Enabling International Duty Travel

MMU aircraft landing in lanzarote during EART exercise 2021

The picture above shows one of our aircaft during the EART exercise 2021. What evades the eye, is the intensive preparation such an exercise needs. Part of this preparation is going on a site survey – this means in this case going to Lanzarote, Spain, and examining the area. I was pleased that the realisation of below project made among others this site survey and many other duty travels possible.

Description and Setup

In this project, I was tasked to introduce and adapt an application to enable international duty travel. The project posed a challenge for two reasons. First, the project had to fit into a multinational environment. I needed to take into account the various ways that the nations conducted international duty travel. Second, the application was bootstrapped and ready for deployment. Therefore, I had to weigh two options. Either, I could ask for modifications. Or, I could go for a rapid deployment and learn about how the users use the application. The second option, however, came at the cost of a mediocre application.

As the office who should then as well maintain the procedure within my unit, the MMU, I was tasked to assemble a team and solve the issue within several weeks. Indeed, we started in November 2020 and could finish already in February 2021. We decided to make heavy use of the freshly available SharePoint. As well, we went for an agile approach. At the core of our approach was rapid prototyping: we wanted to get feedback as fast as possible. Lastly, while my team consisted only of three persons, we were involved with various stakeholders from especially IT and Finance. So the overall number of people working on this project might have been a dozen.

Actions and Outcome

Instead of starting from scratch, we tried to reuse as much information as possible. To our advantage, the application had been used by other units for quite some time. We thus did not start from scratch. Instead, we relied on their experiences. That way, we could save several weeks in development.

As for testing the application, I used the concept of tracer bullets. I learned about this concept from my experiences in software development. Tracer bullets work like this: one tries to come up with an (ugly) prototype as fast as possible. Along the road, one wants to see which roadblocks one might hit. Similarly, in this project, I had asked for several volunteers who had to go on duty travel. Step by step, I led those volunteers through the application. We thereby uncovered many bugs and things that needed thorough user documentation.

In the end, we had a good application. We provide our users an interactive documentation. It is built on SharePoint from PowerPoint and some custom code. Until the time of this writing, our users have used the application more than a thousand times. Eventually, it paid off to forego fixing issues that my team found annoying. Instead, we really looked at the user feedback and (unsurprisingly) came up with other things we needed to change.

My Personal Lesson Learned

It was one of my first projects in a multinational environment and thus I have picked-up many lessons in soft skills. Most importantly, I realised how different the Dutch and German militaries approach problems.

Altogether, I very much learned to value the Dutch way of doing things: results first, procedure second. In the German military we always focus on having the right procedures and responsibilities. The Dutch way is a bit more flexible about that. They care less about that. Instead, they care more about making a timely decision and results. Of course, both ways of doing things have their advantages and disadvantages. In this project, the Dutch “just do it”-mentality and support really added value. Without this approach, I am sure the project would have taken longer.