Skip to main content

Ministry of Defence: Through Life Management

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported to Parliament today that Through-Life Management of the delivery of military capability is complex. It involves major change for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and those doing business with it. The MoD has more to do to embed the Through-Life Management approach and realise the full range of benefits that it offers.

Through-Life Management is an integrated approach to management of the delivery of all aspects of military capability, from identification of the need for the capability to its disposal. It is at the heart of the Smart Acquisition reforms launched through the Strategic Defence Review in 1998 and aimed at faster, cheaper and better acquisition and support of equipment. Through-Life Management is closely linked to other changes such as how the MoD manages requirements, technology, suppliers and risks.

Today’s report recognises that the MoD has progressed the implementation of Through-Life Management alongside other major and resource-intensive changes such as Resource Accounting and Budgeting. The MoD has given priority to these other changes, many of which are important enablers to Through-Life Management, for example rapidly and successfully introducing Integrated Project Teams1 as Sir John reported in March 2002.

The change to Through-Life Management has proved a greater challenge than anticipated and the MoD has not yet fully developed and coherently managed all aspects of the change. There has been continuing support from senior management, but this has not always been consolidated into a clearly visible strategy. The definition and benefits of the change are not yet clear to everyone involved and it has yet to become fully embedded in the MoD and to yield widespread benefits in terms of demonstrable improvements in military capability. The MoD recognises that more needs to be done and now has a plan in place for executing the change to Through-Life Management. This plan has the potential to provide a coherent framework for managing the change effort.

New tools and information sources, new mechanisms for engaging and changing the behaviour of those involved in acquisition and new ways to measure and demonstrate successes are all essential to Through-Life Management. These enablers are not yet fully in place.

Progress in setting in place Through-Life Management Plans2 has not been as quick as the MoD would have liked. Better progress has been made recently in establishing data on the costs of owning equipment across its whole life. More remains to be done to resolve difficulties around the complex interface between the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organisation to facilitate seamless Through-Life Management. Some mechanisms for promoting Through-Life Management behaviour are not yet fully effective. Measurement of the progress and success of Through-Life Management has been patchy and is still developing.

The report makes a range of recommendations to help drive through the change to Through-Life Management. These centre on how the MoD could develop its approach to managing Through-Life Management as a change programme, and how the MoD could manage the enablers of Through-Life Management more proactively. Sir John’s recommendations are listed in Part 3 of his report.

"Through-Life Management offers many benefits both in terms of better-informed management of acquisition programmes and better delivery of military capability. The MoD has undertaken massive change over recent years including the implementation of Through-Life Management. It has introduced a range of initiatives that should help it to develop a Through-Life Management approach but has more to do to embed this approach and realise the full range of benefits that Through-Life Management offers."

Sir John

Notes for Editors


  1. The Integrated Project Team is the body responsible for managing a project from concept to disposal. The Smart Acquisition Integrated Project Team is characterised by its "cradle to grave" responsibility, the inclusion of all the skills necessary to manage a project, and its effective and empowered leader.
  2. A Through-Life Management Plan is defined by the MoD as a plan which "takes a project through its life, across the acquisition cycle, meeting customer needs and providing visibility to all stakeholders of the Through-Life planning process."
  3. This report by the Comptroller and Auditor General is the second in a series of three examining whether Integrated Project Teams are helping to improve defence equipment acquisition. The first study on implementation of Integrated Project Teams was published in March 2002 and the third study, planned for 2004-05, will examine whether Integrated Project Teams have improved acquisition performance.
  4. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  5. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 800 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 41/03