Ready 5

“Launch Maverick on Alert 5!” is one of the classic lines from the 1986 movie Top Gun. For those unfamiliar with naval aviation, the “Alert 5” condition, also called “Ready 5,” is the placement of one or more fully manned, fueled, and armed aircraft on alert status to be airborne within five minutes of the launch command.

While impressive for many, such rapid action is common in military aviation. The Marine Corps has a Rapid Response Planning Process (R2P2) process that directs a full mission to be planned and launched within six hours of receiving the order. For context, a standard mission that follows the traditional planning process can take days or even months to plan, depending on the complexity of the operation. Could the business community benefit from such a rapid execution mindset?

Sadly, it is uncommon for an organization to have its essential processes and procedures documented in such a way as to promote quick action. The fact that any processes get documented is a positive development. This is especially true if a firm is small or has undergone rapid growth, making procedure capture difficult to accomplish amid high-volume day-to-day activity. While a documentation gap in an organization may be understandable on the surface, no business leader should overlook the importance of capturing its standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Easy-to-understand and complete documentation of a company’s way of working is essential to driving consistent and prompt execution with an expected level of quality. They also form the foundation for onboarding new hires, accelerate the learning for new role holders, promote cross-departmental understanding, highlight accountability, and offer opportunities to eliminate waste and redundancy when viewed end-to-end.

There are a multitude of ways to memorialize a company’s processes. Process flow charts, Integrated Definition (IDEF) models, value stream mapping (VSM), Responsible Accountable Consulted & Informed (RACI) matrixes, tutorials, videos, computer-based training (CBT) curriculums, wikis, SharePoint sites, DropBox structures, third-party software applications, and countless other techniques all have pros and cons. The best fitting tool or format will differ from organization to organization, depending on its technology acumen, process management knowledge, resource availability, time constraints, frequency of use, and knowledge management expertise.

Businesses brave enough to wade into SOP creation waters must determine which processes are core to their operations, top candidates for documentation, standardization, and communication across the enterprise. Candidates include:

Hiring Process
Product Development Process
Service Delivery Process
Sales Process
Billing Process
Change Management Process
Risk Management Process

A comprehensive account of how each step of a core process is performed, by whom, when, and to what standard is the desired end state. The more detailed, the better. But even if organizations have successfully defined all of their SOPs, there will still be failures in execution.

It will be a challenge for even the most tenured employee to remember all aspects of every core process, let alone the plethora of other processes, procedures, or work instructions that underpin the core processes and bespoke, yet expected, situations. Steps will be forgotten, performed out of order, or confused with the actions of a different process. A tool is needed to facilitate consistency. Enter the checklist.

Checklists are common in the high-risk industries of medicine and aviation. A single botched procedure in either of these industries could lead to disastrous outcomes. Checklists help lessen the risk. Checklists remind users to perform each critical task in the correct sequence. Checklists ensure that simple steps are not missed or skipped and that everyone talks through and resolves hard or unexpected problems.

Checklists bring tremendous benefits, especially when performing an infrequent process. They assist with learning the easily forgotten process details or the murky unknowns of learning a new task you’re unfamiliar with. A checklist ensures each employee performs the core process the same way, emphasizes what is important, provides the correct sequence of events, and lessens the need to rely on memory. Checklists reduce risk, improve safety, drive efficiency, ensure consistency, and deliver results.

Returning to Maverick and Alert 5 — to quickly execute while reducing operational risk, the military heavily relies on SOPs and checklists. They ensure the mission-critical items are accounted for, and consistent training to the standards of their SOPs means their actions are predictable by all involved. Checklists and SOPs speed up execution in the military and can benefit businesses in countless ways.

Once a business’ core processes are captured and communicated, each can be condensed to its essential steps to form a rapid action checklist (RAC). Now armed with SOPs and RACs, when time is short, and the need for effectiveness is high, these tools can permit an organization to execute quickly, predictably, and with reduced risk.
RACs can be used when the unexpected happens. Weather emergencies, restoring business continuity, responding to last-minute client demands, switching to alternative work structures, supply chain disruptions, customer escalations, and the unthinkable active shooter are all examples of unexpected situations when RACs can prove useful.
One could argue that the benefits outweigh the labor effort to put these pieces in place. Businesses should identify core processes, establish SOPs, develop checklists, and, where necessary, build RACs. The final step is to communicate the utility and value of those tools to instill a rapid-action mindset across the organization.

Do you want the peace of mind that your company is ready to launch on high-priority business missions at a moment’s notice? Visit to schedule a complimentary consultation and start your journey to mitigating your operational risk.