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Hacking for Defense @ Stanford – Week 6

We just held our sixth week of the Hacking for Defense Class. Now with over 660 interviews of beneficiaries (users, program managers, stakeholders, etc.) the teams are getting deep into problem understanding and their minimal viable products are getting sophisticated enough to generate detailed customer feedback; we gave them advice on how to “stand and deliver” in class; and our advanced lecture explained how to find and measure mission achievement.

(This post is a continuation of the series. See all the H4D posts here. Because of the embedded presentations this post is best viewed on the website.)

Stand and Deliver: Preparing for Presentations
In other classes I’d normally check-in with students in the middle of the quarter / semester to hear any concerns. But in this class I don’t. Not because I don’t care, but because I know what response I’ll get in the middle of the quarter having insisted on an impossible pace while beating them with a stick. (In week 9 we’ll get the teams off the customer discovery treadmill and use that session for “reflection”. They’ll look back in awe at their own accomplishments.) This week, instead of a mid-class check-in, I give the Stand and Deliver presentation. In it I remind them what to do to prepare before each class session, tips on what to do when presenting in the class, and thoughts about opportunities after the class.

If you can’t see the Presentation Click here.

BTW, when I first starting teaching I noticed that teams picked the most articulate team members to give the weekly Lessons Learned presentation. And while that makes sense for a fund raising pitch, it’s the wrong model for a classroom – I want everyone to learn how to present. So each week we select a different team member to lead their team presentation. This means that even students whose first language isn’t English are up in front of the class presenting at least twice during the quarter.

Filling in the Gap: Advanced Lectures
Our advanced in-class lectures are designed to fill the knowledge gap between the on-line lectures and reading assigned for homework and the new realities of the Mission Model Canvas and the DOD/IC as beneficiaries.

The goals of the weekly advanced lectures are:

  1. Define what specifically the teams need to accomplish outside of the building in the coming week to test their hypothesis for that specific part of the canvas
  2. Describe why the next part of the mission model canvas is important (to the user, organization, country, etc.)
  3. Offer specific examples of the deliverables we expect to see in their next week’s presentation as a result of their discovery

We can gauge how effective the lecture was when we see the team’s slides the next week. If the team presentations are all over the map, then our lectures were not effective. If the presentations across the teams are consistent then our lectures were on-target. This is a pretty quick way for us to tune our content.

This week some of the teams failed to present anything about last week’s buy-in lecture so it was a wakeup call that we needed to be more prescriptive in the lectures.

A pivot is defined as a substantive change in one or more components of the Mission model Canvas (any of the 9 boxes). A pivot occurs after learning that your hypotheses about a specific part of the canvas are wrong. Often it’s a change in who’s the beneficiary / stakeholder / customer. Or it may be a change in the value proposition you’re delivering to those beneficiaries or it can be a substantive change in any of the 9 boxes of the canvas.

The two most important parts of a mission Model Canvas are the beneficiaries and the value proposition. The combination of these two is called “product/market fit.” If you’re not getting beneficiaries grabbing your value proposition out of your hands, you don’t have product/market fit.

While this sounds simple, as the teams are discovering this week, you don’t get a memo that says your hypotheses are wrong. At first you just get ambiguous data. You think hmm, perhaps I just need to talk to more people or the “right” people or just tweak the feature set. After a while you begin to realize your assumptions are incorrect, (or in this class, it’s even possible that the sponsor’s assumptions were incorrect.) It feels depressing and confusing. Finally, it dawns on you that it’s time to consider a pivot. A pivot is the lean methodology’s way to fire the plan without firing people. Pivots are what allows startups to be agile, and to move with speed and urgency.

In an actual startup, trying to complete the rest of the mission model canvas if you don’t have product/market fit is just going through the motions. Yet for the purpose of the class (versus an incubator) we do just that – we keep marching the teams through each canvas component because we want to teach them about all nine parts of the canvas. This creates cognitive dissonance for the teams – on purpose. Even though they are focused on learning about the next part of the canvas, every team continues to tenaciously search for that fit. (If we would insist they do it, it would feel like extra assigned work. When they do it on their own, it’s because it’s an obsession to solve the problem.)

This week we are seeing the typical class distribution. Several teams are in the despair, depressed and confused stage, a few are coming to the realization that it’s time to pivot, and others think they have product/market fit. It’s all part of the class. They and you will be surprised where the teams end up by the end of the class.

Team Presentations: Week 6
This week the teams’ assignment was to understand how to get “buy-in” inside their sponsors’ agency: specifically, how do they “get, keep and grow” their product inside their sponsors’ agency/command from initial interest all the way through expansion.

Aqualink started the class working to give Navy divers a system of wearable devices that records data critical to diver health and safety and makes the data actionable through real-time alerts and post-dive analytics. Now they understand that the problem the divers want solved is underwater 3-D geolocation.

Slides 3-11 are a good example of what is required to go from initial Buy-in to scale in the sponsors organization.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Sentinel initially started by trying to use low-cost sensors to monitor surface ships in a A2/AD environment. The team has found that their mission value is really to enable more efficient and informed strategic decisions by filling in intelligence gaps about surface ships from heterogeneous data.

Slide 11 is the team’s first pass at understanding what a get-keep-grow pipeline would look like. Note the details of the “get” stage – awareness, interest, consideration and purchase.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Capella Space started class believing that launching a constellation of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites into space to provide real-time radar imaging was their business.  Now they’ve realized that the SAR data and analytics is the business.

On slide 3 Capella gave me a reminder why Customer Discovery in this class is hard. In most other classes we insist in face-to-face interviews and if those aren’t possible high resolution video conference. This way you can read their body language and see their reactions to minimal viable products. But for some in the DOD/IC that’s not possible. The team realized that sending their MVP before the interview got them very different reactions then just conversations.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Right of Boom is trying to help foreign military explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams better accomplish their mission.  Now they are developing systems, workflows, and incentives for allied foreign militaries with the goal of improved intelligence fidelity.

The team is discovering that the value proposition for the problem they are solving may not be a hardware or software solution, but perhaps could be solved by different information flows across the beneficiaries.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

NarrativeMind is developing tools that will optimize discovery and investigation of adversary communication trends on social media, allowing ARCYBER and others to efficiently respond and mitigate threats posed by enemy messaging.

This week the team further refined the rapid funding of R&D and prototypes through a funding mechanism called Other Transactional Authority in Slides 2-5. They further refined the org chart of who owned the problem within the DOD/IC in slide 6. They further refined their Minimal Viable Product to product/market fit in Slides 8-10.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Skynet is using drones to to provide ground troops with situational awareness – helping prevent battlefield fatalities by pinpointing friendly and enemy positions.

Slides 3-4 are the team’s first pass at understanding what a get-keep-grow pipeline would look like. Note the details of the “get” stage – awareness, interest, consideration and purchase.  In slide 5 the team had a first demo of their MVP auto tracking of drones.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Guardian is trying to counter asymmetric threats from commercial drones. This week the team worked to understand what a get-keep-grow pipeline would look like in slides 5-7.  Their sponsor invited them to attend the drone conference at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. The team will be flying there and back in between classes.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Advanced Lecture – Mission Achievement
Joe Felter presented the advanced lecture on Mission Achievement.

In a business the aim is to earn more money than you spend and you measure achievement/success by the revenue you bring in. In a mission-driven organization such as the defense and intelligence community, there is no revenue to measure. Instead you mobilize resources and a budget to solve a particular problem and create value for a set of beneficiaries (customers, support organizations, warfighters, Congress, the country, etc.)  So we ask the teams: how do you measure mission success/achievement for both the sum of the beneficiaries and for each individual beneficiary.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Lessons Learned

  • The deeper teams dig into the problems some are discovering their initial hypotheses about product/market fit are wrong
    • Some are also discovering that they are adding to their sponsors understanding of the problem
  • This creates uncertainty and confusion
    • Some teams are in the “ditch of despair”
  • They all come out of it
    • with a deeper understanding of the problem and the product/market fit between the beneficiaries/value proposition
  • Many of them will pivot
    • This is what enables Lean teams to move with speed and urgency

Filed under: Hacking For Defense, Teaching

This post first appeared on Steve Blank | Entrepreneurship And Conservation, please read the originial post: here

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Hacking for Defense @ Stanford – Week 6


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