CoveTalk | Accelerated Preparedness: Scalability Insights for Defence
14/05/2024

Like the Defence Strategic Review (DSR) before it, the recently-released National Defence Strategy (NDS) echoes an increasingly urgent tone on Australia’s strategic circumstances. Variants of the word ‘accelerate’ are used fifteen times in the NDS: projects, efforts, capability acquisition, capability delivery, processes and innovation are all highlighted for acceleration.

As every student of strategy knows: a strategy links together ends, ways and means. The NDS highlights the specific capabilities Australia will acquire (ends), and the accompanying Integrated Investment Program (IIP) outlines the resources to acquire these (means). To be strategically relevant, Australia must also have the ways to accelerate – the how.

How do we achieve accelerated preparedness, in practice, within Army and within Defence?

Scalability is an emergent field which provides powerful insights to answer this question, and Defence is not the only organisation that can benefit from deliberate scalability. Recent events (e.g. the COVID-19 pandemic, Russo-Ukrainian war, global economic inflation) have forced many organisations—public, private and for-purpose—to rapidly scale: upwards, downwards, inwards, outwards. Often this has been without notice or warning.

Scalability is about how an organisation’s performance responds to significant changes in workload. The workload may be changing in quantity (more, or less, of the same) or type (existing products and services, or new ones), challenging the current size and shape of an organisation.

Prepare to stand on the knowledge frontier, and be amongst the first to explore the why, what, when, where, who and how of scalability. Do you lead, or are you part of an organisation which has been asked to rapidly scale in response to contingencies? Then you need to attend this seminar and read this paper! Our presenter, COL Renée Kidson, is well-qualified to speak to this topic – she has just completed tenure as Army’s Director Scalability, and in 2022 wrote her award-winning[1] MBA thesis on this topic – Defence Scalability.

The key premise of this work is that an organisation can enhance its scalability. It can do this through sound scalability design, and through impactful scalability response. There’s a tradecraft to scaling well, involving both science (technical expertise) and the art form of ‘knowing your business’. Scaling well is also premised on understanding changes in the operating environment. Perfecting a tradecraft needs a pinch of theory, and a large dollop of practitioner guidance — preferably in advance of the need to perform it. This seminar and forthcoming paper dishes up both – in chef-prepared appropriate proportions.

The theory is cross-disciplinary and intuitive, and the practitioner guidance includes industry case studies which examine the recent COVID lived experience of scaling. Here are three good reasons to engage with this topic:

  1. First, bust some myths. What about the M word, we hear you say – aren’t scalability and mobilisation the same thing? Well – not quite. So be prepared to differentiate these terms. 'Scalability Insights for Defence' fills a void that has existed between 'Business as Usual' and 'Mobilisation' – whatever your type of organisation.
  2. Second, examine your leadership. The scalability leadership task is to ‘find and fix’ the sequence of binding constraints that any scaling response will encounter. This applies whether you are leading at an organisational level or leading individual business processes. Regardless, as a leader you will need a scalability mindset, sense-makers and a scaling strategy to do this. You will need to know the difference between first- and second-order scalability, and you will certainly need to know how your organisation creates value, and about its capacity components.
  3. Third, be challenged to think beyond BAU. This work challenges organisations to make scalability a design feature, not just an emergency response feature. How scalable are your business processes, your systems and your organisation? What will you do, when asked to scale? And for the ADF and beyond: how does scalability contribute to a Theory of Victory?

'Scalability Insights for Defence' provides the foundation knowledge necessary to start your scaling journey, whether your business is warfighting, leading a public agency, turning a profit or running a charity. Given the challenges facing Defence to scale in response to rapidly changing strategic circumstances, the insights in this seminar and paper can provide assurance of organisational resilience to those charged with leading change.

About the Presenter

Colonel Kidson is a SERCAT 5 Officer currently posted to Army Headquarters as Director Scalability. In her previous appointment as Commanding Officer, 5th Engineer Regiment she deployed to the NSW fires in 2019-20 as Task Force Commander. Colonel Kidson holds five degrees, including a PhD in Science from Trinity College Cambridge and a Master Economics (Honours) from the University of Sydney. A Science and Technology Executive, she is currently Group Leader, National Security at the Defence Science and Technology Group.

End Notes

[1] COL Kidson was awarded the Dean’s Merit List Prize for Academic Excellence for the MBA from Deakin University, completed as part of the Defence and Strategic Studies Course (DSSC), Class of 2022.