaf response, when, in fact, United Airlines and other high touch, high stress customer-facing businesses desperately need to use the military War Game Process.

The goal of the War Game Process is to use the dry run execution of your draft business plan to determine your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses, and then take that information to create an improved business plan that has the highest chances of success.

The War Game Process is intended to be a very detailed interplay of your business plan versus the competition’s plan to ensure that the friendly business plan has the best chance of success. In a military war game, the military force arrays all its primary and supporting forces against the enemy and then enacts the phases of its military operation, while doing its best to “play” the enemy and anticipate the enemy’s effects on the friendly plan. The outcome of the War Game Process is a military operation that has been tested against the expected enemy’s actions to create a better plan that will succeed.

The key part of the War Game Process that United Airlines must learn is the technique that ensures a plan allowing the business to anticipate when things do not go right. The vast majority of businesses with similar procedures, processes, and set-play customer interactions create plans for when things go according to expectations or vary only slightly with a flight delay or cancellation. The military War Game Process is best when the plan has gone completely off-plan and the business must now anticipate and execute an effective reaction.

The War Game Process uses a step called “Branches and Sequels” that helps leaders understand when their plans take a turn for the worse. This step for United Airlines and others looks to understand, plan, and anticipate what to do when passengers do not take the maximum amount of compensation or do not release their seat according to airline policy. The central aspect of the War Game Process is the fact that a team must have a coherent, robust, and engaged discussion that creates a new plan for how to deal with a very difficult set of circumstances.

The War Game Process is an excellent, cost effective, and quick way to test business plans in their effectiveness prior to execution. War games have many structural rules that, when followed, keep the War Game Process timely, strategic, and moving along. Strong war games make business plans better because they fully incorporate the business’s best opinions concerning what the competition will do to defeat their business plan, while incorporating that knowledge to create safe guards and counter measures to ensure the success of the business plan.

Businesses must not seek to criticize United Airlines because the plight of the organization could have been and has been the plight of hundreds of other businesses. Businesses must use the War Game Process to make sure that they have plans that stand up to the harsh glare of public scrutiny and the unyielding repetition of social media. The War Game Process is present so businesses can create innovative and resilient playbooks that maintain their brand, maintain their business models, and, most importantly, respect their customers when their business processes go temporarily awry. The War Games Process is a vital business step to ensure success in a complex, chaotic world.


The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Chad Storlie

Chad Storlie is a retired Lieutenant Colonel with 20-plus years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. Chad is author of two books: "Combat Leader to Corporate Leader" and "Battlefield to Business Success." Both books teach how to translate and apply military skills to business. He has been published in The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and over 40 other publications. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University. Follow Chad @Combattocorp.

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