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Developing an effective approach to defence acquisition transformation

Together with the Defence Reform Review, the recent Defence Materiel Strategy will transform the UK Ministry of Defence's Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) organisation. A key element of this work is likely to focus on improving defence acquisition which, despite the best efforts of many in the defence community, is still not performing in line with expectations.

There is no doubt that the situation is difficult – the acquisition system has many ‘moving parts’, the issues faced are challenging and the environment is demanding. In addition, achieving the desired transformation and results can be difficult as the strategic thinking often focuses on the aspiration rather than practical delivery; much effort goes into designing complex change programmes intended to deliver long-term rather than early, tangible benefits. Together with implementation issues and changes of direction, this almost always leads to the delivery of reduced results, later than expected – illustrated by the ‘bottom curve’ model shown by the red line in Figure 1 below. So how can the defence community overcome these issues and deliver the transformation and results required?

Improving defence acquisition requires the defence community to focus on the strategy for execution as well as the intended outcomes of the transformation process.

No programme will succeed without a clear purpose and framework (the ‘what’) within which individual initiatives can be shaped. However, the strategy for execution (the ‘how’) is equally important. It needs to focus on delivering waves of transformation that will each secure benefits despite any changes of strategic direction – illustrated by the ‘top curve’ model shown by the blue line in Figure 1 below. There are three key factors that will increase the chances of delivering acquisition transformation successfully: 

Deliver ‘good enough’ solutions early

It is increasingly recognised that timely delivery of the ‘80% solution’ can deliver much more value than the late delivery of a 100% solution. This is as true for acquisition transformation as it is for the equipment programme and means:

  • defining discrete and time-bounded packets of work (eg 6-12 months) that are manageable and deliverable within current planning horizons

  • making changes that will have a positive impact within the time period – recognising that improving acquisition performance requires changes to the way the MOD operates

  • being objective about the value derived from each activity so that effort can be invested appropriately.

Do a few things well

Spreading activity across many parallel streams of work is likely to result in counter-productive and overlapping initiatives with key resources thinly spread, thereby weakening the chances of success. Instead, the transformation process should focus on:

  • selecting a few things to do quickly (and once complete, moving on to the next group of ‘few things’)

  • those changes that can deliver significant benefits by tackling the causes of inefficiency (for example, by establishing much clearer accountability and stripping back the layers of scrutiny).

Executed and communicated well, this approach will deliver tangible benefits and build momentum and confidence across the community.

Free up the resources to deliver

In defence and more widely, high-quality resource is rarely readily available to implement large transformations. However, now is the time to be bold; to free up those people who are willing to commit to the results and have the skills and energy to drive change across the defence enterprise. A decision to focus resource on doing a few things well should make this more achievable.

4D acquisition strategy top curve

Figure 1: Impact of strategic changes on delivery performance

Blue line
: Top curve delivery – a focus on delivering waves of transformation that will secure and lock in benefits quickly – before strategic changes cause disruption.

Red line
: Bottom curve delivery – execution strategies with 'back end loaded' benefits that are largely undelivered before the strategic direction changes.



To find out more about transforming defence acquisition and implementing the Materiel Strategy, or to speak to one or our defence experts, please
contact us now.

Nick Newman
Defence and security
contact us now
Ritu Sharma
Defence and security
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