Tag Archives: defense industry

Improving the edgefighter experience

Mav6: At the intersection of design and national security

Too often in the defense industry, we build for an abstracted version of the end-user. We design solutions for edgefighters as viewed through the lens of contractual language written by acquisition professionals who are well removed from the situation-dependent tactical details that can mean the difference between life and death in the field. We develop products for soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines instead of a soldier, a sailor, an airman, and a marine.

Industrial age warfare is over. Modern, information-age warfare is a competition of individuals, not institutions, where technology is relegated to a supporting role – albeit an important one. Within this context the question is not “How can technology ‘leverage’ achieve the desired tactical, operational, or strategic outcomes?” but rather “How can technology help edgefighters to achieve the desired outcomes?”

Today’s operational environments are a chaotic mess by historical standards. And operational diversity demands functional specialization, which in turn demands tools that can be optimized at the lowest common denominator: the individual edgefighter.

As a private citizen, I can customize the technologies in my daily life in a near infinite variety of ways to enhance my productivity and performance, yet edgefighters are seldom afforded the same luxury in the execution of their duties.

I marvel at how poorly designed most military systems are from a pure usability perspective. Even today, there seems to be little recognition in the defense industry that usability impacts performance. The extra split second that it takes to find actionable threat information using a poorly design user interface can make all the difference in the field. And anyone who’s ever tried to squeeze into a HMMWV understands how poor design can effect mission performance.

Thoughtful design with an eye towards end-user specialization doesn’t just win in the commercial marketplace, it’s a strategic imperative in contemporary conflict environments. When the enemy is regularly innovating new threats in a development cycle that measures in weeks, it’s impossible to go back to the well and create new purpose-built countermeasures in time to effect the tactical fight.

This is where good design comes in. Military systems must transcend the idea of application-specific engineering and migrate to the technology-as-ecosystem model, where platforms are designed to co-evolve with the operational environment and the changing needs of users.

Mav6 is committed to the idea of improving the edgefighter experience through great product and solution design that helps the men and women engaged on the front lines of conflict and public safety do their jobs better, safer, and faster. This means building flexible, easy to use solutions that can be customized in the field to accommodate emerging operational needs. There’s nothing revolutionary about this. It’s something the commercial world learned long ago. And if you ask us, it’s well past time for the defense industry to take note.

Chaos is the new standard

Courtesy of Gaping Void

This is all pretty self-explanatory.

There is hardly an industry out there that hasn’t been deeply affected by tech. The old guard is being marginalized faster than anyone thought possible.

The opportunity is for those who are not burdened with the past to use chaos as their tool for success.

Now, who are those best using “chaos as their tool for success” in the contemporary military context? Is it our defense establishment or is it the diversity of state and non-state threats unencumbered by the burdens of legacy? Who owns the innovation high ground on the asymmetric battlefields of the future: speed or mass? If chaos reigns, then the first to identify and capitalize on opportunities has the decisive advantage.

32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow – Interactive Feature – NYTimes.com

We tend to rewrite the histories of technological innovation, making myths about a guy who had a great idea that changed the world. In reality, though, innovation isn’t the goal; it’s everything that gets you there. It’s bad financial decisions and blueprints for machines that weren’t built until decades later. It’s the important leaps forward that synthesize lots of ideas, and it’s the belly-up failures that teach us what not to do.

The thing is, innovation without risk (and ultimately failure) is nothing of the sort. Innovation and risk go hand in hand. The DoD acquisition enterprise must be re-thought to accommodate the type of calculated risks that drive the leap-ahead innovations that fuel the commercial tech sector.

via 32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow – Interactive Feature – NYTimes.com.

And The First Facebook IPO Hackathon Photos Roll In | TechCrunch

Despite the IPO fiasco, FB has done a phenomenal job building a culture of disruptive innovation. How do we attract this demographic to focus on problems in defense?

And The First Facebook IPO Hackathon Photos Roll In | TechCrunch.

DroneOS: How To Take Control Of The Country’s Growing Robot Army – Forbes

This is a cool idea – integrating disparate unmanned systems at the user level, but implementation is going to be a bear. I have a hard time imaging DoD mustering the political will to drive the defense industry giants towards a common unmanned system OS. The economics of creating a new OS for every platform are too attractive for the big boys to ignore.

DroneOS: How To Take Control Of The Country’s Growing Robot Army – Forbes.

The Hacker Way

‘Hack’ graffiti at Facebook headquarters

At Mav6, we like to use the term “Hack Defense” to describe – at least in part – our fundamental attitude and approach to problem solving. I wrote several posts some months ago on what this concept entails, but a colleague recently sent me an excerpt from the Facebook SEC registration statement that does a brilliant job of capturing the mindset that we seek to express at Mav6.

In recognition of the historic Facebook IPO (and in the interests of re-affirming Mav6′s own commitment to this idea), I offer Mark Z’s manifesto to the hacker idea.

The Hacker Way

As part of building a strong company, we work hard at making Facebook the best place for great people to have a big impact on the world and learn from other great people. We have cultivated a unique culture and management approach that we call the Hacker Way.

The word “hacker” has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.

The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.

Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words “Done is better than perfect” painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.

Hacking is also an inherently hands-on and active discipline. Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works. There’s a hacker mantra that you’ll hear a lot around Facebook offices: “Code wins arguments.”

Hacker culture is also extremely open and meritocratic. Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win — not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.

To encourage this approach, every few months we have a hackathon, where everyone builds prototypes for new ideas they have. At the end, the whole team gets together and looks at everything that has been built. Many of our most successful products came out of hackathons, including Timeline, chat, video, our mobile development framework and some of our most important infrastructure like the HipHop compiler.

To make sure all our engineers share this approach, we require all new engineers — even managers whose primary job will not be to write code — to go through a program called Bootcamp where they learn our codebase, our tools and our approach. There are a lot of folks in the industry who manage engineers and don’t want to code themselves, but the type of hands-on people we’re looking for are willing and able to go through Bootcamp.

Centralization v. distribution

Whose network do you want to join?

No one doubts DoD’s commitment to networking the battlespace. The question is why.

In the real world, networks enable unstructured discovery, DIY experimentation, resource and information sharing, near infinite diversification, and just-in-time collaboration. Networks underwrite emergent ecosystems where opportunity often precedes intent. In other words, the value of networks (at least in part) is that they operate outside of rigid, preconceived ideas about how the world ‘should’ work and empower the lowest common denominator to envision and contribute in unexpected ways.

At their best, networks are not extensions of the core, they are the connecting tissue that allows meaningful incorporation of the edge. My fear is that DoD can have all of the connectivity in the world and still not reap the real benefits of the networked battlespace because of an outdated, top-down, centralized organizational paradigm. Centralization doesn’t scale, no matter how good the network.

The Silicon Valley-style innovation that DoD aspires to replicate is fueled by the non-uniform, heterogeneous decision-making of distributed, semi-autonomous networks that are organized around common interests vice carefully prescribed modes of interaction. If DoD is to remain competitive in the global information economy, it must leverage the network as a catalyst for fundamental business model innovation and not just a means to extend command and control.

Augustine’s Laws – revisited

The epiphany of Norm Augustine...

Former Lockheed Martin CEO, Norm Augustine, was a defense industry titan, but his greatest contribution to the business world might just be his 1983 book, Augustine’s Laws, in which he posits the absurdities of managing a large aerospace corporation. A recent editorial by David Smallwood (1203smal) reprises Augustine’s Laws. In reading this latest treatment, it occurred to me how shockingly relevant Augustine’s insights remain to the current defense industry.

“Large increases in cost with questionable increases in performance can be tolerated only for race horses and fancy women.” – Lord Kelvin

Kelvin’s idea forms the basis of Augustine’s Law XV: The last 10% of performance generates one- third of the cost and two-thirds of the problems.

Both treatments speak to the heart of the future of defense acquisition: 70% solutions delivered on-time and on-budget are infinitely better than 100% solutions delivered a day late and a dollar short…

The New Strategic Edge: Tapping Your Customers’ Personal Passions | Co.Design: business + innovation + design

Good read… More defense companies should take note.

The New Strategic Edge: Tapping Your Customers’ Personal Passions | Co.Design: business + innovation + design.

TEDx Plans To Occupy Wall Street | Fast Company

Makes me wonder if it’s time for a TEDx Defense…

TEDx Plans To Occupy Wall Street | Fast Company.