Understanding Unfamiliar or Uncertain Environments

PMESII-PT - Understanding Unfamiliar or Uncertain Environments

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PMESII-PT can help you to assess business opportunities around the world.

Carl's head is spinning. It's been a heck of a morning. His manager Kathryn traveled back last night from the Capacity Africa telecoms event in Kampala, and called him into her office the moment he arrived at work.

"It was a great show. I met so many people and got some great sales leads," she enthused. "Oh yes, and we're gonna open a new office in Abuja."

Carl leads the sales team of a medium-sized telecoms firm based out of Dallas, Texas. The business has grown quickly, with a focus on African expansion, and has recently opened sales offices in Nairobi and Johannesburg.

But it's fair to say that Kathryn's announcement has put him on the back foot. She has asked him to present a feasibility study to the senior management team the day after tomorrow.

Carl could use a modeling tool called PMESII-PT* to help him to focus his research and thinking. In this article, we'll explain what PMESII-PT is and how you can use it in your workplace. We'll then compare it with other analytical tools.


PMESII-PT stands for Political, Military, Economic, Social, Information, Infrastructure, Physical environment, and Time.

U.S. military planners developed the model to give teams on the ground a structured way to manage, organize and respond to the information that they receive during complex operations. However, by substituting "an enemy" with "the competition," you can put it to work as a highly effective business tool.

PMESII-PT allows you to assess an opportunity, threat or challenge in a structured and measured way. It helps you to gauge a wide range of variables, and to model the best ways to react to or predict changes in uncertain or unstable environments.

We look at the eight PMESII-PT factors, below:

  1. Political. This describes the distribution of political power and responsibility within a country, region or local area. It also examines whether that power is wielded by legitimate authorities or "unofficial" ones, for example there may be places where tribal rules hold more sway than the laws of a distant seat of government.
  2. Military. In a civilian context, this can describe the threat of terrorism or organized crime, and other security considerations, such as the presence and influence of local militia groups. These can impact the safety and security of your people, property and premises.
  3. Economic. This covers a wide range of variables, including access to energy and raw materials, labor, food distribution, consumption patterns, market controls, taxation, banking structures, and how goods are moved around.

    It also covers factors such as border controls, freedom of foreign trade, and protection from corruption.

  4. Social. This covers the cultural, ethnic, religious, and social makeup of the country or region where you want to do business. It includes people's languages, traditions and values.
  5. Information. This focuses on the collection, access, use, manipulation, and distribution of data and information. For example, it looks at the wider influence of, and restrictions on, mainstream media, and use of the internet and social media.
  6. Infrastructure. This describes the facilities, services and installations needed for a community or society to function: water, sanitation, power, waste management, hospitals, education, and roads, for instance. How much would you depend on these, and how much could you have to arrange for yourself if you decided to do business in a particular area?
  7. Physical environment. As well as the man-made facilities described above, you need to explore the natural terrain of the region where you'll be operating. This means assessing the potential impact of weather, climate, geography, and ease of movement on your business.
  8. Time. Time is perhaps the most nebulous of the variables. It can include the number and timing of national holidays, the length of the working week, and significant deadlines. For example, it could mean working out how the timing and likely aftermath of an upcoming election might influence the above elements.

Applying PMESII-PT in the Workplace

To get an insight into how to apply PMESII-PT to your organizational or commercial environment, let's return to Carl in Texas. His manager has asked him to develop a feasibility study for expanding into Nigeria. Here are some things that he might come up with, using the model:

Political. Carl should assess Nigeria's internal political structure and its relationship with its neighboring countries in west Africa, with the African Union, and with the continent as a whole. He should also look at the scope for building local relationships and partnerships.

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He will need to take into account that Nigeria is broadly divided into the Christian south and the Muslim north. Sharia law is common in the north, and this has implications for local business and banking rules, cultural behaviors, and even people's vacations and holidays.

Military. For most analyses (except if you're operating within the defense or aerospace industries), this will likely be the least relevant variable. Nevertheless, Carl may want to research the extent of the military's influence within national decision making or its importance to the overall economy. He will likely look into its successes or failures in dealing with extremist groups in northern Nigeria, and where in the country it's safe or unsafe to operate.

Economic. This will be Carl's main area of focus. He should examine the telecoms market within Abuja, across Nigeria and beyond. For example, he needs to weigh up the local or regional competition, and the potential for expansion.

Social. Factors such as language, public holidays, and ethnic and religious tensions will all likely be on Carl's radar. He must do his homework on Nigeria's cultural and social attitudes. His company will also need to understand the cultural norms of the people that they will be managing, and how and when they use mobile devices.

Information. Carl should examine the reliability and extent of the information infrastructure within Nigeria and further afield.

Infrastructure. He will want to assess factors such as mobile phone coverage, internet connectivity and distribution networks, and the electricity supply's reliability and reach.

Physical environment. This will be about issues such as the climate, the risk of natural disasters, and the ease of transporting goods and people to and within the region (although this last point also overlaps with infrastructure).

Time. Carl will need to assess his operational priorities in the context of national events and working practices. For example, will the timing of national holidays get in the way of specific operational deadlines? And might limitations on how many hours people can work affect productivity? He would also be wise to include the dates of national elections in his business plan. Nigeria has experienced an unusually large number of coups, so it would be sensible to schedule critical operations outside election periods.


PMESII-PT is not without its flaws. Its main weakness is that, because it was originally a military framework, some of its parameters may need redefining as they may not be relevant to a business or organization.

Alternatives to PMESII-PT

Although you can adjust or redefine some of the variables within PMESII-PT, you may find that other models help with your analysis as well. Here are three options:

  1. VUCA: this describes an environment or market that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. Like PMESII-PT, it was originally a military strategy tool. It calls for agile and pragmatic responses to unpredictable and changing conditions.
  2. PESTLE: this is an acronym for Political, Economic, Socio-Cultural, Technological, Legal, Environmental. This framework can help you to analyze these types of change in your business environment, and to understand the "big picture" forces that you may be exposed to.
  3. Porter's Diamond: this is a framework for gauging how business conditions differ from one country to the next, by analyzing four key elements: "factor conditions" (for example, the availability of people, raw materials, technology, and capital), level of demand for your goods or service, competition, and the strength and competitiveness of related industries.


Viable alternatives to PMESII-PT aren't always presented as modeling tools.

For example, Niall Ferguson's book, Civilization, offers a six-point list of factors that account for the success of advanced economies. The list, which comprises free competition, science, property rights, medicine, consumption, and work ethic, could be used as another framework for analyzing operational environments.

The key point is to adopt the framework of variables that best suits your needs, whichever model or tool it comes from.

Key Points

PMESII-PT stands for Political, Military, Economic, Social, Information, Infrastructure, Physical environment, and Time.

It was developed by the U.S. military and it can help you to analyze an operational environment, the threats and opportunities within it, and how you respond to them.

However, because it was originally developed for military applications, some of its parameters may feel narrow or less relevant to your business issues. Therefore, it's sensible to use other analytical models, too.

* Originator unknown. Please contact customer.helpdesk@mindtools.com if you know who the originator is.


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