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Hacking for Defense (H4D) @ Stanford – Week 2

We just held our second week of the Hacking for Defense class. This week the 8 teams spoke to 106 beneficiaries (users, program mangers, etc.), we held a DOD/IC 101 workshop, our advanced lecture was on the Value Proposition Canvas, and we watched as the students ran into common customer discovery obstacles and found new ones.

(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.)

DOD/IC 101 – Workshop
We started the week by holding a Monday night workshop – DOD/IC 101. Our goal was to give the students with no military background a tutorial on the challenges facing DoD/IC in the current asymmetric threat environment, how the DOD/IC defines its missions and specifies the products it needs, how it accomplishes these missions and how they get to their ultimate user. This knowledge will help the students understand the overall environment that their Mission Model Canvas is operating in.

We posted the slides here and more important, an annotated narrative for each of the slides, here. It’s truly a landmark presentation. Even if you think you know how the DOD works, read the narrative alongside the slides. I learned a lot.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

you can’t see the narrative click here.

Hacking for Defense: Week 2
The second week started with the 8 teams presenting what they learned in their first full week of class.

Capella Space
Team Capella is launching a constellation of synthetic aperture radar satellites into space to provide real-time radar imaging.

This week the team tested whether other beneficiaries – the Coast Guard and the Oil and Gas industry might be interested in their solution. Great learning.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Team Fishreel is combating “Catfishing”; where someone is impersonating a specific person, or a person with a specific interest or an organization or an entire service. The team is working to develop a technique to score how likely it is that a given online persona is who they claim to be, and how that conclusion was reached.

This team did a great job. One of their big learnings this week is that their sponsor needed to proactively identify catfishing, including those outside their own networks.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Live Tactical Threat Toolkit (LTTT)
Team LTTT (Live Tactical Threat Toolkit) is trying to enhance the capacity of  foreign military explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams to accomplish their mission. The team is developing tech informed options for these teams to consult with their American counterparts in real time to disarm IED’s, and to document key information about what they have found.

The team did a good job in starting to diagram the customer workflow and intends to gain an appreciation for the ground user challenges in accomplishing these types of missions in this weeks customer discovery efforts.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Narrative Mind
Team Narrative Mind is trying to understand, disrupt, and counter adversaries’ use of social media. Current tools do not provide users with a way to understand the meaning within adversary social media content and there is no automated process to disrupt, counter and shape the narrative.

The team did a good job in starting to diagram the customer workflow and their understanding of how to prioritize MVP features.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Team Skynet is also using drones to to provide ground troops situational awareness. (Almost the inverse of Team Guardian.)

Their Mission Model Canvas had a ton of learning, and their MVP engendered a lot of conversation from those who’ve been in combat and were familiar with the challenges of maintaining situational awareness under fire.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Team aquaLink is working to give Navy divers a way to monitor their own physiological conditions while underwater (core temperature, maximum dive pressure, blood pressure and pulse.) Knowing all of this would give divers early warning of hypothermia or the bends.

In the first week of the class this team was suiting up in full navy diving gear and doing customer discovery by spending an hour in the life of the beneficiary. They did their homework.
Aqualink suiting up

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Team Guardian is working to protect soldiers from cheap, off-the-shelf commercial drones. What happens when adversaries learn how to weaponize drones with bullets, explosives, or chemical weapons? This team is actively working to identify viable responses to these  battlefield inevitabilities.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Team Sentinel is trying to use low cost sensors to monitor surface ships in a A2/AD environment. The team appreciates that the problem include the sensors as well as the analytics of the sensor data.

Really good summary of hypotheses, experiments, results and action.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Customer Discovery and the Flipped Classroom – Learnings
After talking to teams in office hours (the teaching team meets every team for 20 minutes every week,) and watching teams present, and then seeing a team send a sponsor an email that read like a bad business school sales pitch, we realized some students had skipped their homework/and or still hadn’t grasped the basics of Customer Discovery.

As a reminder, we run the class as a “flipped classroom” – the lectures – the basics of Customer Discovery and the Mission Model Canvas – are homework watched on Udacity and on Vimeo. It was painfully clear that many of the students hadn’t done their homework.  We plan to remedy that in our next week class, warning the students that we will be cold calling on them to show us what they learned.

Some teams did their homework and understood that customer discovery meant “becoming the customer.” For example, the team solving a problem for Navy divers managed to get the Navy to suit them up in full diving regalia. On the other hand, some teams thought that customer discovery simply meant interviewing people and building a minimal viable products. For example, we suggested to the team working on solutions for defusing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that to truly understand their customer needs might require them to get close to the dirt with some explosive ordnance disposal teams. (Looking ahead we have no doubt that this team will respond aggressively to instructor feedback and suit up in Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) equipment as part of their customer discovery efforts for week 3. Stay tuned.)

Part of the student confusion about customer discovery was the fault of the teaching team. We normally hold a “How to Do Customer Discovery” evening workshop, but we got caught by a tight spring break schedule and we punted this workshop to hold the DOD/IC workshop. In hindsight it was a bad idea – we should have found a way to hold both. We will remedy that by giving an abbreviated workshop first thing next week in the classroom.

All of these were problems we’ve seen before and we’re course correcting quickly to solve them.  But, given the new form of the class we had a few problems we hadn’t encountered.

First, some teams were stymied by the classified nature of the specific data sets they thought they needed to understand the customer problem and build MVPs. In every case, what they lacked was a deep understanding of the customer problem. Which simply required going back to the basics of customer discovery.

Second, a few teams were truly blocked by a few sponsors who were also having a difficult time understanding the role they played in Customer Discovery and required follow up clarification by the teaching team and H4D military liaison officers.

Sponsor Education – Learnings
A few DOD sponsors believed they were not only the gatekeepers to the problem but were the sole source of information for our teams. Given they were supposed to maximize the number of beneficiaries the teams were supposed to talk to, the teaching team jumped on this and rapidly addressed it.

In another case the sponsor so narrowly defined the problem that it was viewed by the team as providing incremental changes to a solution they already have. After discussion the sponsor agreed that the team should focus on the realm of possible and how they would address the problem if there was not a current solution in place and in the process define new plans for how the solutions could be used.

In other cases a few of our sponsors had difficulty generating the leads and contacts within their own ecosystems that were necessary to sustain our teams’ customer discovery beyond the sponsor’s primary contacts. Ultimately teams are required to interview 80-120 beneficiaries, advocates and stakeholders (customers). This is a heavy lift if the sponsor has not thought through who those people are and where they will be found.

Finally, one of our problem sponsors departed their organization and was replaced by an alternate. This created some lag time in reestablishing contact and effectively interacting with the team. Next time we’ll designate a primary and secondary sponsor – the pace of this course requires this.

For us, this was a good learning opportunity to understand the type of sponsor education we need to do in the next class.

Advanced Lecture: Value Proposition Canvas
The advanced lecture for week 2 was on the Value Proposition Canvas – finding product/market fit between Beneficiaries (customers, stakeholders, users) and the Value Proposition (the product/service) in a DOD setting.

Pete Newell started the lecture with a video from his time in the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force.

Pete used the video to take the students through a value proposition canvas and asked the class:

  1. Who are the primary beneficiaries? Who are the other beneficiaries?
  2. What’s the value proposition:
    • To the sergeant?
    • To the mechanics?
    • To the base commander?
    • To contract engineers?
    • To the military vehicle Program Manager?

Pete’ s experienced based vignettes and discussion helped the students appreciate the sometimes competing nature of the interests of a diverse array of beneficiaries.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Lessons Learned from Week 2

  • Teams are running at full speed
  • Running a flipped classroom requires constant management
    • Problems need to be vetted to insure they can support customer discovery expectations
  • A Customer Discovery Workshop needs to be held
    • Teams need to understand how to work around security issues
  • Sponsors need education and management

Phil Randazzo


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