Steve Blank Innovation at Speed ​​- When You Have 2 Million Employees


Success no longer affects the country that first develops a new fighting technology, but rather the one that integrates it better and adapts its way of fighting …Our answer will be to give priority to speed of delivery, continuous adaptation and frequent modular upgrades. We must not accept heavy approval chains, unnecessary applications of resources in a non-competitive space, or too risky thinking that prevents change.

If you read these quotes, you think they come from a CEO who has just taken over a business facing the disruption of agile startups and a changing environment. And you would be right. Although in this case the CEO is the Secretary of Defense. And his company has 2 million employees.


In January, the Secretary of Defense, Mattis, released the National Defense Strategy for 2018. This document tells our military – the Department of Defense – what kind of adversaries they face and how to use their armed forces. The national defense strategy is "this is what we will do for the armed forces" to implement the national security strategy of the executive branch. The full version of National Defense Strategy is ranked; but the unclassified 10-page summary of this strategic guidance document for the US Department of Defense is worth reading.

Since September 11, the US military has mainly been used to defeat non-state states (ISIS, Al Qaeda, etc.). The new national defense strategy states that we must prepare for competition between major powers, explicitly calling on China and Russia to become their opponents. US Secretary Mattis said, "Our competitive advantage has eroded in all areas of the war."

While the defense strategy recognizes the importance of new technologies, for example, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence – research is no longer the holy grail of a technology compensation strategy. Instead, the focus is on the fast, global maneuverability of smaller and more dispersed units to "increase agility, speed and resiliency … and deployment. .. in order to be ready to fight and win the next conflict. more "deadly, agile and resilient."

The man who carries a lot of fingerprints on this document is Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. Shanahan came from Boeing, and his views on innovation are interesting readings.

"DoD must become less risk averse" is something you have rarely heard in the government. However, Shanahan said, "The innovation is messy, if the (Defense) department really succeeds in innovating, we will have to become familiar with the fact that people are making mistakes."

All of this means that significant changes will be needed in the culture and policies of the Department of Defense. But now, agents of change and insurgents of innovation who fought to innovate thoroughly at the Naval Research Office, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Common Organization for Defense against Improvised Threats , Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Experimental Defense Innovation Unit, Intelligence Activity of advanced research projects, etc., will have the support up to the Secretary of Defense.

The language of innovation in this document is quite amazing – especially the summary of page 10. It's almost like they read the articles that Pete Newell and I wrote about the Red Queen problem and the pipeline of the innovation.

This document, together with the division of Acquisition and Logistics (the Office for the Purchase of Military Equipment), research and engineering, will enable DoD to better connect with the private sector to integrate technology into the Department of Defense. The last time the country mobilized the private sector on a large scale was the Cold War.

As you read through the excerpt below of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, imagine the shockwaves it would send in any major company. It is an unprecedented document for the military.

on page 3
"… To maintain the Department's technological advantage, it will be necessary to change the industry's culture, its sources of investment and its protection in the national security innovation base.. "

on page 4
"Defense's objectives include: … achieving performance on an ongoing basis, at an affordable cost and at a higher speed as we change the spirit, culture and management systems of the Department;

on page 5
"Foster a competitive state of mind. To succeed in the emerging security environment, our department and our common force will have to imagine, maneuver, partner and innovate revisionist powers, rogue regimes, terrorists and other threatening actors. We will expand the competitive space while … reform the Department's business practices to improve performance and affordability.

on page 7
"Cultivate the talent of the workforce. … Cultivating a lethal and agile force requires more than new technologies and postural changes; … It depends on the ability of our department to integrate new capabilities, to adapt combat approaches and to modify business practices to achieve its missions. The creativity and talent of the American fighter is our greatest lasting strength, and we do not take it for granted.
… A modern, agile, information-centric department needs a motivated, diverse and highly skilled civilian workforce. We will focus on new skills and complement our current workforce with information experts, computer scientists, computer programmers, researchers and basic science engineers … The Department will also continue to explore simplified and non-traditional pathways. to put essential skills into practice, expand access to external expertise and establish new public-private partnerships to work with small businesses, start-ups and universities.

on page 10
The current bureaucratic approach, focused on rigor and risk reduction first and foremost, is proving less and less reactive. We need to move to a culture of performance where results and accountability are important.

Deliver performance at the speed of relevance. Success no longer affects the country that first develops a new fighting technology, but rather the one that integrates it better and adapts its way of fighting …. Current processes do not meet needs; the department is over-optimized for exceptional performance at the expense of providing the combatant with timely decisions, policies and capabilities. Our answer will be to give priority to speed of delivery, continuous adaptation and frequent modular upgrades. We must not accept heavy approval chains, unnecessary applications of resources in a non-competitive space, or too risky thinking that prevents change. Ensuring performance means that we are going to get rid of outdated management practices and structures while integrating information from business innovation.

Organize for innovation. The management structure and processes of the Department are not engraved in stone, they are a means to an end: to give the combatant the knowledge, the equipment and the support systems necessary to fight and win. Department heads will adapt their organizational structures to better support the joint force. If current structures prevent substantial increases in lethality or performance, it is expected that service secretaries and agency heads will consolidate, eliminate or restructure as needed..


Up to now, innovation within the Ministry of Defense has been entrusted to a small group of insurgents, each deploying heroic efforts. High speed innovation has become a priority for the country. Culture change is the most difficult within a large organization. It will be interesting to see how each agency of the Ministry of Defense (and its subcontractors) adopts the strategy or whether the bureaucracy is killing it or waiting for it. Time will tell if it brings a real change, but it's a good start.

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