If an opportunity to master the “art of the possible” piques your curiosity, one of DAU’s latest initiatives merits exploration. This year, DAU is hosting a select number of Dcode Advance courses. DAU recently hosted sessions of Dcode's 3-day program, which focuses on innovation education, in March and May, with more scheduled in the summer.
The timing for this is spot on.
Thinking differently about fresh ways to approach defense acquisition comes at a pivotal crossroads as many acquisition professionals are assessing how to employ the new Adaptive Acquisition Framework (AAF). What better way to bolster AAF—the redesigned DoD 5000 series that’s the most transformational policy in decades—then to encourage innovation?
Solving operational Defense problems across today’s national security landscape requires “innovation methodologies,” according to the Defense Innovation Board (DIB). The areas the DIB recommends learning about include “data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning, lean startup, design thinking, and more.”
Within acquisition, the DIB observed the “most innovative contracting and procurement mechanisms” are “not widely understood or acceptable paths to procurement by program and acquisition teams,” including “acquisition authorities, accelerating technology adoption, and availability of new funding sources.” To help mitigate this knowledge gap, the DIB recommends technology and innovation training programs for senior Defense leaders.
One of the many ways the Innovation Team at the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering supports the DIB and their recommendations is by pursuing innovation training through agreements with several emerging hi-tech companies as well as Dcode. Since 2019, the Innovation Team has held 22 trainings and graduated more than 450 DoD leaders and personnel from their Innovation Capacity Building Pilot program.
Dr. Dave Gallop, director of the DAU Leadership Center, spearheaded DAU’s effort to partner with the Innovation Team on Dcode Advance, formerly known as the Defense Executive Technology Entrepreneur Course (DETEC).
Describing his passion in helping members of the military services “move from a culture of compliance to a culture of an agile mindset,” Gallop noted that “Dcode Advance is a key to making that happen.”
Gallop said the AAF provides a tailorable framework that can better and more efficiently meet “new, unarticulated or existing Warfighter requirements.”
“The Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation will not give the answer to the future,” he said. “We have to innovate the future. The AAF gives us the freedom to do just that.”
Much like the AAF, innovation requires freedom; Dcode’s training approach provides for a lot of freedom in solution development.
The fast-paced Dcode Advance training offers participants a chance to develop the intrapreneur skills needed to drive innovation across their government organization. Over the course of the program, cohorts of 20 executive-level civilian and military learners are divided into small groups. Their goal is to identify a tech solution or prototype for an existing challenge inside their workplace. Each participant develops a value proposition and a minimum viable product (MVP) as a way to validate their solution early in life-cycle development and attract early adopters up and down the chain.
Dcode’s team of instructors employ a variety of unique and fun modalities in the hands-on workshop. The empathy map provides a framework that encourages students to put themselves in their end user’s place as they develop a convincing pitch. To gauge the effectiveness of their solution, students pitch their MVP to a “shark tank.” The panel of tech experts provide feedback on why or why not the pitch will gain buy-in at their workplace.
Initially unsure what to expect going into class, Richard Unis, a contract division chief for IT infrastructure and data storage at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, found the biggest benefit was the “MVP problem solving approach.” This methodology encouraged him to “think more like an entrepreneur,” a valuable approach as he recompetes a contract for cybersecurity services for his chief information officer (CIO). Understanding his customer’s pain points with the empathy map helped Unis ensure stakeholders’ interests were considered in his acquisition solution.
Dennis Phillips, a Chief Information Officer, U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, appreciated the shark tank’s recommendations to “continuously iterate with his solution, yet strive for early success and build on that success.” Phillips also enjoyed the peer interaction that resulted from the wide range of experience and skill sets of students who attended, including acquisition, contracting, information technology and engineering.
The course culminates with a round robin of alumni from Dcode's federally focused accelerator to discuss tangible biz-tech solutions to the participant’s challenges. The May group interacted with principals from emerging companies that included Catalytic, GraphGird, HyperScience, Tamr and Trifacta. The brainstorming session gave participants access to a broader network of peers, coaches, and industry leaders, many of whom have a long history with Dcode.
Five years ago, Dcode began educating startup firms how to do business with the Government with Dcode Accelerate, a 10-week, invitation-only program that includes 6-10 emerging technologies in each cohort. By 2020, Dcode had trained 15 cohorts of Dcode Accelerate.
Along the way, Marc Vogtman, Dcode’s Director of Training, said the company uncovered “examples where emerging tech was not connecting with Government, especially in accounting, legal, and acquisition.”
Dcode responded to this need in 2018 by with Dcode Advance, a program specifically designed to train senior government leaders how to interact with emerging tech effectively.
"We cover how to scope problems, run innovative procurement, change culture, and measure success so that government leaders can hack bureaucracy to bring tech into their missions," Vogtman said. “We begin on day one with problems, break the problems into pieces, develop a value proposition and then students practice pitching ideas to the stakeholder, who is the biggest block to their idea.”
The Dcode team “curated a learning experience with four critical innovation elements: associating, questioning, experimenting, and networking,” Dr. Marina Theodotou, DAU User Experience Directorate, said.
Theodotou, who participated in the 2019 pilot course, said the course teaches the foundations of innovation.
“[Participants] applied high intensity agile processes to rapidly design and develop solutions,” she said, “They learned to both pitch and evaluate industry solutions.”
The participant’s enthusiasm for seeking the art of the possible through innovation has proven contagious. Several returned to their organizations, talked up Dcode Advance, and convinced their colleagues to enroll in the next course. The next Dcode Advance offering through DAU is slated for July 28–30, 2020. Contact Dr. Dave Gallop (David.Gallop@dau.edu) for more information.
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