On the night of June 5th and the morning of June 6th, paratroopers and glider infantry followed by a sweeping amphibious assault began the invasion of Europe – a military feat that remains without equal in the rest of history.
That historic day in 1944 signaled more than any other the end of World War II and the Nazi regime. Today, the D-Day Invasion holds many lessons for the business, logistics, engineering, and design professions as they face an uncertain and challenging future.
Lesson 1: Defining success is more important than identifying how to achieve success.
In the preparation for the invasion, the parachute and glider forces trained relentlessly how to achieve their mission objectives of securing key bridges, cross roads, and other key terrain following their midnight parachute assault.
However, when the invasion came, the airborne infiltration was a disaster.
Different airborne forces were miss-dropped and scattered throughout the French countryside – it appeared the invasion was off to disastrous start. What saved the day was a military concept called “Commander’s Intent,” where the military commander identifies what success is, so when a plan has to be adapted, everyone acts with initiative and determination to achieve the mission objectives.
That is precisely what happened that early morning and day of June 6th in Normandy. Different airborne units joined together, determined their location, and successfully accomplished their mission. The design business lesson is that we need to let employees, customers, and suppliers know what we can achieve and why. This way, as new customer requirements quickly arise, we can quickly adapt to different operating environments as well as a dynamic competitor(s) and still achieve the defense objectives.
Lesson 2: Leadership at all levels matter.
Normally, we read about how the real architects of victory were the Generals and Admirals responsible for the planning and executing the invasion. True, but for successful combat operations, like design challenges, success happens on the front lines.
We seldom hear of the USS McCook, a Navy Destroyer led by Lieutenant Commander Ralph L. Ramey assigned to provide direct naval gunfire support of the Omaha landing beaches. The USS McCook steamed close in and ran parallel to the invasion beaches, providing devastating fire on German positions… and also provided a perfect target for German gunners.
The sailors of the USS McCook never touched the sand of France that day, but they were critical to the invasion. The design business lesson is those front line leaders that meet with customers, ensure safe business environments, create new products and services, and find ways to reduce costs are your frontline leaders. They are the ones who truly meet the needs of customers and end users.
Lesson 3: Innovation has to be tested before the battle.
During the D-Day invasion, there were several “great” new ideas that failed miserably under the conditions of combat. During the invasion, paratroopers were given the famous “leg bag” to take extra ammunition which ripped off in the high winds when they jumped from their airplanes.
Tanks, which play a critical role in establishing a beach head, were fitted with waterproof “skirts” and other flotation devices so they could swim in to the invasion beaches on their own. Many of the skirts failed and the tanks sank even before reaching the beaches.
Innovation is critical to delighting customers and often times meeting the requirements of new customer concepts, but the new ideas have to be rigorously tested and improved prior to customer delivery so they do not fail at the moment of truth.
Lesson 4: Small, effective teams can change everything.
For the Allies, the small Jedburgh teams were a silent and essential element. The Jedburghs (or Jeds) were small teams trained in espionage, communications, explosives, and ambush who were dropped behind enemy lines months before the invasion.
These teams made contact with the French Resistance, scouted German positions, and made their own plans to sabotage German rail lines and troop areas on the nights leading to the invasion. The Jeds made a huge contribution to distracting the Germans in their logistical areas which provided the invasion force critical breathing space to accomplish their initial missions.
The design business lesson is to dedicate resources to teams and technology that can decisively change the game to help your customers – helping your customers succeed in ways they have not yet imagined is the best way to defeat the competition.
Lesson 5: Training and rehearsal makes the difference for success.
Individual soldiers, sailors, and airmen were all trained so that they knew how to do their job as well as fulfill the critical responsibilities of their comrades. More importantly, military formations of large groups of people rehearsed day and night, so vital functions of resupply, vehicle repair, and casualty evacuation could be accomplished.
The high levels of individual and unit training were critical to reversing the impending signs of disaster on Omaha beach in the early hours of the invasion. Training and rehearsals with your equipment, services, and contract support personnel in as many combinations as possible demonstrate how your company can perform operations safer, more cost-effectively, and with fewer operational interruptions.
Businesses of all sizes can achieve success when they remember those critical hidden lessons of the D-Day Invasion of identifying success, valuing leadership, testing innovative ideas, creating small teams, and training their teams to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive and technologically demanding space.
Remember those brave individuals who faced impossible odds during the D-Day Invasion and then apply their lessons of success to your design & engineering challenges.