Military Decision Making Process: What to Know About MDMP

If you’ve ever worked on a Battalion level staff (or higher echelon) there’s a good chance you participated in the Military Decision Making Process. And if you haven’t served at the Battalion level or higher, you should educate yourself on the topic so you can be prepared. In the paragraphs below, I will give you an overview of the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), so you understand the basics.

Things You Should Know About MDMP

Here are some basic things you should know about MDMP:

  • Used by Battalion level staffs and higher; smaller sized units use the Troop Leading Procedures.
  • It is a single, established and analytical process.
  • It is a tool that assists the commander and staff in developing a plan.
  • It is used in tactical and garrison environments.
  • The MDMP helps the commander and his staff examine a battlefield situation and reach logical decisions.
  • The process helps them apply thoroughness, clarity, sound judgment, logic, and professional knowledge to reach a decision.
  • It is a continuous process throughout the duration of the operation (before, during and after).
  • It is command driven, involves all staff sections and is normally led by the Plans Officer, Chief of Staff, XO or S3.

Commanders initiate the MDMP upon receipt of or in anticipation of a mission. Commanders and staffs often begin planning in the absence of a complete and approved higher headquarters’ operation plan (OPLAN) or operation order (OPORD). In these instances, the headquarters begins a new planning effort based on a WARNORD and other directives, such as a planning order or an alert order from their higher headquarters. This requires active collaboration with the higher headquarters and parallel planning among echelons as the plan or order is developed. ~ The Lightning Press

the military decision making process

Advantages of MDMP

Here are a few advantages of the Military Decision Making Process.

  • It analyzes and compares multiple friendly and enemy COAs in an attempt to identify the best possible friendly COA.
  • It produces the greatest integration, coordination, and synchronization for an operation and minimizes the risk of overlooking a critical aspect of the operation.
  • It results in a detailed operation order or operation plan.

Disadvantages of MDMP

Here are several disadvantages of the Military Decision Making Process.

  • MDMP is a time-consuming process.
  • It’s much EASIER for large, complex staffs to do MDMP than small Battalion level staffs because they have more MANPOWER and personnel.

The Military Decision Making Process: 7 Steps

The seven basic steps in the Military Decision Making Process are:

  1. Receipt of Mission
  2. Mission Analysis
  3. Course of action (COA) Development
  4. COA Analysis (aka Wargaming)
  5. COA Comparison
  6. COA Approval
  7. Orders Production

Let’s cover each of these seven steps of the Military Decision Making Process in more detail below.

# 1: Receipt of Mission

The mission comes from higher headquarters or is derived from an ongoing mission. On receipt of a new mission, the G3/S3 issues a WARNO to the staff. The staff immediately prepares for mission analysis (SOP preparation). Immediately the commander and staff do a quick initial assessment with emphasis on an initial allocation of available time. The commander issues his initial guidance, and the G3/S3 issues a WARNO to subordinate units. ~ Global Security

# 2: Mission Analysis

Mission Analysis is the means by which the main and alternate plans are created. It includes organizing the team to meet the mission objectives and making sure they have the means to succeed. It must also take into account the execution of critical tasks as well as the supervision of subordinates. An ability to adjust plans, assets and resources as necessary is fundamental to mission success. ~ Task Force Reaper

# 3: Course of Action Development

Course-of-action development is the foundation of the plan. Eliminating or inadequately conducting this step produces inferior estimates which impact on the remainder of the MDMP in the following ways. The commander, recognizing courses of action that do not adhere to his planning guidance or are not feasible, responds by having the staff do the work again, which wastes time. Or, in the absence of adequate planning time, the commander develops a course of action himself.

To develop a complete course of action, the staff must identify what, when, where, how, and why the unit will execute. A technique to quickly develop complete courses of action is for the XO to assemble the staff and follow the five-step method. The staff develops the courses of action together. While the S-3 develops the scheme of maneuver, the remainder of the staff integrates its assets within its functional area of responsibility. ~

# 4: COA Analysis (Wargaming)

COA analysis enables commanders and staffs to identify difficulties or coordination problems as well as probable consequences of planned actions for each COA being considered.

COA analysis (war-gaming) is a disciplined process. It includes rules and steps that help commanders and staffs visualize the flow of the operation, given the force’s strengths and dispositions, enemy’s capabilities and possible COAs, impact and requirements of civilians in the AO, and other aspects of the situation. War-gaming focuses the staff’s attention on each phase of the operation in a logical sequence. It is an iterative process of action, reaction, and counteraction.

Each critical event within a proposed COA should be war-gamed using the action, reaction, and counteraction methods of friendly and enemy forces interaction. ~ Challenge 2050

# 5: COA Comparison

Course of action comparison is an objective process to evaluate COAs independently of each other and against set evaluation criteria approved by the commander and staff. Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of COAs allows for the COA with the highest probability of success to be selected and further developed in an operation plan or operation order. ~

# 6: COA Approval

In this step the commander either approves the proposed COA or modifies a proposed COA or gives the staff a new COA. If given a new COA the staff must wargame that new COA.

# 7: Orders Production

In the final step of the Military Decision Making Process, the orders are published and sent to subordinate units so they can conduct their own MDMP or Troop Leading Procedures and prepare for the mission.

How Does it Work?

Depending upon the size of the unit, most units have a Plans Team in the G3 section. The Plans Team normally has a representative from each Staff Section (G1, G2, G3, G4, etc.) that work with the Plans Officer and S3. In smaller units, such as battalions, the XO and S3 work with the other staff sections to complete the process (S1, S2, S4, etc.).

Normally, when a unit receives an order from higher headquarters the S3 or XO bring the staff together to inform them of the order. At this point, everyone analyzes their respective section of the Operations Order to conduct mission analysis. They analyze what must get done; they brainstorm potential courses of action and create a WARNORD. They also get guidance from the commander and then analyze potential courses of action. Once they finalize a course of action, and get it approved by the Commander, they prepare an OPORD. That is the entire MDMP Process summarized in a nutshell.

7 steps of mdmp

My Experience

I was fortunate to serve as a G4 Plans Officer for about 9-months. Although I hated the job, I learned a lot from it. I was in this position while preparing for a deployment to Kosovo. The job is difficult, stressful, tedious, demanding, and sometimes frustrating, especially if your only experience is leading small units and having limited staff experience.

However, I’ve come to realize that Plans Officers and Staff Officers play critical roles in developing a solid, thorough plan that must be executed by their subordinate units. For that reason, I think it is a critically important job that should be reserved for the best-of-the-best. It’s also a great job for “future commanders” to serve in before they become higher echelon commanders.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the Military Decision Making Process helps commanders and staffs evaluate problems in an analytical manner, which allows them to make logical decisions on the battlefield. It helps them think through the problems and develop a solid plan to get the job done. Although it can be long and cumbersome, it is an important job.

On a side note, if you have experience with the Military Decision Making Process, I would love to hear from you. Please tell us about your experience, such as what you learned, whether or not you enjoyed it, what job you had, and any advice you would share with our other readers.

If you have any questions about the MDMP that I may be able to answer, you can ask them here too. Thank you for visiting.

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If you’d like to learn more about Army Operations, mission planning, and battle staff functions, I highly recommend this handbook on Amazon.

Other Posts You Might Enjoy
  1. Troop Leading Procedures
  2. Battalion S3 Duties & Responsibilities
  3. Types of Orders in the Army
  4. Military Career Tips
  5. The Officer NCO Relationship
chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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18 thoughts on “Military Decision Making Process: What to Know About MDMP”

  1. As an OPSEC instructor, we are trying to get personnel to start looking at Operationalizing OPSEC as a cyclic process during planning. As I am not trying to dive too deep into this on a public forum at the moment, I would like to pick your brain and possibly discuss the explanation of MDMP.

  2. Thanks for your reply. Sorry if I couldn't grasp the "S" before "3 Shop". Now it's crystal clear. By the way, your presentation of the US MDMP is extremely useful also for linguistic purposes. My students are Staff Officers in the Italian Army who are going to be trained in the NATO MDMP — which is only slightly different from the American model — and their training will be carried out in English. Right now they are attending a language course focused on military English. Thanks again.

    Pasquale Esposito
    Italian Army Language School
    Perugia, Italy

    P.S. I'm using my Facebook account to post this message because I'm unable to see the captcha image on my computer.

  3. Hi, my name is Pasquale Esposito and I work as an English teacher at the Italian Army Language School, which is located in Perugia, Italy. I have used your videoclip to create a gap-fill listening exercise for my students, who are Italian Army Officers. I have written down the script of your video and I have a doubt about an expression you use at a certain point. In particular, I'm afraid I can't understand the following expression: "this is where the 3 Shop produces the order and publishes it, and pushes it out to the subordinate units." So, what do you mean by "3 Shop"? Have I understood the expression correctly or am I missing something? I would very much appreciate your help.

    P.S. By the way, this is the complete script I have extracted from your video. Should you notice any mistakes, please let me know.

    === START OF SCRIPT ===
    Hello and welcome. Chuck Holmes here, creator of

    In today's video I'd like to take a few minutes and educate you about the Military Decision Making Process. Now, please know upfront that I have a lot of experience doing MDMP. I spent time as a Brigade S3, a Battalion S4 and a Brigade S4; plus as a G4 Plans Officer.

    Now, the MDMP is simply a seven-step process to make decisions in the Army. It's typically done at the Battalion level and higher, normally where there's an extensive staff, such as an S1, S2, S3, S4, S6 and other sections. It's when all of these sections come together and they basically formulate a plan for the Battalion, the Brigade or whatever size element that they are in.

    The seven steps for MDMP are: (1) Receipt of Mission. So, this is when an organization receives a mission from a higher headquarters. This starts the process. (2) Mission Analysis. This is where each staff section analyzes the order and determines what needs to be done. (3) COA Development. This is where a Course of Action development begins and gets started. (4) COA Analysis, also known as Wargaming. This is basically, "What is the enemy gonna do?", "What could happen right?", "What might go wrong?", "What can we do about it?". Next, (5) COA Comparison. This is where you compare two or three different Courses of Action that you developed. Next we have (6) COA Approval. This is where the Commander decides which COA they wanna pursue in their mission order. The final step is (7) the Orders Production. So, once the entire process is done, this is where the "3 Shop" produces the order and publishes it, and pushes it out to the subordinate units.

    Now, MDMP is really a great process. It can be a bit tiresome, long, drawn-out and a bit burdensome, especially if you have a small staff. I've found it's a lot easier to do at the General Staff level, where there is a comprehensive staff, as compared to the Battalion level, where there is typically one Officer in each section, and there is not a dedicated Plans Officer in each section. I've also used MDMP in my business and it has really helped me a lot. It really is a great process when it's done right. That's really the key to success. You need to have someone in charge of MDMP, either the senior… the Chief of Plans, the Battalion XO, the Brigade XO, but someone needs to be the tip of the spear and they need to lead the staff throughout each step of the process. If that happens, it's a beautiful thing. If that does not happen, it can be very, very frustrating.

    So, I really encourage you to take some time and educate yourself about MDMP, especially if you're a primary Staff Officer at any level in the Army, even an NCO who's about to take a staff job in the Army. And educate yourself, learn what it's all about, get some experience doing it. It's very beneficial, especially if you are going to be a senior commander at some point in your career. You're gonna be responsible for making sure that your staff gets this done.

    So, I appreciate your taking the time to watch this video. If you like to learn more about the Military Decision Making process, you can click on the link below this video and you will be redirected to my Web site where you can read more. Thanks for your service and have a wonderful day.
    === END OF SCRIPT ===

    Thanks in advance.

    Pasquale Esposito

    1. The S3 Shop is the Operations Section/Shop. Each unit has a:

      S1 Admin
      S2 Intel
      S3 Operations
      S4 Logistics

      The S3 Shop publishes all of the Operations Orders.

    1. Whenever I am dealing with a challenge in my business, or thinking about implementing a new idea, I walk the idea through the seven MDMP steps I mentioned in the article above. Sometimes I do that in 30 minutes and sometimes it takes much longer, depending upon the issue. Usually, the MDMP Process helps me “think through” the problem in an objective manner, come up with a solid game-plan, and get rid of the bad ideas. I hope that helps.

  4. We just did an OPD Class in my unit last month about the Military Decision Making Process. I will be the first to admit that I don’t have much experience with it, but I would like to learn. When I finish up my Company XO time this month I’ll be moving to the S3 Shop, so I definitely need to educate myself about it.

    1. You will get a lot of MDMP experience in the S3 Shop, Fred. And it’s good to get that experience BEFORE you ever become a Company Commander. Read the FMs, ask the S3 Officer for some good resources and training and you will be well on your way.


  5. MDMP is a beast! I just finished my first 12 months on Brigade Staff and we did MDMP all the time. I can’t say I enjoyed, but the process teaches you so much about mission planning that it is very worthwhile. As a young LT and CPT I never realized how much behind the scenes stuff that the officers do at the BN and BDE staff.

    1. Tell me about it. Whenever my enlisted Soldiers complained that officers didn’t do much “work” I would drag them to an MDMP or Mission Analysis session or task them to write OPORDs. That usually ended that complaint really quickly.

      Thanks for the comment.


  6. Thanks for this overview of the Military Decision Making Process. It certainly does sound complex and time-consuming, but then managing an army is a highly complex process. It’s reassuring to read that there’s such a logical and clear process for decision-making, although your assignment as a Plans Officer does sound like a painful job!

  7. While never having experienced the MDMP first hand, I have seen it in action many times and find it to be a very efficient process when performed correctly. The MDMP has many working parts and requires a level of familiarity to proceed at its smoothest. That’s not to say it is difficult though, it is a surprisingly simple process and easily applied to non-military situations as well.

    1. The MDMP is difficult, but all leaders can learn how to do it effectively with some practice and training. Also, if you have a good XO and S3 Officer that should help a lot. Every hour you spend doing the Military Decision Making Process makes your Soldiers’ lives that much easier when it comes time to do the mission.

  8. A brigade or battalion staff’s experience and proficiency with MDMP can make or break the unit. I’ve been on both sides (that is, in battalions with a smoothly-functioning staff and in those without), and when companies aren’t getting guidance from battalion (or as is more frequently the case, aren’t getting it timely), they’re left to improvise. Few things are more frustrating than putting together your own training plan in the absence of detailed guidance from higher only to then be told “Hey, you’ve got to do x, y, and z.” Staffs have to be able to quickly break down an OPORD from higher and get crucial elements pushed down the chain. These days I so often get an e-mail from our squadron ops SGM saying, “Hey, the order hasn’t come through yet, but heads up–such-and-such is coming.” It makes a huge difference.

    1. I’ve worked at both levels myself (battalion and small unit) and I agree with you, Daniel. At the company level, you want accurate, timely information from higher. That means the battalion or brigade staff must be proficient with MDMP and put out a thorough OPORD in a timely manner, so the Company Commanders can complete their Troop Leading Procedures and develop their own OPORD.


  9. As a civilian, I find the Military Decision Making Process fascinating. I truly believe that anyone could use this process, civilian or military, to work through a problem and develop a plan. I own my own business, but I believe I can incorporate this process into my own business with my staff and team of associates. Thanks for sharing.


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