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How to deliver complex transformation – three lessons from the UK’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation

The UK government’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) spends £3.3bn each year as it manages over 1,000 sites around the world. We’ve been helping this enormous organisation transform to deliver better service to its customers while saving hundreds of millions of pounds. And we’ve learned some valuable lessons that can help others through complex transformations.


Build team collaboration

Be inclusive when building the team – it might take longer and you might need to take risks around who to include, but it’s worth it.

We ensured the DIO transformation used diverse teams of people working together on common problems. The most effective teams on the programme often included a blend PA people, DIO staff and our two strategic business partners (Capita and AECOM).

By building strong, joint teams, we created a culture of working with the organisation that made it easier to identify issues and fix problems collectively. And by working together, both the DIO and industry have shared knowledge, learned from previous experiences and built a sustainable skillset to maintain the transformation’s success.

Be agile

Goals and expectations are likely to change over the course of a transformation, so be sure to design flexibility into your approach.

When we started work on transforming the DIO, the organisation had developed a vision and structure for the programme. The Ministry of Defence had also set firm dates for some parts of the transformation that we couldn’t miss.

To meet these deadlines, we adopted an agile approach. We worked in quarterly tranches to deliver elements of the transformation and plan ahead. This approach took time to bed-in, but the programme board has benefited from being able to ‘veer and haul’ to maintain the aims of the programme. This inbuilt flexibility also ensured the direction could be modified when priorities changed in response to new information.

Articulate the value added

Focusing on the result is difficult but essential, even if contracts and reviews focus on the short-term

The DIO transformation programme had over 100 milestones. It would have been easy to focus on successfully delivering these individually, but this could have been a risk to the overall aims.

That’s why we focused on the success of the overall programme, using the milestones as checkpoints along the way rather than key goals. The trick was to identify and articulate the value adding activity and challenge anything else - even milestones. By focusing on the value, discussions about redundant milestones were easy.

A successful transformation needs to know where it’s going but be flexible enough to change its path. Focus energy on the end-game at all times and work together in mixed teams to make the magic happen.

Contact the author

  • Richard Lenton

    Richard Lenton

    PA defence and security expert

    Richard helps public and private organisations transform to realise strategic, operational and people benefits across their enterprise

    Insights by Richard Lenton

Contact the defence and security team


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