Stop the Madness and Kill Innovation Theater in the DoD

3 mn read

It is a joke.  A sad, macabre joke. And it is infuriating to anyone willing to actually pull their head out of the shiny object ayahuasca trip and see that it is creating more damage than it is benefitting the DoD, and particularly the Air Force. I have a simple solution, that will likely be challenging to adopt. It involves taking the time across government organizations to directly tie the call for solutions to an actual mission effect. Some ideas such as increasing weapon accuracy, and improving the speed and security of software delivery from the cloud to forward-deployed units, a means to effectively integrate legacy weapon systems’ data. As well as, enhancing target acquisition, tracking, and weapon system queuing. So, stop the madness and kill innovation theater in the DoD.

Here is my number one problem with all of it, particularly the AFWERX SBIR Open Topics. Without clearly defining the purpose and focus of the innovation efforts to address clear, defined, and necessary mission effect requirements, most of them are being MADE UP. These completely fabricated, bullshit justifications that will never see the end users’ systems. Few people within the DoD are holding the facilitators of these efforts accountable for delivering anything to mission users in the field, and they will not have it in their hands. The VC approach being touted? Apply true VC value delivery evaluation methods (Growth Boards, etc) to SW factories’ and different products.

If you’re working on building shared capabilities, organize the reason around delivering a mission effect. Then you can get your technology brains, your acquisitions gurus, and your industry partners all aligned on that larger objective. Then you Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (PDSA) over, and over on it to keep improving on what it takes to deliver the mission effect. Or, if something is an experiment just to take the first steps to prove it out. GREAT! Acknowledge that. Those are good things too.

It is somehow acceptable to provide a nebulous justification like “bringing innovation to the Air Force” or “introducing new capabilities to the DoD innovation ecosystem.  Are we though?

Listening in to the AFWERX/AFIMSC Innovation Industry Days breakout sessions in January about “crossing the chasm” I heard very few substantive discussions where the government accepted feedback from industry on how to help the program and processes around the SBIRs. There needs to be a better way of connecting these SBIRs to the mission users.

Specific mission threads or mission effects should directly tie to Open Topic SBIRs. Almost a hybrid approach that isn’t a specific component or capability for a weapon system. But a more general concept area that is fed directly from the operational force.

The SWEGs are looking for improving their cloud-to-jet software release architectures. There is the modernization of the systems integration labs and then there are the DT/OT bottlenecks. Let’s focus SBIRs on maximizing the scale and veracity of automated testing so that we can alleviate the DT/OT burdens to just the essential airworthiness evaluations.
Or if we emphasize some shortfalls in technical capabilities around the “Installation as a Weapons System” to enable ACE? Or for the Army and USMC – give some objectives around functional comms within denied or contested environments. Don’t give me an open topic to anywhere.  Give me a mission area. Allow the industry to swarm on the problems. Do that with an intent to fund, evaluate, and field solutions as they mature through direct feedback from mission users.

Apply the Zero-to-One approach and bring users into the initial concept and solution development process as customer feedback sources. LOSs and MOUs are great, but they can be manipulated. Open topics have turned into boondoggles for SBIR mills to abuse. And AFWERX keeps getting more funding and promotions with very little to show for it. Especially in terms of delivered capabilities and mission effect to the operational force.

AFWERX would be a force multiplier if they could bring MAJCOM CSOs based on mission users’ requirements to the industry. Then work to facilitate open dialog between the customers at MAJCOMs, PMOs, and operational AF at the Group level and below. Allowing for industry and those customers to converse over the mission needs.

Also, for God’s Sake, read The Value Flywheel Effect and Zero-to-One.

Stop focusing on the things you have “delivered,” focus on the mission effects that need to be supported. #StayFocused

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