Securing Defence’s Seaworthiness

A well-defined objective, flexible design modelling and bombproof implementation: secrets to the success of the Defence Seaworthiness Management System project.

The design and ongoing implementation of the Defence Seaworthiness Management System (DSwMS) for the Australian Department of Defence is among Brooke’s proudest achievements. This case study demonstrates how we think differently, and how this enables us to crack the most complex problems.

The problem

As an ominous Cyclone Yasi bore down on Queensland in February 2011, Australia’s Minister for Defence received bad news. The amphibious Naval ship he had been promised was on-call to mount a potentially life-saving humanitarian response, would not be aiding anyone. The vessel was in fact unseaworthy.
The resulting public uproar increased in volume when a subsequent investigation – The Rizzo Review – found that the incident was symptomatic of much bigger problems surrounding the maintenance of Defence’s maritime assets.
Ships and submarines were not being properly maintained, there was a shortage of naval engineers, and there was inadequate risk management, compliance and assurance. It was not even clear who owned the ultimate responsibility for the seaworthiness of the fleet.
This meant that vessels were often putting to sea with numerous known defects and even more seriously, with many undetected problems. Most damning was the finding that Defence were well-aware of these systemic problems, and had failed to take on board the findings and recommendations of numerous previous reports.
The Department of Defence would take this report on board and get serious about change. The Review called for the development of “an integrated risk management system for maintenance of Defence maritime capability” to address the shortcomings it had identified. The Department brought Brooke in to help make it happen.

A well-defined objective

The scope of the problem faced by Defence was expansive and highly complex. The risk management system needed to cover pretty much anything that floats– ships, submarines, powered and non-powered equipment of all sizes, diving systems and water borne drones – and ensure they were fit for purpose. Part of the solution would inevitably be based in technical processes, but it was clear that there were also cultural problems to be addressed. So where did we start?

The first step in the process was, and always is from our perspective, an obvious one. Define the objective. Clients often find that their existing objectives are too narrow, that they are focused on a single activity or deliverable rather than an outcome, and need to be rethought.

The challenge for the Defence staff and Brooke consultants in the design team was to define the objective in the context of Defence maritime capabilities. Many risk management approaches take a functional view, in which the objective is defined around a risk category such as safety. However, the team took the view that Defence maritime mission systems do not exist for the purpose of being safe, but instead have the primary objective of being able to achieve specific missions – whether they be engaging an enemy, or delivering humanitarian aid in peacetime.

The objective of the DSwMS was ultimately defined as achieving the mission, while minimising the potential harm to people and the environment.

Outcome focused regulation

The design team examined many existing regulatory frameworks, but found that they were overwhelmingly prescriptive in nature. That is, they prescribed specific activities (e.g. follow these 6 steps) or deliverables (e.g. fill out this template). This approach has two fundamental problems. The first is that people assume that if they do what the regulations tell them to do all risk will be eliminated – and if something does go wrong it must then be the regulator’s fault. The second is that it is near impossible to write a rule that works for every situation. As new or unforeseen situations arise there is an impulse to add more and more rules and to try to cover every contingency. But this just means that those asked to understand, obey and enforce those rules struggle to keep up with the growing mountain of regulatory requirements.

With the defined objective in mind, the DSwMS design team identified that they were working with a dynamic system that required dynamic risk management. The regulations needed to both empower and keep accountable the people best placed to manage the risks – the people doing the work, the practitioners.

The team developed a set of regulations that focus on the outcomes required at an organisational and mission system level to achieve the Seaworthiness outcome. By mandating these more granular outcomes (the what and why), the practitioner is left free to determine the best way to achieve each outcome in the circumstances (the how). That is not to say that practitioners are free to do whatever they like, as the regulations require systems of control be developed, maintained and monitored for each regulation.

Bombproof implementation

Many clients want to put all their money and energy into the design phase, and only consider implementation once the design is finalised. While this may deliver a glossy report and pats on backs, this is a fatal error. A project’s goals will never be realised without a strong focus on implementation.

While the implementation is ongoing it has already been recognised that the buy-in to the DSwMS reform has been unprecedented in Defence. So how did we do it? Through forward thinking, testing, communication, education and perseverance.

It was understood from the outset that this challenge was all about people and changing the way they work, or as the Chief of Navy VADM Tim Barrett succinctly put it at the time, the goal was to create “10,000 Seaworthiness practitioners.”

For this reason, implementation was developed in parallel with the design, not as an afterthought.

This included the implementation strategy – what to implement where and when – as well as the implementation tools and change management approach to be used at each touch point. Early field testing was also crucial to identify barriers that needed to be worked through to ensure implementation didn’t fall flat.

Implementation was designed around a release-based approach. Each release was developed as a holistic, integrated and self-contained package designed to make a step change in the way the organisation worked. Each release built on the previous one to take Defence on a coherent and logical journey to the future design.

Champions of the design who believed in the need for change were identified early, and their engagement was vital to achieving buy-in from stakeholders. While a huge amount of thinking and subtlety went into the project design, the risk management system itself was designed to be relatively simple from a practitioner perspective, making it easier to socialise.

Measuring the success of DSwMS

At Brooke our definition of success is not when we have come up with a great idea. It is when that idea has become the new norm. We don’t rest until this happens, or until we see results that indicate that it will happen.

Implementation is ongoing, but one of the strongest indicators of success has been support from across the traditionally siloed arms of Defence. Stakeholders are now requesting the management system documentation as they acquire new assets, to ensure they meet requirements and regulations from day one. There is “pull” for the system from across Defence, with people anxious to engage and wanting to know when it will be “their turn”.

The project has also already been recognised as world leading, attracting interest from defence forces in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates as well as one of the world’s major mining companies.

We relish every opportunity to work on complex problems with senior decision makers and project managers in Australia’s largest and most important government departments, institutions and businesses. But working with the Department of Defence on the Defence Seaworthiness Management System has been particularly rewarding.

We would like to congratulate and thank our partners in the Defence Seaworthiness Project and the broader Defence maritime community whose passion, perseverance and integrity underpinned the success of the project.

To learn more about the DSwMS or outcomes call our Canberra team on +61 2 6198 3244 or email

For more details about the Defence Seaworthiness Management System please read:

The Brooke team and The Office of the Defence Seaworthiness Regulator were honoured to receive a high commendation for the DSwMS at the Australian Institute of Project Management’s 2018 Project Management Achievement Awards.