Right Sizing Innovation for Federal Government Agencies

By CJ Capizzi, Senior Manager

Particularly in GovCon, where creative solutions ultimately impact how Federal Government agencies and organizations serve the public, innovation must take place at every level every day. But frequently, government contractors assume innovation means taking massive strides to reach big goals in support of large-scale missions. The reality is, innovation comes in many sizes and shapes, all of them important to developing better ways to serve the customer.

“Big I” innovation

“Big I” innovation involves formalizing an innovation process and applying dedicated resources to continuously explore, iteratively prototype and test, and support implementation of new approaches and technologies that challenge the way work is done today. In implementing this “Big I” agencies should consider the following:

  • Lean Startup principlesLean Startup is a methodology popularized by Eric Ries that focuses on delivering better products into the hands of consumers faster. These principles were developed and refined through successes and failures of various startup companies coming out of Silicon Valley. By applying Lean Startup principles, such as innovation accounting, validated learning, and short iterative build-measure-learn cycles, organizations are able to reduce time to value and minimize investment costs.
  • Governance – Establishing a lightweight governance process by which any team member can introduce Innovation Proposals that characterize the current challenge, proposed solution and investment costs (time and money), desired measurable outcomes and timelines, provides a mechanism to control innovation investments based on priorities and budget constraints. Applying use cases to proofs of concepts and prototypes helps determine whether to continue down the path based on achieving the desired outcome or to explore alternative solutions.
  • Innovation labs – Many departments and agencies set up innovation labs to support this function, such as the HHS IDEA Lab and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Innovation Team (INVNT). oLabs™ is Octo’s innovation lab where we incubate innovations and stay apprised of methodology and technology changes in industry by leveraging our mature vendor relationships. For example, in support of U.S. Army Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO), we used oLabs to test multiple concepts saving the government acquisition and research dollars. We use oLabs and the innovation implementation process to identify and address opportunities for innovation, efficiency, and/or increased capabilities.
  • Partnering with industry for emerging technologies – In an age where technology life cycles are becoming increasingly truncated, agencies must have a constant pulse on emerging technology trends and the next game changing technology to avoid a perpetual state of modernization. To stay ahead of the curve, agencies and their industry partners must maintain an open dialogue around the evolving agency challenges to validate the feasibility of emerging technologies. Applying realistic use cases to these technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, leveraging approaches such as fixed scope contracts for prototypes or proofs of concepts can be novel approaches for validating technology utility with minimal risk and costs. For example, Octo partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to deliver the first cybersecurity proof of concept demonstrating the use of blockchain to track and secure logs for the Federal Government. The Department of Defense (DoD) has begun to leverage consortiums, such as Information Warfare Research Project (IWRP) Consortium and SOFWERX, to collaborate with industry, as well as procurement approaches including broad agency announcements (BAA), and cooperative research and development agreements (CRADA) to enable industry to propose applications of emerging technologies to mission needs through shared cost and risk models.

“Little i” innovation

“Little i” innovation, although not mutually exclusive to the Big “I,” embeds innovation doctrine into an organization’s delivery processes to consistently explore and evaluate opportunities to improve outcomes. These activities support innovation through knowledge sharing and training in new frameworks and technologies, enabling all team members to propose and test solutions and support introspection on current processes to identify improvement opportunities. A few examples include:

  • Hackathons, microthons, and innovation challenges – Hackathons (typically less than one week) and microthons (24 hours or less) provide opportunity for self-organizing teams to collaborate and think outside the box to deliver solutions to complex customer challenges within a short time. Delivered solutions out of these -thons often turn into the basis for new features, products, or approaches to delivering solutions. Octo holds internal hackathons annually, rewarding teams for developing innovative solutions to real customer problems. Agencies such as GSA have introduced a similar concept through innovation or tech challenges where agencies promote open government by allowing industry to rapidly prototypes and propose solutions to current and emerging challenges.
  • Hardening, innovation, and planning (HIP) sprints – Focusing on the innovation aspects of the HIP sprint, Agile teams are provided dedicated time and space to conduct research spikes, support continuous learning around new technologies and approaches, as well as build prototype solutions.
  • Innovation jams – Innovation jams are collaborative brainstorming workshops focused on the ideation phase of product development where small groups compete to come up with creative, feasible solutions to current challenges. These ideas are then ranked, and the top idea or ideas are moved down the product development process for either further analysis, research, or prototyping.
  • Problem solving workshops – Based on Lean techniques and a recommended ceremony in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®), these workshops leverage tools such as Fishbone diagrams to identify root causes of issues and allow teams to take ownership and quickly develop ideas and creative solutions to improve outcomes.

Of course, there are many variations of these efforts to support innovation.

Octo is persistent and relentless in achieving our customers’ goals through delivery of innovative solutions. We leverage our oLabsTM environment to rapidly prototype and test solutions for our customers under mission conditions. Our Centers of Excellence work hand-in-hand with customers to understand current and emerging challenges and collaborate with academia and industry partners to build applied solutions leveraging the technology of tomorrow to meet today’s mission needs.

If your agency is looking to inject innovation into your program and interested in learning more about next steps, reach out to a member of our team to discuss further.