- Display excellent strategic vision. The most effective innovation leaders could vividly describe their vision of the future, and as one respondent noted about his boss: “She excelled at painting a clear picture of the destination, while we worked to figure out how to get there.”
- Have a strong customer focus. What was merely interesting to the customer became fascinating to these individuals. They sought to get inside the customer’s mind. They networked with clients and asked incessant questions about their needs and wants.
- Create a climate of reciprocal trust. Innovation often requires some level of risk. Not all innovative ideas are successful. These highly innovative leaders initiated warm, collaborative relationships with the innovators who worked for them. They made themselves highly accessible. Colleagues knew that their leader would cover their backs and not throw them under the bus if something went wrong. People were never punished for honest mistakes.
- Display fearless loyalty to doing what’s right for the organization and customer. Pleasing the boss or some other higher level executive always took a back seat to doing the right thing for the project or the company.
- Put their faith in a culture that magnifies upward communication. These leaders believed that the best and most innovative ideas bubbled up from underneath. They strived to create a culture that uncorked good ideas from the first level of the organization. They were often described as projecting optimism, full of energy, and always receptive to new ideas. Grimness was replaced with kidding and laughter.
- Are persuasive. These individuals were highly effective in getting others to accept good ideas. They did not push or force their ideas onto their teams. Instead, they presented ideas with enthusiasm and conviction, and the team willingly followed.
- Excel at setting stretch goals. These goals required people to go far beyond just working harder. These goals required that they find new ways to achieve a high goal.
- Emphasize speed. These leaders believed that speed scraped the barnacles off the hull of the boat. Experiments and rapid prototypes were preferred to lengthy studies by large committees.
- Are candid in their communication. These leaders were described as providing honest, and at times even sometimes blunt, feedback. Subordinates felt they could always count on straight answers from their leader.
- Inspire and motivate through action. One respondent said, “For innovation to exist you have to feel inspired.” This comes from a clear sense of purpose and meaning in the work.
VA CIO Stephen Warren provides a powerful message at FedTalks 2014 on How VA Turned Itself Around With Agile Development. There are key messages that DoD executives must understand, embrace, and apply.
Some of his key takeaways include:
- The greatest impediment to delivering something is how long you take to deliver it
- If you can’t do it in 6 months, don’t bother
- Lock the time – flex scope
- Deliver capabilities, not reports
- Don’t ever re-baseline – Even during the government shutdown, they held the delivery dates
- The only measure of success is delivery to a date
DoD can break from the program-centric model to develop and acquire capabilities in a broader portfolio aspect. Expanding on the systems-of-systems construct, programs can manage requirements, research and development, contracts, budgets, resources, architectures, roadmaps, and many other acquisition aspects at a broader portfolio level. Monolithic systems can be divided into smaller incremental pieces and managed along with related capabilities to regularly deliver capabilities to users. This approach has the potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of major acquisitions. See the article Think Portfolios, Not Programs in Defense AT&L Magazine.
Leading Digital is a remarkable book that I’m half way through. I’ll write more about this amazing work in the future, but wanted to share a video from one of the authors outlining the key messages.
I’m half way through Innovative State by Aneesh Chopra former US CTO. His book and speeches are filled with many exciting, innovative ideas that DoD should understand and explore. Here’s a great video from his Talks @ Google discussing how new technologies can transform government.
The Defense Business Board has another great presentation, this one on Innovation – Attracting and Retaining the Best of the Private Sector.
They highlight that DoD needs both sustaining and disruptive innovation. Sustaining innovation tends to be “top down”, addressing known problems with contracted and independent R&D. Disruptive innovation tends to be “bottom up”, the source of major breakthroughs from non-traditional, self-funded development.
They found DoD has a closed system that discourages innovation. From components that are hard wired into programs to a vertically integrated supply chain restricting competition.
The unintended consequences of budget reduction actions will hurt future innovation. Cost focus via LPTA reduces staff and technical quality discouraging industry investments in innovations.
DoD lacks sufficient understanding of business operating models and drivers of innovation. The fundamental business imperative is to increase earnings per share. Profit is the lifeblood of the capitalist system and is risk calibrated.
They also summarized the slow acquisition process has 7-10 year platform cycle vs. 18 month Moore’s Law technology cycle. The development curriculum for DoD acquisition workforce is inadequate.
The DBB lays out eight recommendations:
- Establish FAR Part 12 as default procurement method for non-platform acquisitions
- Require adoption of modular approach to new mission-essential platforms
- Rebalance policies on Intellectual Property
- Remedy unintended consequences of budget reduction actions
- Provide clear and consistent senior-level messaging of DoD goals and policies
- Systemize and mandate DoD workforce education as condition for promotion
- Simplify DoD internal processes and policies: ensure consistent long-term leadership
- Re-examine industry structure and incentives from standpoint of future DoD needs
A final series of factoids: The market cap of Apple, Exxon-Mobil, Google, and Walmart each exceed the entire defense industry. Apple could buy nearly the entire defense industry today with their cash on hand.
So what are you thoughts on the DBB Innovation report? I believe they go beyond the standard acquisition reform report and identify some key recommendations acquisition executives could implement today. Which findings or recommendations resonate with you most?