Lean in the Military

development Jul 08, 2021

Lean Methodology and the Integrated Review; Defence in a Competitive Age

Hello readers! For those who watch the news as obsessively as I do, you will have certainly seen the role the British Army has been playing in delivering the UK’s vaccination programme. More recently however, you may well have also come across the Defence Review published by the UK Government earlier this year to both praise and consternation.

The Defence Review is part of a broader Integrated Review of the UK’s role in the world and outlines ongoing and anticipated threats to the UK and its interests, chief among them cyber, space and ‘grey zone’ warfare just under the threshold of conventional conflict, as well as the way in which these threats will be addressed. As such, the report can be said to represent a pivot towards an Army which can more robustly deal with these less traditional threats, with announcements including a £5 billion investment in space capabilities and £6.6 billion for research and development of new military technology, whilst what we might traditionally associate with the Army of troops and tanks are set to decrease slightly, down to 72,500 from 76,000 and 227 down to 170, respectively.  

Now, how does any of this relate to Lean methodology, I hear you ask. Well, one of the key themes of the review relates to the ‘Army of the future [being] leaner’, with the skillsets and capabilities in areas such as analytics of those who are in the Army stressed over its pure size in ensuring that it is ‘more effectively matched to current and future threats.’ Another related theme is agility, both in terms of confronting these threats early and providing deterrent, but also in terms we are perhaps slightly more familiar with here at SALC, processes; specifically of procurement and ensuring that it smoothly meets the needs of the Army as those needs change. Although as we know the word ‘Lean’ is often used in the less conceptual sense, as it possibly is here, these ideas can be brought firmly into Lean territory with the Continuous Improvement Fundamental, allied with the reduction of Wastes, ensures changing needs, or ‘Pull’ can be responded to as rapidly as possible.

This is not to say of course that the military is totally unfamiliar ground to us. In 2007 we delivered a Rapid Improvement Event and subsequently a short course to the 51st Infantry Brigade up in Stirling as it was then in which we introduced Lean methodology and its practical use in the daily work of the administrative teams. The feedback from those events seems to have underscored the applicability of Lean, with the sort of issues mentioned above such as staffing levels, procurement and time management being raised and examined through the lens of Lean. In the case of the course, although it was a short course, what we tried to do in Stirling was to emphasise the importance of embedding Lean as a culture which runs through departments in delivering savings, as opposed to being about cutting an organisation to the bone. In this sense, whilst the Army’s engineering division REME has tended to be a Lean stronghold, it is perhaps hard to say from the Integrated Review whether Lean methodology is intended as a solution for the Army more broadly than just a turn of phrase, but there seems to be a willingness to become ‘Leaner’ and can only hope the actual methodology is incorporated, because as we have explored, it can make all the difference.

‘A very worthwhile day’

‘Team exercises – as there was a mixture of ranks and civilians in the group, different views and opinions were expressed’

If you want to experience the sort of benefits expressed in some of this feedback relating to these events, get in touch today at [email protected] to see how we could help.