Classroom Innovation: Introducing NPS Student-Officers to Hacking 4 Defense

Originally posted October 2, 2020

This quarter, the Acquisition Research Program is conducting an experiment. We are amplifying our abilities to foster evidence-based innovation in acquisition, starting in one of our Naval Postgraduate School classrooms. Working with Major Daniel Finkenstadt, a professor in the Graduate School of Defense Management, ARP is helping pilot a Hacking for Defense (H4D) course, integrated with Fink’s course on entrepreneurship. Students will be learning about the lean startup methodology and other entrepreneurial concepts, while applying them to four real-world problems from sponsors in the Department of Defense.

Over the quarter, students will interview various stakeholders who are impacted by the sponsored issue to fully understand the problem and generate a minimum viable product. Our timeline: we began September 28 and conclude December 9. Next week, we welcome Steve Blank, one of the H4D founders, as our first guest lecturer. Students will learn about the history of DoD partnerships with commercial sector innovators, and how the H4D model is helping return the department to its creative roots.

Usually H4D partners with civilian institutions, teaching graduate and undergrad students in business schools about DoD and national security. Our NPS students already have this institutional knowledge and can bring operational expertise to their problem-solving tasks.  The eye-opener for these officers will not be learning how exciting it is to work the DoD mission. It will be learning how they can help better align DoD with commercial innovation practices and catalyze real change with lasting impact, making daily life better for today’s warfighters (and contracting officers).

We have four problems to work this semester, coming from three sponsors:

  1. Ready, Set, Drive: Improving Response Times to Catastrophic Events (Army National Guard)
    Weapons of Mass Destruction National Response Management Plan Commanders need a means to assess and restructure disaster response regions in order to promptly deploy personnel and supplies to disaster sites.
  2. Catching Copies (Air Force Program Executive Office for Agile Combat Support)
    Contracting Officer Representatives need a method to quickly evaluate how much of a template was used in a new private contractor proposal in order to properly pay the contractor for the level of effort exerted in creating the proposal.

  3. Advanced Manufacturing for Uniforms and Equipment: Market Intelligence Team (U.S. Army Futures Command)
    Program Managers of the “Textile Automation to Enhance Domestic Military Production” project need a comprehensive policy analysis of identified production issues in order to develop an effective and usable implementation strategy. This team will explore the problem from the industry side, exploring how the textile industry works with government acquisitions. 
  4. Advanced Manufacturing for Uniforms and Equipment: Policy Team (U.S. Army Futures Command)
    This team will explore the same problem from #3 above but with an eye on legal and policy implications, starting with how the Buy American Act and Berry Amendment impact domestic sourcing and production of textiles. 

Students begin outreach with their sponsors in the next week. As their learning progresses, we’ll be looking for answers to some of these questions: How will students apply concepts of entrepreneurship to DoD? Will they prove that innovation is possible without changing regulations, policy, or law? Or will they determine the need for regulatory modernization? And how much will these sponsored problems shift as they get evaluated from multiple perspectives?

An urgent need for innovation

Just this week, a bipartisan congressional committee released the Future of Defense Task Force Report, which calls for DoD to reform its practices by, among other things, embracing emerging technology and enhancing connections with commercial sector innovators. It specifically recommends DoD “create additional opportunities for collaboration and shared experience between the Department of Defense, private sector, and academia through the expansion of programs such as Hacking for Defense”. We are proud that this quarter’s NPS-H4D partnership is answering this call, professionalizing the next generation of acquisition leaders through an education infused with innovation.

As the quarter progresses, we will keep the community informed with regular updates. Stay tuned.

Get to know the professor

Watch this short video to hear more about how Major Fink approaches entrepreneurship in the classroom.









More Blog Entries