Case Study

New Zealand Defence Force Innovation Strategy

Arming the NZDF with an actionable innovation strategy

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) stands as the stalwart protector of New Zealand. Comprising of the New Zealand Army, Royal New Zealand Navy, and Royal New Zealand Air Force, the NZDF serves diverse roles, from defending territorial waters to contributing to global peacekeeping efforts. The pivotal responsibilities undertaken by the NZDF highlight its commitment to ensuring the safety and prosperity of Aotearoa and its international partners.


How do you enable staff to become effective innovators? Especially when there’s a natural command and control environment.

That was the challenge for the New Zealand Defence Force. There was a desire to unleash and drive more innovation, but no formal strategy in place. Without the specialist skill-set in-house, they looked for a partner to formulate a strategy that would motivate innovation at every level.

Methodology & Implementation

IMS Projects, who had already worked with the Royal New Zealand Air Force, were chosen to lead the project.

The key was to develop an actionable innovation strategy – something tangible that would engage, empower, enable, and encourage all defence force personnel to be effective innovators. NZDF recognised the need to build an innovation capability to remain effective and relevant in a complex world of rapid and dynamic technological and geopolitical change.

“We needed something with teeth,” says Yogi Stockler, Deputy Director Defence Excellence. “A tangible strategy that garnered support and buy-in, but also gave people something to point to when forwarding their own ideas.”

The complexity of organisational needs across each of the three forces, made this an extremely challenging assignment. Previous attempts to establish and embed such an innovation strategy had only limited success. It would be critical to engage widely across the three forces and with their civilian staff to establish key agreements and alignments. That would lead to a relatable and actionable strategy capable of getting wide support.

The six month process began with a series of interviews to scope the current situation, find our who was part of the puzzle, and measure the level of intent. An in-person two-day kick-off workshop was then held in Wellington with key personnel. This session agreed, at a high level, the key needs to be addressed by the innovation strategy and the requirement for it to support the existing NZDF strategy. To enable efficient and active engagement and participation with staff from across all functions and locations, IMS Projects structured the remainder of the process as an online engagement program. Regular, targeted and well facilitated Miro whiteboard topic discussions were supported with shared documents and online surveys.

“People wanted to turn up.” recalls Yogi. “They were really engaged and inspired. We got great feedback.”

IMS Projects also included external subject matter experts in these discussions.

The engaging facilitation fostered enthusiastic participation and support by NZDF staff. This allowed the inherent complexity to be quickly reduced to 5 key areas of focus.

Over a period of months each of the 5 focus areas were dissected and simplified, using the same online facilitation process to identify and agree on the key capabilities needed to be addressed.

The inclusive approach resulted in an easily understood strategy, simply documented on a single A4 page, in a way that individuals from every area and level of the NZDF organisation could understand and relate to.

Each of the 5 key focus areas that were needed to support the strategy were also simply described and specified in plain language on individual A4 pages.

A supporting document outlined the timeline for key actions to be completed over the next 3 years to bring the strategy alive, with each of these actions broken down to 90-day plans.

“The IMS team did a great job of steering and keeping sessions focussed on point. Giving people space to talk share thoughts, but getting results.”


IMS Projects work with NZDF has created an ‘enablement model’ that allows innovation initiatives to be incubated within an individual service, but also able to deliver significant value to the wider organisation.

There is now a simple and direct path to senior NZDF leadership support, funding, and domain expertise, ensuring every opportunity to succeed. At the same time each service has the freedom to facilitate and deliver innovation initiatives to meet their own unique needs. The level of leadership and cross organisation buy-in enabled by IMS Projects, plus the simple understandable plain English approach, has ensured a commitment to action that will help NZDF achieve its innovation ambitions.

Already as a result of the strategy document being socialised the Chief of Navy has released an Intent of Innovation. “So we have a very senior leader publicly pro-innovation and ready to help others over any hurdles…” reports Yogi. “We’re moving from a default ‘No’ to a resounding default ‘Yes!’”

“ The wealth of experience IMS provided was incredibly valuable. Their knowledge and understanding really helped shape things.”

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