The programme is designed to provide a “more productive, more lethal, harder-hitting Joint Force able to counter conventional threats and deal with the new challenges of asymmetric conflict”. Core to the programme is building on existing plans, as well as integrating advanced new equipment, and using technology to harness and co-ordinate operations by and between land, sea, air, space and cyber functions.
In outlining the programme in March, the Defence Secretary stated the objectives of “In practice this will mean taking our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to the next level, hoovering up information from beneath the waves, from space, from across the increasingly important electro-magnetic spectrum finding out what our enemies are doing in high-definition and providing artificial intelligence – enabling analysis that can stay ahead in a fast-moving world”.
Because of its sheer scale, the initiative carries a number of risks and opportunities.
For the independent think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), “officials in the Ministry of Defence charged with delivery of the UK Modernising Defence Programme would do well to heed the title and take a robust programmatic approach to their task”.
Upon closer examination of the scale of work involved, this need becomes even more apparent. With work strands split into organisational development and reform, efficiency management, commercial and financial management, and capability development, the programme is indicative of the convergence being witnessed in both the private and public sector in which IT and business operations are increasingly becoming one and the same thing. And with enduring questions as to the Ministry of Defense’s commercial management acumen and operational efficiencies of previous programmes, the need to approach this challenge in a different way could not be clearer.
The first three work-strands of the programme, organisational development and reform, efficiency management, commercial and financial management, fall under the remit of the MOD’s COO and Financial Director. From a programme management perspective, this already throws up the potential for the programme to become dysfunctional given the potentially different interpretations that these two offices could apply to the programme from the outset.
It therefore becomes all the more important for a clear programmatic objective to establish the goals in the early stages. Broad terms and political buzzwords such as ‘protect, project and promote’ that were laid out in a 2015 Strategic Defence and Security review of do not offer value in programme management terms as they are not specific or measurable in the way that process models, capability maps, ecosystem designs require.
Given this, RUSI recommends the government adopts a portfolio or programme management approach to provide the 2018 iteration with a stronger footing on which to build success. In line with good programme management principles, this led RUSI to recommend that the project be approached from the starting point of generating defence capabilities, which then leads to forming an understanding of which capabilities will be developed or retained. With these requirements established, the focus can then move to delivering them in the most efficient and optimal ways possible, and sub-projects for delivering, sustaining, continuously refreshing and tweaking those capabilities as needs arise.
In RUSI’s approach, the principles of sound programme management are clear – senior leadership identifies the end-game and requirements, before working together to align staff, funding, equipment and materials, knowledge and skills, and time to deliver what is required.
During this process, the risks and opportunities involved in the delivery of the programme would be effectively captured, developed and managed throughout its lifecycle. For this to be achieved effectively, the four work strands identified earlier would need to merge so as to give primacy to the capability strand in order for it to inform the three enabling work strands.
This approach, if executed correctly, mitigates the limitations of previous such efforts the MOD has embarked on, and avoids the exercise becoming one of political soundbites, short-term thinking, capability cuts and resulting inefficiencies.
If the programme is a means to an end, what end is actually being sought? Is it sufficiently specific and measurable so as to give the programme the potential to be a game-changing one, or just another glossy policy initiative?
The MOD’s stated goals for the initiative are to deliver wider economic and international value and national security objectives, help UK industry be internationally competitive, innovative and secure, and make it easy to do business with the MOD.
But can this be translated into effective programme management? The answer will depend on whether these goals can be translated into what effects are required in practical terms, and what inputs are needed to create the appropriate effects. The fundamentals of good business process analysis come to the fore – understanding where the MOD is now, where it wants to go, and how it is going to get there.
Taking just one of the stated objectives – making it easier to do business with the MOD – demonstrates just how an effective business process analysis approach could help in achieving this. The MOD’s ‘customer’ in this case would be a supplier. Strong business process in this case would enable effective mapping of that supplier’s touchpoints and interactions involved in selling to the MOD, identifying ‘moments of truth’ at which the supplier may risk exiting the process, personalise the process to that supplier depending on various defined factors, ranking those touchpoints based on what the supplier feels about each one, and then linking those touchpoints to internal processes and align them to support the goal of facilitating easier business with the MOD.
There is no doubt that this is a big challenge. But with the right programmatical approach, there is certainly the potential to go further than previous incarnations of defence modernisation.