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Hacking for Defense @ Stanford – Week 4

We just held our fourth week of the Hacking for Defense class. This week the teams turned the corner on understanding beneficiaries and finding product/market fit. The 8 teams spoke to 115 beneficiaries (users, program managers, etc.); we sent each team a critique of their mission model canvas; we started streaming the class live to DOD/IC sponsors and other educators; our advanced lecture explained how to go from concept to deployment in the DOD/IC; and we watched as the students got closer to understanding the actual problems their customers have.

(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.)

Beneficiaries equals all the stakeholders
In-between class sessions, we reviewed each team’s mission model canvas and sent them a detailed critique of each of the boxes on the right side of their canvas. The critiques seemed to make a difference in this week’s presentations with a noticeable improvement in teams’ beneficiaries/stakeholder understanding. The teams are beginning to understand that beneficiaries mean “Not the name of an organization but all the stakeholders in an organization (users, program managers, saboteurs, legal, finance, etc.)” and that they can’t really understand customer problems until they can diagram the relationships among all the beneficiaries. Then, and only then, can they move on to developing a detailed value proposition canvas for each of the beneficiaries.

Some of the sponsors commented that the teams had a better grasp of the problem space and a deeper understanding of the beneficiaries and their relationships to each other, than they did.

Team Presentations: Week 4

Narrative Mind had an amazing week. The sponsor’s brief to the team is to figure out how to understand, disrupt, and counter adversaries’ use of social media. After 46 interviews the team could see that there were conflicting definitions of what problems needed to be solved. They realized that different beneficiaries were each describing a different part of a much bigger picture. Take a look at slide 3, as the team synthesized and then summarized the sum of the hypotheses the beneficiaries have of the problem. This was a big learning moment. Slide 4 was another insight as they mapped out who actually owned the problem across multiple DOD and Intelligence organizations. Finally, their beneficiaries on slide 6 were focused and clear. This team is learning a lot.

If you can’t see the presentation click here 

Right of Boom had an insightful week with 19 customer discovery interviews this week across a broad range of beneficiaries. (See slide 2.) These interviews led them to conclude that their initial hypotheses (slides 3-5) were wrong. In slide 6 they were able to map out the entire IED (Improvised Explosive Device) reporting information flow.

Week_4_H4D_Right_Of_Boom Info flowAnd in slide 7 the team really narrows down their beneficiaries and value proposition. They came to an interesting conclusion about how to measure success in their Mission Achievement box.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

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 using publicly available social media data to assess whether a given user ID refers to a real person, a real person acting under a false persona, or a bot.

This team will be fun to watch. They believe they’ve already found product/market fit – users (analysts) inside the agency who like their Minimum Viable Product. The team wants to devote 60% of their time to refining their product front-end and building out the real back-end of the product (see slide 2). They developed their first high-level view (slide 5) of how an analyst does his job. However, their Mission Model canvas (slide 7) still lacks the rest of the agency beneficiaries other than the analysts.

Hopefully after this week’s deployment lecture they’ll start thinking deeper about how a product actually gets purchased and deployed. Great technical teams like Fishreel often want to use the class as a product incubator when we want them to spend an equal amount of time learning about the rest of the Mission Model canvas.

What we’re trying to prevent is to have teams give the DOD/IC yet another great technology demo. They have plenty of those. What teams need to do is deeply understand all the stakeholders in their sponsor organization (analysts, seniors, finance, legal, etc.) so they can get a great product that solves real problems and can be widely deployed quickly.

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 gap about surface ships.

The team started by diagraming the relationships among their beneficiaries (slide 2). They realized that this is just a start. Now they need to overlay the surface ships’ intelligence information flow shown in slides 16 & 19 on top of this org chart. Slides 3-6 are a good narrative of hypotheses validated, invalidated and refined during the week. Slides 8-11 are an excellent example of a deep understanding of the beneficiaries. Their Minimum Viable Product in slides 12-14 this week shows much more problem insight compared to the prior week (slides 18-21.)

If you can’t see the presentation click here

aquaLink started the week believing they were 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.

This was a great but painful week for the team as they experienced a bit of an existential crisis while working to drill down into who their customer truly is. The original problem statement from their sponsor asked for a wearable sensor that would monitor the physiological status of divers. As they proceeded with customer discovery, the team found that the majority of the operators who would wear these sensors were ambivalent about the introduction of a vitals monitoring platform, but were much more excited about solving geolocation problems. On the other hand, the medical professionals and some commanders were more interested in monitoring physiological metrics in order to understand chronic long-term health issues facing divers and optimize short-term performance. Slides 2-6 illustrate aquaLink’s evolving understanding of the range of customer archetypes.

Their key take-away was that they would have to decide which beneficiary to focus on. They decided to focus on the operators and divers within SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One, along with their immediate chains of command in SDVT-1 and Naval Special Warfare Group 3. These were the beneficiaries who viewed aquaLink’s focus on geolocation as the most valuable. See slides 7, 11 and 12.  The team recognized that it was time for a pivot and aquaLink will spend the rest of the class focusing exclusively on geolocation.

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.

The team made progress understanding the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) acquisitions process in slides 3-5 and mocked-up an MVP. However, they still list organizations as beneficiaries.  We asked that they dive deeper into the each of the stakeholders and create a diagram of how the beneficiaries actually interact.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

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

The team made progress understanding that some beneficiaries want raw SAR imagery and some want analytics. They are starting to understand the beneficiaries in the Coast Guard; however, they are stymied in trying to find the right people to talk to about commercial data acquisition at the National Geospatial Agency. We asked that they dive deeper into each of the stakeholders and diagram how the beneficiaries actually interact.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Guardian’s problem to solve was to counter asymmetric drone activities.  This week was a big leap forward in truly understanding their problem and beneficiaries. They did a deep dive (slides 5-7) into really understanding what, exactly, is a forward operating base. They refined their options of the problem space (slide 4) and did a great job of truly understanding the workflow in slide 8. Their mission model canvas in slide 9 had a great update on their beneficiaries while the detailed value proposition canvases in slides 10-12 gave great insight about the pains/gains/jobs to be done those beneficiaries had. 

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Advanced Lecture:  Concept to Deployment in the DOD
This week Jackie Space and Lauren Schmidt gave the advanced lecture. Jackie, an exAir Force officer who spent her career managing overhead reconnaissance systems, flies up from LA every week and has now officially joined the teaching team. Lauren is a member of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) based at Moffett Field in Mountain View and advises our students in the course along with multiple other members of the DIUx.

Slide 5 “purchasing authority” and Slide 6 “key activities” were real eye-openers for the team.

If you can’t see the presentation click here

Team Learnings
A few of the teams are now writing weekly one-page status reports to their sponsors and mentors. Great idea to keep them informed and make them feel they’re part of the team.

It’s been fun to watch as the teams learn from sponsors; a few teams have been broadening their sponsors understanding of the problem. (How do we know this? When the sponsors asked their team, “Can we use your slides to present to our organization?”) That’s a win for everyone.

This week we had one group of students volunteer to go to Iraq or Afghanistan to see the customer problem first-hand. Travel restrictions and other logistical challenges will likely make this trip infeasible, but the team’s genuine interest in getting to the ground level of customer discovery reflects well on their commitment to the principles of the course’s methodology.

Lessons Learned

  • Civilian students with no prior DOD experience can be taught to deeply understand military and intelligence problems and organizations in 4 weeks
  • These students are passionate and committed to solving problems that protect the homeland and keep Americans safe around the world

Phil Randazzo


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