The Department of Defense needs more organizations like Kobayashi Maru and Kessel Run both within its acquisitions centers, and at the unit level.
These organizations bring tool development back into the hands of those who need them and are catalysts for insourcing change across the DoD.
Bringing a new software tool into an organization is one of the most powerful ways an organization can affect change.
This is generally the first choice for many organizations that want to execute that change quickly and see results right away. For example, the immediate impact the introduction of a CRM tool has on sales numbers, or a new supply chain management application could have on overhead expenses.
Executives across all industries are often intimately involved in software development and implementation because they understand the power these tools wield over the organization’s bottom line. This means that there are often significant resources dedicated to internal software development teams or consultants with which the organization partners. Rarely does an organization hand over a requirements document to an external development team and hope that what they get back actually delivers results.
While this is the way things happen in privatized commerce, software development in the federal space isn’t so streamlined.
In fact, software development within the Department of Defense (DoD) is conducted in exactly the opposite way.
Tremendous effort is dedicated to creating monolithic requirements documents that are prioritized, handed over to external acquisitions agencies, and then contracted out to third parties. Not only do operational units within the DoD outsource software development, but they are also isolated from the developers through the acquisitions apparatus. As a result, these organizations have absolutely no involvement in the development process and are relegated to hoping that the developers can interpret their needs by referencing the requirements document alone. Far too often, the tool that the developer delivers does not meet the needs of that organization, and that tool is ultimately abandoned, wasting taxpayer dollars and valuable time.
DoD organizations have lost faith in the process, and no longer turn to tool implementation to affect change within their respective organizations. Instead, they turn to process changes to boost effectiveness and efficiency, either in attempts to keep up with an ever more competitive environment or to just keep their heads above water in the face of a continually shrinking workforce.
Process change is the only avenue available to commanders that has not been outsourced, however, it can only deliver bounded improvements, as an organization will always hit a performance limiter set in place by the physical and digital tools at their disposal.
Unsurprisingly, we have not seen a true change in the way the DoD does business on a large scale since the introduction of Microsoft office 30 years ago. To this day, operational units within the DoD rely heavily on MS Office to conduct business, and they will continue to do so if nothing changes.
It is time that DoD organizations insource change.
They need to retain the authority and autonomy to develop software tools at their respective levels in order to remain effective in light of the continual digitization of the emerging and traditional warfighting domains. This means that software development can no longer be outsourced through an acquisitions apparatus, but instead, must be developed by organic development teams or in direct partnership with a development firm. The DoD’s most successful software factories have seen meteoric growth and user adoption largely due to their willingness to partner with organizations like Rise8, Pivotal Labs, and VMware. These organizations bring industry best practices, knowledge, and tools to the table in order to jumpstart development, all while enabling the client to be the subject matter experts. This combination creates tailored, effective software tools, delivered at a rapid pace.
Kessel Run at AFLCMC and Kobayashi Maru at SMC are proven examples that validate this model. Enabled by their partnerships with top-tier development firms, both Kessel Run and Kobayashi Maru have delivered operational tools at breakneck speeds, and are quickly enabling the DoD to change the way they do business. The units these organizations support are quickly moving away from MS Office as their software backbone and onto a new set of tools, tailor-made for their needs as warfighters. Kessel Run and Kobayashi Maru are all but removing the performance limiter set in place by previous toolsets and are opening up brand new possibilities for the future of how units within the DoD do business.