Change management and physical restructuring of the Irish Defence Forces

Change management and physical restructuring of the Irish Defence Forces

Introduction and background to the project

The Irish Defence Forces are the armed services of the Irish Military consisting of Naval Services, the Air Corps, the Army (covering ground and air operations) and the Reserve Defence Forces consisting of part-time military members. Commissioned officers in the Defence Forces are granted their commissions by the President of Ireland, with supplementary decision-making and presidential representation occurring through the Irish Minister of Defence. It is the responsibility of the Defence Forces to secure the state against foreign and domestic threats, prepare the state for terrorist and non-terrorist armed military threats, ensure peace-keeping in the country, and provide humanitarian relief efforts coordinated with support from the United Nations. Domestic non-combat activities include policing of fisheries, bomb disposal and stabilising chemical threats (Defence Forces Ireland, 2013).

In 2009, the Irish Defence Forces began to over-run its allotted budget for operations, which had been set at €688 million. Economic conditions lingering from the 2008-2010 economic recession, which led to a variety of austerity packages imposed, by Irish government, to stabilise and improve the Irish economy (O’Brien, 2012; Burns, 2010), made it necessary to restructure the Irish Defence Forces. The government could not afford another budgetary increase to secure effective and productive operations. This restructuring involved labour reduction in key services, reduction in barrack presence in key strategic regions, condensed tangible resource allocation to the Forces, and redeployment of posted servicepersons to undertake front line operational roles (Forde, 2012). At the same time, changing cultural mind-sets within the Irish Defence Forces became part of the project as the Defence Forces in the country had been criticised for being resistant to change; this required human resources focus to build a more cohesive, vision-centric and flexible military organisational culture.

This report identifies and evaluates the project management aspects the Defence Forces’ recent reorganisation. It focuses on providing an explanation as to why it is a legitimate project, a critical examination of the successes and/or failures of the project, and makes recommendations as to how the reorganisation could have been improved by using alternative or improved project management strategies.

Analysis – Why the reorganization is a project

Project management is defined as being a discipline of operational science in which planning, organization, human motivation, and resource control efforts contribute to achieving a set of specific and desirable goals. Projects are short-term objectives with a specific beginning and well-defined end by which the effort is intended to be completed. Thus, projects are time-constrained and impacted, by financial resource availability and human ability/capacity, to ensure that project deliverables are met (Nokes, 2007).

Projects must meet all endeavours, objectives and goals whilst taking into consideration all known or expected constraints that could hinder productive outcomes. These constraints include time, scope, budget and quality (PMI, 2008). Jeston and Nelis (2008) support this definition of projects, indicating that the three most paramount characteristics of a project include cost, deliverables, scope and time to completion.

The Irish Defence Forces reorganization is, therefore, a project as the timeframe by which the reorganization was to be completed was January 1, 2013, one year after it was launched in early 2012. The reorganization required constant identification of zones where budgets could be condensed along the military value chain, recognized project scope that included not only domestic services but also the impact on potential international efforts that are currently part of the Defence Forces military organizational model. The project established quality evaluation tools, involved specialist laborers, who constituted key areas of the project, and required the completed project to be feasible (a final deliverable) within a set operational budget. Furthermore, the reorganization involved a variety of stakeholders at each stage, all with tacit knowledge in their domains. In organizations with disparate units (in this case the different service divisions), it is estimated that 90 percent of all knowledge is contained within the minds of specialists (Wah 1999). This project involved routine consultation of specialists in human relations, military operations, engineering and construction, procurement, and public relations to make the project a success. Since no specialist activity is disparate from achieving the reorganization, a formal project management structure was required to facilitate coordination and cooperation.

This particular project refuted the weaknesses of the traditional PM waterfall model proposed by Royce Winston (1970), which explicitly asserts that one phase of the project cannot be completed until previous stages are concluded. Instead, the Irish Defence Forces reorganization followed the spiral model, a cyclical model of PM in which certain phases are repeated until each phase reaches a level of maturity acceptable to stakeholders upon evaluating the project (Nelson, Nute, and Rodjak 1998). The spiral model illustrates that one phase can be in the planning stage whilst another phase is achieving closure, thus over-lapping phases cyclically until project completion.

Source: Project Management Know How. (2013). Project management models. [online] Available at: (accessed 20 May 2013).

Refer to Appendix A for a Gantt chart representation of the project highlighting its key stages and over-lapping activities from specialist contributors.

Critical examination – success, failures, and evaluation strategies

The reorganisation project involved an initiation stage, serving as the foundational planning methodology for establishing the appropriate human capital required, an assessment of then-current operations strategies, and a project charter illustrating the project scope and an appropriate delineation of specific responsibilities along the project. This was accomplished by evaluating the strategic operational capacity with different posts for deployed military divisional members, and their potential impact on security within the border and in relationships with international stakeholders. The initiation phase determined that €688 million was not sufficient to engage international stakeholders properly, whilst still being able to defend an appropriate military security infrastructure within Ireland. Concurrently, initiation determined the level of appropriate military labourers that would be required to satisfy the strict €688 million government-mandated budget. It was during initiation that the project planners determined that labour would need to be reduced from a previous cap of 11,500 to 9,500 (Forde 2012).

Thus, having encompassed the preliminary aspects of the project, the Irish Defence Forces realized it could not sustain a three Brigade system for the Army strategically or financially; there was a need for a consolidated two Brigade system (Irish Defence Forces 2013).  The Irish Defence Minister, Alan Shatter, received three different proposals from the Chief of Staff and Secretary General justifying capacity and operational strategies for reducing the volume of Brigades servicing the Irish Army that could also sustain operations with significant reductions in available resources (Shatter 2012). In terms of establishing evaluation measures related to the initiation and planning phases, there were ample senior-level analyses that identified how to adjust operations whilst maintaining appropriate security management based on solid strategy proposals for how to adjust the military operations model effectively under a leaner procurement and resource distribution ideology.

The Irish Defence Forces did not achieve appropriate planning in the project in determining cost predictability. This is the ability of project managers and planners to predict cost estimates associated with the project throughout all phases identified in the initiation stage. Cost predictability is “an assertion based on the basis of data, theory and experience, but in advance of tangible proof” (ICPT, 2012, p.2). Believing that the operational strategies provided by the Chief of Staff and Secretary of State would be sufficient for ensuring cost controls in each phase of the project, the Defence Forces were unprepared for cost over-runs in certain phases of the project. Though the exact budget allotted for the reorganisation project was not published by the Defence Forces, there was a general expectation that funding for the project would come from taxpayers which served as a preliminary foundation of budget planning. However, this change agenda was informed, post initiation, that these changes must be transparent to the taxpaying citizen; organic change must be wholly internalised utilising the annual budget provided to the military forces (Clonan, 2009).

This changed the scope of the project to include increased involvement with the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO. This organisation was founded in 1991 under legislation from the Defence Amendment Act which provides RACO with funding capabilities for various associations involved with the Irish Defence Forces (RACO 2013). Why is this important in determining the success of the project? Lt. General Sean McCann acknowledged that the project’s post-implementation phases received considerable resistance to change from key stakeholders, something not considered in the initiation and planning phase of the project. For instance, the PDFORRA, an organisation which represents active soldiers in the Defence Forces, published public anger sentiments about downsizing and removing 500 jobs from the military operations model (Brady 2012). More stakeholder relationship management had to be included into the project management model in order to avoid a backlash of negative public relations, funding losses, and general concerns from citizens that the change reorganisation would impact the security of the Irish state. As such, McCann was forced to assign change champions in multiple divisions of the Forces and along the various phases of the project to ensure that reputational damage did not jeopardise the success of the organic change project. Whereas it was anticipated that closure of the project would result in a training model that would be short-lived to encompass all people affected by the changes, it is believed that training will take years (Brady, 2012. This is due to all of the different stakeholders that are now part of the project ranging from public relations to general stakeholder management. Taking into consideration difficulties due to public and private resistance, the project is yet to reach its total completion. Trainings are still being facilitated to ease stakeholder concerns and backlash. This is an example of the need for a cyclical model of project management to ensure effective deliverables. This is because complications along the original planned model of reorganisation continue to over-run the original timeframe anticipated for completion.

The Defence Forces model has historically been autocratic, where decision-making uses a top-down approach. Decisions are made at the senior level and move vertically downwards with little opportunity for labour sentiment and problem-solving. Grieves (2010), however, iterates that change must be negotiated to motivate individuals and reduce resistance to change. The project did not take into consideration the impact of human resources and internal change resistance that continued to impose constraints on achieving effective phase outcomes. The goal of the project was also to change the cultural characteristics of serving members internally. However, utilising an autocratic methodology of command and control during the project was insufficient for the psychological outcomes, thus impeding project success. Fairholm (2009) indicates that to develop a desired culture, communications must be transparent and open. There must be an established vision and mission, and leaders must be coaching, educating and inspiring. There is no evidence that the project planners and managers considered the impacts of psychological resistance that impedes change objectives and strategies. Leaders should have established a sense of psychological safety, which ensures that the psychological needs of key stakeholders are addressed and satisfied (Terrell 1989). Ford and D’Amelio (2008) indicate that when change is implemented along an established model, managers often become the victim of irrational psychologically-driven responses that impede change success.

Since change implementation and restructuring was to be carried out wholly by internal service-persons, delays in phase completions were complicated by labourer sentiment about their potential security within a downsized military model. During the Vietnam War, the United States Army attempted a similar downsizing effort to reduce cost burdens along their defence strategies. However, in another highly autocratic military model, there was little emphasis given to soldier behavioural components and psychology which led to distrust among congressional representatives and de-motivated servicepersons who attempted to sabotage the project’s advancement (Riker-Coleman 1998). This, and situations like it should have provided a project management benchmark that utilised more effective evaluation tools in the Irish Defence Forces reorganisation project, including 360-degree feedback mechanisms, change champions to address human needs, and a total quality management framework to ensure servicepersons adhered to project expectations.

Additional supplementary aspects contributing to the project

Research provided no evidence that the Defence Forces reorganisation project utilised appropriate models to ensure proper budgeting and cost controls of the project. Traditional project management models for assessing success are cost-benefit calculations, the use of expert surveys, value-benefit analyses, and recurring risk auditing (Heizer and Render 2004). Consistently, due to internal resistance and external stakeholder influence, the scope of the change project continued to change, which increased the need for additional financial and labour resources to guarantee project success within the expected timelines. Since the project was wholly internalised, the Defence Forces should have recruited or trained key officials on adequate control methodologies that could have improved the assessment of cost problems and potential risk (which invited public backlash from a variety of stakeholders). For instance, a basic equation relevant to project management is a measure of productivity, which is a simple mathematical equation of output produced, divided by resources consumed (Jain and Daga 2009). There is no evidence that advanced accounting and PM evaluation efforts were occurring as aligned with traditional PM strategy and models. This is a human resources-based issue, and an oversight of senior project governance or it is, perhaps, the product of an organisation operating with a €688 million budget believing that cost over-runs could be offset with reductions in other areas throughout the year. Whatever the legitimate case, the reorganisation did not maintain an efficient measurement system that could have enhanced successful phase completion throughout the project.

Recommendations for improvement

Contemporary literature in project management indicates that human behavioural responses must be considered in order to ensure change, a qualitative factor of PM. Though many of the quantitative phases of the project such as troop deployment for security efficiency and establishing new homogenous Brigades with an emphasis on cost controls were completed successfully, no measurement systems to evaluate and address psychological safety and change resistance were considered in the project. Because of this, the training capacity is insufficient. In addition, culture of resistance still lingers within the ranks of the Defence Forces, and there are no models established to engage external stakeholders productively. There is a general sentiment that the recent restructuring could endanger the safety and well-being of Irish citizens, something that could have been eliminated if project managers and planners had established a promotional, public relations-focused campaign to address multiple stakeholder needs in the external environment.

Additionally, the accountancy function of the project should have been an integral contributing component to the reorganisation as it would have better predicted short-run costs, allocated expenditures appropriately, and measured the actual return on investment for each phase of the project. An assigned strategic management accountant with practical experience in finance could have been the financial leader of the project. This individual, when working within a project, usually has a less-biased and more holistic view of the entire organisation and the change effort that can provide valuable economic insight where required (Wu, 2007). Though it is true that adequate and above-average analyses occurred at higher levels of the Defence Forces’ hierarchy, there were few little more than autocratic management systems used as control methodologies during the project, which was insufficient for achieving effective project success. It should be recognised, though it was clear that the culture change objectives of the project, from an autocratic and controlling culture to a more inclusive and cohesive culture, in which insufficient financial evaluation of the project was simply a product of a non-inclusive culture with very little communities of practice and inter-professional engagement between disparately-ranked servicepersons.


The Defence Forces reorganization had a variety of positive achievements, as well as negative events that stopped it from meeting its one-year timeline for total project completion. From negative external stakeholder sentiments and public relations problems to failure to recognize human capital dimensions that contribute to success, the organization could have benefitted from a more holistic view of project management had it used modern theories and models of PM control, planning, and implementation. If the Defence Forces had followed a benchmarking strategy, aligned with similar change practices and special projects, and been more supportive of the human resources function along with the project, it is likely that the reorganization would have been more aligned with to original proposals provided to the Minister of Defence, prior to launching the first phases of the project in 2012. On a ranked scale between 1-10 in which 10 represents a superior project management success outcome, the Irish Defence Forces reorganization would score a moderate “4” taking into consideration adequate alignment with PM strategy, models, focus, flexibility, and best practices in project leadership.


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Appendix A: Gantt Chart for Irish Defence Forces Reorganisation and Change Project

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