STEP FOUR: THE OUTBRIEF

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

STEP FOUR: THE OUTBRIEF

The finish line of a design sprint is the final outbrief. This last piece is when participants and decision makers see the results of the hard work everyone has put into finding a solution. The outbrief is an integration of everyone’s efforts during the event and includes all the design sprint elements: the refined problem statement, personas and scenarios, solution design, and all the pieces in between.

Vel Preston, AF CyberWorx Head of Innovation Design, describes the elements of an outbrief. Just as the event begins with the problem statement, the outbrief also starts with the problem. As Vel asks, “What’s the impact of the status quo?”

Stakeholders define the goal, but it’s the participants who explore the problem and determine how the status quo impacts the end users and, by extension, the mission. While the military mindset tends to put mission first, people enable the mission. As Vel explains, “We’re in the military. A lot of our problems revolve around lives at stake,” whether that means boots on the ground being supported by aircraft in the sky or personnel relying on finance for their paychecks. In exploring the human aspects of the problem, participants identify specific pain points to improve upon.

After briefers reiterate the problem, explain its impact, and outline the human element involved, they’re ready to lay out their solution. The ideal solution addresses the problem statement directly and pertains to the specific barriers and pain points identified during the design sprint journey. Vel explains that overall, “we want our listeners to follow the logic trail…Here’s what the status quo is, here’s the impact of keeping it that way, here are the things that’re getting in the way [of improving], and here’s how we can do it better.” The solution is the final piece that gives stakeholders a direction to a better future.

For the best response to an outbrief, participants should keep in mind more than just what the problem and potential solution is. Participants need to know to whom they are briefing. Ideally, they will be the person or people who can say yea or nay to the next steps. When that’s not possible, the person receiving the information should be someone who can become a champion for the solution to those who do have say. To help with this, briefers need to understand what information the decision-makers need. The team needs to consider and include that information. Some of that can include approximate costs, necessary resources, items to investigate further, and what parts of a solution are already in place to easily use.

Though the purpose of a design sprint is to come up with new ideas and solutions to solve or mitigate a problem, there are still limits to keep in mind. As Vel says, “It’s harder to get behind someone who wants to restructure everything.” Resources across the DoD are shared among a lot of projects, programs, and departments. If a team attempts to change the world, even if that is what is ultimately needed, their solution may not gain much traction.

Vel explains that the best received solutions are when the participants have drilled down to a single root cause that affects several pain points of the problem. “Because [a team] focused on the root cause…the integrated solution was more impactful and powerful.” If they focus on the right problem, the solution will have a large impact and be received well by stakeholders even if the root cause is relatively small and can be fixed with little effort and resources.

The outbrief is not the end, however. As Vel encourages participants, “The outbrief should be the beginning of change that everyone is asking for.” Viewing the outbrief as the beginning of change, instead of the end of an event, changes the perspective from one of presentation and after action to one of suggesting next steps and path to improvement. AF CyberWorx works to enable change and improvement. Facilitating events and guiding experts through the process to a solution is simply a vehicle to enable that change, not an end in itself.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

STEP THREE: SOLUTION DESIGN

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

STEP THREE: SOLUTION DESIGN

The solution design portion of a design sprint is often considered the most fun and free-flowing part of an event. This is what people come to the event for: to come up with solutions to their problem. What most newcomers to the design sprint process don’t realize is that the solution design portion is still part of a much larger process. Knowledge and artifacts from the previous steps in the event feed into ideating solutions and then paring them down for realistic solutions that will have a strong impact on the organization.

All the work the stakeholders and participants have done up to brainstorming solutions lead to creating a wide pool of potential solutions. Cole Stamm is an AF CyberWorx UX Research Fellow through the ORISE program. As he explains, “The personas, journey maps, task flows, task optimization – all that is the foundation for creating ideas off of.” From the initial discovery call to writing out personas and scenarios, the artifacts that map out the problem-solving journey the team has taken leads up to ideation. Cole went on, “You can’t create solutions without doing those first steps or they’re just arbitrary solutions.” Arbitrary solutions don’t provide the impact to the organization a team hopes to create.

The best solution design phases pull in focused information and give back actionable, well-developed solutions. Cole relates a specific event that had excellent results. Part of the key, he says, was because “it had a very specific focus…with very clear constraints and personas.” Another successful event “had a number of interesting solutions that benefited from the task analysis approach.” For each, the solutions were based on a strong foundation built throughout the event. The solutions focused on the end user and solving their pain points.

Ultimately, solution design is really just another step in the entire problem-solving process. Cole stresses, “Problem solving goes on throughout the process. It doesn’t really stop with the solution process.” AF CyberWorx facilitators are there every step of the way to assist the team with staying focused on the problem and reminding them of the gains they’ve made during their problem-solving journey to finish strong with impactful solutions.

The Solution Design Process

Once the team has a cohesive, shared vision of the problem, end goal, and requirements for success, they enter the ideation phase. This is the fun part. Cole outlines some key things participants need to know about ideating solutions: “Stay open to making connections between different peoples’ ideas…put off judgement until a later time…stay focused on the user at the center of the problem.” Keeping these ideas in mind, let the ideas flow freely, have fun, and trust that the process will weed out the ideas that are too complex, expensive, or off topic later.

The next step puts the products of previous steps to active use. Often, a team will find a process or design has specific requirements, objectives, or key questions that need to be addressed. After creating a large group of great ideas, the team needs to whittle down the number of solutions to narrow their focus. As Cole states, the group is looking for “the idea that’s really going to change the game.” The team votes, considering which solutions would be “easy wins” which would have the greatest impact on the problem, and which solutions generate the most passion among the participants. After that, asking which requirements each solution meets helps prioritize them and sometimes further weeds out unlikely solutions.

Now the team has a set of solutions that the majority agree meet the requirements, will be impactful to the problem and users, and are feasible. The team next needs to prepare those ideas for action. To do this, each solution gets fleshed out with a process Cole calls “make it or break it.” Here, the critical cap needs to go back on to determine the pros and cons of a solution and what acts as assists and barriers to the solution. Some examples of both include expenses, manpower, time to implement, or utilizing existing resources. Ultimately, it’s the decision-makers that decide if a solution is a go. It’s the participants’ job to give them the information they need to make the right decision.

AF CyberWorx guides participants through a tried-and-true process from discovery to solution design so a problem-solving team’s efforts result in finding a direction to improvement. Whether the solutions call for a change in process, prototypes for a new product, or a proof of concept, we help the team discover areas for improvement and develop paths towards success.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

PART TWO: BREAKOUT GROUPS

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

PART TWO: BREAKOUT GROUPS

AF CyberWorx design sprints are tailored to the needs of the stakeholders. One crucial aspect is the number and diversity of participants in the group. Events at AF CyberWorx can have as few as five people and as many as forty or fifty. In each group, dynamics are determined by individual personalities, experience with the problem area, and strength of opinion as well as rank and positions (and perceived deferment to such). Each element may affect how people interact with one another.

However, each event is very short. The typical forming, storming, and norming growth of a group needs to happen as quickly and painlessly as possible while still gathering as much information and as many ideas as possible. The answer to this is to break a larger group into smaller diverse teams of four or five people.

Ideas are the meat of the problem-solving process. Ed Mikos, UX Design Analyst at AF CyberWorx, explains that “the information that’s created and captured [during an event] is going to be built on in a series of expansion and contraction steps leading to one final outcome.” In each step, ideas are generated from the group to expand potential. Those ideas are then vetted to contract focus down to the best, most impactful ideas that will push problem-solving efforts further. A team needs that pool of ideas to find which are the best.

Breaking the group into smaller focus teams gives everyone a voice. Ed states, “Everyone in the group brings something to the table.” Each person in the event is there for a reason and has good ideas from a different perspective. Smaller groups composed of diverse people takes out the possibility of a single, strong voice speaking for their peers in a larger crowd. Position becomes less of an issue when the higher ranked person is in a different group. The senior airman who actually uses a program has equal voice to the colonel who oversees the management of a similar office.

Another benefit of breakout groups comes when the groups return from a session and share their findings. Sometimes more than one group will have the same or similar ideas. That’s O.K.! Ed says when the same idea comes from multiple groups, “there’s probably something there [that needs to be explored].” Instead of being repetitive, the multiple groups reinforce each other, giving consensus and higher strength to that idea.

Groups increase idea generation, break down group dynamics to give everyone a voice, and often generate consensus faster than a large group as a whole. With those three benefits of breakout groups, Ed gives some key points for participants to remember when they move into the smaller focus groups during an event: “Everyone in the group brings something to the table. There are no bad ideas. Trust the process.”

He goes into more detail on some of these by explaining that “When someone is locked on an idea or someone is being too negative, like saying ‘Why are we doing this?’…that negativity is infectious.” Being a champion for your own idea is fine; that idea may be validated. However, keep an open mind. Each member of a group has a unique perspective and adds to the quality of the end product. “Allow for diversity of ideas…people come up with different ideas and know what the different feasibility and technical and organizational shortcomings will be.” When a diverse group works together with a positive attitude towards the process, the entire problem-solving team improves.

For those who are still hesitant to speak up or grab a marker and add their ideas, Ed reassures that “no one cares how good an artist you are or how eloquent you are. We need your ideas. You’re in the room for a reason.” Each idea adds to the whole. Each group’s findings add to the quality of the event. Every participant who speaks up adds valuable feedback that ensures a quality end product.

To assist the problem-solving team, AF CyberWorx provides experienced facilitators to encourage breakout teams to participate and stay on track. We know time is precious during a design sprint and how valuable each participant’s voice is in the group. Speak up and allow us to help you find the best possible solutions to your unique problem.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

PRE-GAME PART ONE: DISCOVERY CALL

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

PRE-GAME PART ONE: DISCOVERY CALL

When AF CyberWorx gets a request to run a design sprint, it’s like kicking an anthill…without all the biting that follows. There’s a series of meetings scheduled, logistics starts plans to make everything run smoothly, and team members are selected. One of the most important pieces to this initial organized scramble is the discovery call.

Dr. Dan Padgett, one of AF CyberWorx’s excellent user experience designers, describes the role of the discovery call as letting the facilitating team get a glimpse of the situation. This glimpse allows them to get into the stakeholders’ minds a little. As he explains, “At the end of the day, as UX designers, we’re not the subject matter experts in the field, so we need to try and understand as much as we can so that we can effectively plan for the problem solving session, whatever form that might take.”

The forms an AF CyberWorx event takes can be from a full five-day problem solving and design sprint to a simple site visit. The discovery call narrows down how long the process will take and what needs to be done.

One of the big pieces the team tries to discern is how solid a problem statement the stakeholders have. As Dr. Padgett explains, “If through a discovery session, we feel like we’ve got a really good handle on the scope of the problem and what they’re actually trying to solve, then we might do a lot less on the discovery portion of the design sprint.” The first day of an event is taken to refine the problem. How long the team spends on this exercise depends largely on how thoroughly the stakeholders have explained their situation and what they want to improve.

Paired with that is the need for clear goals. Everyone has problems, but fewer know what they want the end state to look like. “We want the problem to go away,” is not a goal. “We want the system to improve,” is not a goal, either. A goal needs to be actionable and measureable. The clearer the desired end state is, the more focused a problem solving team will be.

A piece of information that most people don’t think of is the understanding that not all AF CyberWorx team members are well steeped in every cyber career field. We don’t always understand the jargon. As Dr. Padgett describes it, some calls are extremely technical. The experts are on the line and use “acronyms without ceasing.” In the case that our team does not understand,the biggest help is to know what the acronyms mean and pass on that information early in the process. The discovery call is what shapes the overall event. It gives the team at AF CyberWorx the information it needs to build an event that will have the greatest impact. The best way to make the event as successful as possible as early as possible is for the discovery call to go well. Dr. Padgett explains some items to get the most out of discovery calls:

  • Provide enough time before the event that an AF CyberWorx team can make a site visit. Seeing the work environment and the job actually being performed by the users themselves always gives information that someone used to the environment won’t recognize as significant.
  • Ensure the right people are on the call. Stakeholders are important, yes; but having some of the users that experience the pain points normally adds more practical information.
  • Know who the stakeholders are and who the decision makers are. They aren’t always the same. Knowing who will receive the information to make the final decision helps ensure that the final products are designed for maximum impact.
  • Provide concrete information. Who are the users/customers of the system in question? What process/product/challenge is needing improvement or a solution? What are your goals?
  • Exploring the situation and asking questions are part of every discovery call. Come with information and have people in the know on the call so the facilitating team can get a clear picture of what’s going on.
  • A high-level comprehensive picture is more important than a detailed breakdown of the process. The detailed work will go into the event.

Ultimately, the discovery call is an introduction to the problem solving event. It shapes it, defines it, and prepares the AF CyberWorx team to guide a team of experts through the problem solving process. Information goes both ways. We also explain expectations while we’re gaining information. We aren’t the experts on the problem, but we are experts at guiding others through solving their problem. Help us help you.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

PRE-GAME PART TWO: EXPECTATIONS

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

PRE-GAME PART TWO: EXPECTATIONS

“Our thoughts about an event can have a dramatic effect on how we go through the event itself.” –Martha Beck, life coach

Any time a group of people are about to embark on a new goal, there are expectations. As much as motivational quotes talk about having no expectations, they still exist in one form or another. A major part of the initial event planning is expectation management. Stakeholders have in mind what they think AF CyberWorx can do and will do. At the same time, the facilitation team has specific things they hope the stakeholders and participants will do. Sometimes the mystery continues on until the event itself. We hope this blog will work towards solving that mystery by setting realistic expectations.

When stakeholders request an event, they know the status quo is not working. They and the users they represent all have ideas of what might “fix” everything. Dr. Dan Padgett, a user experience designer on staff with AF CyberWorx, explains that the facilitation team does not “validate solutions they’ve already thought of.” Instead, they help with a process of thinking differently that gets the team to an answer. The key word being process. A problem solving event does not start with the solution. That being said, some participants and stakeholders come with the expectation that the AF CyberWorx team is going to either provide the answer to their problem or enable the idea they already have.

Vel Preston, Head of Innovation Design, explains it this way: “You scope a problem one way, and a lot of people come to the sprint who haven’t had the same background with new ideas. The group decides, ‘Well, we hadn’t considered that. Maybe we should scope this differently than we thought.’” The process AF CyberWorx guides event participants through leads experts and industry partners to refine the problem and find an impactful solution.

What the team thinks they’re going to fix at first may not be what needs to be focused on. Larry Marine, Lead UX Designer, explains why it’s necessary to lead participants away from their initial expectations as soon as possible: “Folks come in with a strong tendency towards the symptoms without fully understanding the problem.”

That being said, the facilitating team members are also not subject matter experts themselves. As Dr. Padgett says, “sometimes it takes participants a bit to realize that we’re there to facilitate the sprint, and that we’re not SMEs ourselves.” As designers, their specialty is facilitation and guiding teams to consider the user experience in their own designs. They are not experts in every field, nor are they experts on exactly what the stakeholders need to fix their problem. That’s why a group of experts from the field are brought together to solve the problem.

What AF CyberWorx cannot do for stakeholders is solve their problem. They will not immediately verify initial solutions before the process is followed, because they don’t know the current system well enough to say “yea” or “nay.” What we can do is assist a special focus team towards finding a desirable and feasible solution. We can provide facilities with a workspace, tools, and facilitators to make problem solving easier. We also provide networking with industry partners to broaden the knowledge and capabilities of the DoD talent pool. We facilitate improvement and growth, but the subject matter experts in the field are the real heroes that do the work.

Of course, expectations go both ways. Jayleen Guttromson-Johnson, Program Manager, lays out the AF CyberWorx expectations succinctly: “We expect full-time commitment while [participants are] in the design sprint. No email, phone calls, or disappearances. Also, be open to living with the uncomfortable. Our process isn’t like what most people are used to, so just trust the process.”

Stakeholders request AF CyberWorx facilitation and capabilities. We’re here for the team’s success. Let us help turn problems into solutions that go beyond simple expectations.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

PRE-GAME PART THREE: PROJECT LOGISTICS

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

PRE-GAME PART THREE: PROJECT LOGISTICS

What do hotels, food, security, and video recording have in common? They’re all part of the chain of logistics that happens behind the scenes before a successful event. The AF CyberWorx logistics guru is Cheyenne Ellis. She does more than just gather and send out a hotel list and coordinate access badges and video recording of the event outbrief. She also lines up transportation into the secure location where events are held, builds baskets with supplies for each breakout team, coordinates with our support team for food delivery, ensures buildings and elevators are accessible, and a myriad of other small details to let participants and the team focus their energy on the problem being worked during the event.

For her to be successful, though, she needs the cooperation of stakeholders and participants involved in the event. She says the most important thing she needs is for participants to fill out the requested information as quickly and accurately as possible. Otherwise, she may be unable to help, constrained by security or other deadlines. “We’re very strategic on what we ask for. We’re doing this because we need to.”

The place to give information is through the portal every participant is directed to at registration. The information provided allows Cheyenne to acquire security badges, lets her know if there are any food allergies (or preferences), as well as gives contact information in case there’s a last-minute change or weather issues to ensure participant safety and comfort. Without the proper information, we can’t get you on base, get you access badges, and through security to attend the event.

It’s critical that participants read the information they’re given before arriving on base for an event. It may involve what to bring (and not bring), base visitor hours, directions to the parking area, shuttle transportation, and how to navigate the maze of hallways to AF CyberWorx.

For stakeholders, the most important thing is to be involved and responsive, even if they are unable to attend the event. The best results happen when stakeholders give fully fleshed-out directions including their goals and a fully formed problem statement. Not only do these give the problem-solving team direction, they keep the stakeholder in the loop with what’s going on. The stakeholder is a critical part to shaping the way forward to a solution. Having involved stakeholders helps the event run smoother from the beginning all the way through approving implementing changes identified by the project teams.

AF CyberWorx does as much work behind the scenes as possible to make a design sprint run as smoothly as possible. Without cooperation from participants, however, that work is difficult. Be prepared with your end of the logistics and we will be that much more effective at designing a solution!

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

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PRE-GAME PART FOUR: PARTICIPANT ROLES

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

PRE-GAME PART FOUR: PARTICIPANT ROLES

Many moving pieces go into a successful design event at AF CyberWorx. Each person has a specific role to play: multiple roles, in some cases! While the most visible roles are the participants and the facilitator at the head of the room, the magic wouldn’t happen without everyone involved.

Stakeholders: Each event begins with a stakeholder. Some events have more than one; but the role is the same: to provide direction for the event and everyone involved. They know what the problem is, why it’s a problem, and what the end goals are. Without an involved stakeholder, the event is missing the backbone that provides structure and focus for the entire event.

Decision Makers: The decision maker isn’t always a stakeholder, and doesn’t always need to be 100% involved. When the decision maker controls funding and manpower, but doesn’t operate in the area on a day-to-day basis, they rely on the stakeholders to brief them about the event findings to decide on the areas to support.

Participants: As one of the most visible roles in the design event, participants are the vehicle for shaping the magic. They fill the problem solving process with relevant information and experience to arrive at unique solutions to the stakeholder’s problem. Nearly all participants are hand-picked because they can give the most benefit to (and benefit from) the event. The greatest impact participants make is being engaged as early as possible all the way through to the final outbrief.

Industry Partners: Non-government participants play an important role in an event, as well. AF CyberWorx invites industry specialists to join in problem solving according to their expertise. They provide key insight into the commercial world’s capabilities and direction of growth. The additional knowledge and experience they bring to a design sprint expands potential solutions beyond many current government abilities. They also add a diversity to the group that helps break down traditional military and organizational barriers to increase team effectiveness.

Facilitators: The other highly visible role in an event are the facilitators. They come in two flavors:

  • Strategist: The strategist is usually, but not always, the lead facilitator. They take the information the stakeholder provides and determines the structure of the event. Depending on how developed the initial problem statement is, they may spend more or less time on refining the problem or devote more time to having the subject matter experts fill in missing information. The strategist determines the general shape the event will take before the participants even finish registering.
  • Facilitators: There is the lead facilitator, who leads the problem solving team, explains activities and times breakout groups, and guides the entire event according to the plan the strategist outlined. The other facilitators provide support to both the problem solving team and the lead facilitator. They field questions, act as the eyes and ears of the lead facilitator, and ensure breakout groups have the support they need through information and materials. Most, if not all, of our facilitators are professionally trained UX designers.

Project Management Team: The project management team provides the support behind the scenes for the event. From logistics to security, access to secure facilities for classified information, and everything in between, the project management team works to ensure the minutiae are taken care of to let the problem solving team focus on the event.

Customer Relationship Owner: Last, but certainly not least, the customer relationship owner ensures that everyone involved gets what they need out of the event. The customers include the stakeholders, the industry specialists, the decision makers, and the organizations involved. They continue working even after the event is finished to connect industry and governmental organizations to make working towards a solution as viable as possible.

AF CyberWorx believes in the full concept of seeking and implementing improvement. The entire team works in their respective roles to best support finding and implementing solutions to the best of our abilities. Together, we can support the continued growth and superiority of the US Air Force in a rapidly evolving global theater.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

STEP ONE: REFINING THE PROBLEM

Dissecting the Design Sprint Event

STEP ONE: REFINING THE PROBLEM

The first step during a design sprint at AF CyberWorx is refining the problem. Stakeholders have an idea of what problem they want to solve. They may want to save time, streamline or automate processes, fix a system showing bad metrics, or set up a policy for a new requirement. Initial problem statements may reflect this focus, but usually lack the specifics the problem solving team needs to be effective.

Larry Marine, lead UX designer at AF CyberWorx, explains why it’s so important to re-examine the problem statement. As he states, “If you don’t know what problem you need to solve, the best you can hope to do is solve the wrong problem very well.” Just like a mission statement gives direction for a business, an accurate problem statement gives teams a solid visualization of what they need to achieve. Larry gives an example of a poor problem statement from his previous experiences:

“A mortgage company needed to improve their processes to increase efficiency. A common problem in the organization was epitomized by one form which required twenty four separate signatures. Copies of these forms were stored in filing cabinets that took up an entire floor of their building. The solution seemed simple: digitize the forms. However, during problem analysis research, the team found that the form hadn’t been necessary since a procedural change 20 years ago! Though their problem statement in this case included digitizing the form, they ended up cutting costs and regaining resources by simply getting rid of the unnecessary form.”

This simple example shows why problem refinement is the first step in every AF CyberWorx event. To help develop solutions that are impactful, meaningful, and effective, facilitators first guide event participants through the process of analyzing the problem to redefine the problem statement to be more accurate to ensure they achieve their desired outcome. Larry explains that some of the most common issues found in an initial problem statement include (1) making a solution the problem statement, (2) fixing symptoms instead of the root problem, and (3) forgetting that a problem can evolve over time.

When the initial problem statement says something like, “we need to digitize…” or otherwise describe a specific action, it’s giving a solution, not stating a problem. People often come into a problem solving event with a solution already in mind. They think, “I know what we need to do,” especially when they have a lot of experience with the problem. A solution-based problem statement supports that and guides the team to do something specific, albeit incorrect. If the team has the solution already, why should they go through the problem solving process? They already have the answer. The mortgage company already had an answer, but the team soon found the answer wasn’t the best solution. Refining the problem statement gives the team a more solution-agnostic goal to encourage the free thinking which finds the right solutions.

Another common issue initial problem statements have is a focus on symptoms instead of a root cause of the problem. For example: when the problem statement says, “We need to reduce the rejection rate from 65%.” The rate is a symptom of a larger problem. A better statement is, “Customers don’t know what information to give us, leading to a 65% rejection rate,” but it’s still focused on a symptom. To avoid creating another band-aid that simply covers a symptom, finding the root cause of those symptoms leads to a more impactful set of solutions. An even more accurate problem statement using root cause analysis might read, “Customers are looking for a tool to tell them what information to give, but can’t find it so don’t give the right documents.” The problem needs to be redefined with root cause analysis to aim at a deeper level than surface symptoms.

A third common mistake with initial problem statements is believing that a “fix” for an old problem will work now with a little tweaking. Larry explains that when a problem is “solved,” that solution tends to change slowly through time, ignoring the fact that the problem itself is changing as well. Basically, “We’ve always done it this way.” The form with the mortgage company is a good example. The problem hadn’t been examined in so long that no one realized the problem source wasn’t even necessary anymore. Refining the problem in this case verifies what the current nature of the problem is to develop an effective solution.

When AF CyberWorx leads a team through re-examining the problem, they aren’t wasting time by rehashing work that’s already been done. They’re refining the problem to ensure it is accurate, correctly identifies what needs to be fixed, removes solution bias, and pinpoints the team’s focus on the most impactful problem. As Larry states, “We look at details that they gloss over or can’t describe. If the refined problem statement looks like the initial one, we’ve likely missed something.” Using specialized experience and best-practice tools, facilitators help teams refine not only the problem statement, but the mindset of the team to make their problem-solving experience more efficient and positive in the short amount of time allotted to a design sprint.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

Air Force CyberWorx Announces New and Renewed Partnership Intermediary Agreements

Air Force CyberWorx is pleased to announce their Partnership Intermediary Agreements with the following nonprofits: The Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization (C-TRAC), Montana State University-MilTech, Purdue Research Foundation, and RTI International.

AF CyberWorx PIA Partnerships

“AF CyberWorx is privileged to be able to extend our reach to valuable and insightful industry partners through Partnership Intermediary Agreements,” said AF CyberWorx Director Col Bill Waynick. “These relationships are critical to our mission of delivering the most impactful, user-focused solutions to our warfighters as quickly as possible.”

Each organization will bring its unique strengths to enhance AF CyberWorx’s capabilities.

C-TRAC is located at Catalyst Campus in downtown Colorado Springs, CO. It serves the country and bolsters the economy by bringing together government, education, and industry partners to meet our warfighter’s needs at market speed – fulfilling their vision of co-creating national capabilities. This will be C-TRAC’s fourth year partnering with Air Force CyberWorx as a Partnership Intermediary.

A Partnership Intermediary with a history in working with the Department of Defense, MilTech’s mission is to accelerate the transition of new technology to the U.S. Warfighter. Since 2004, MilTech has performed over 150 technology acceleration and transition projects for every military service including joint and special commands.

The Purdue Research Foundation’s Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the United States. Founded in 1930, the foundation brings years of experience in managing and licensing intellectual property and negotiating research contracts.

RTI International is an independent, nonprofit research institute dedicated to improving the human condition. Their vision is to address the world’s most critical problems with science-based solutions in pursuit of a better future. Their multi-disciplinary approach to answering questions integrates expertise across the social and laboratory sciences, engineering, and international development.

AF CyberWorx solves challenging cyber problems facing our nation through the use of human-centered design while simultaneously educating airmen and cadets on these practices. The AF CyberWorx team recognizes the significant advances enabled through industry partnerships and has structured a mission around these synergistic relationships.

Air Force CyberWorx Director Engages Colorado Springs Defense Community at AFCEA Luncheon

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Chiaramonte, Director of AF CyberWorx, had the honor of being the guest speaker at the monthly Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) Rocky Mountain Chapter luncheon, held May 16 at the Peterson Air Force Base Club.

The AFCEA Rocky Mountain Chapter serves the defense, intelligence, national security, and military health communities surrounding the five major military installations in Colorado. AFCEA’s 800 local members assist the Colorado Springs community by unifying the robust military, government, and industry partners to advance the continuing education of today’s young leaders in science, technology, engineering, math, and computer science fields.

Lt Col Chiaramonte, a 2001 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) who holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Arizona State University and has been Director of AF CyberWorx since February 2018, described the history, purpose, and ambitions of this innovative organization before a packed room of attendees.

Lt Col Chiaramonte explained that AF CyberWorx was originally proposed in 2014 to spur innovation and rapidly develop cyberspace solutions for the Air Force. The Air Force Academy was chosen as the ideal place to house the new organization because of USAFA’s designation as a federal laboratory, the academic resources available in a university setting (including a pool of 4,000 cadet innovators), and the unique industry partnering opportunities available for leverage. In addition to taking advantage of the cadets’ creative problem-solving today, AF CyberWorx is able to imprint these future Air Force leaders with the mindset and skills they will need to help the Air Force identify and deliver solutions to future challenges.  

Lt Col Chiaramonte described AF CyberWorx’s strategic design process which sets it apart from other similar organizations. In its approach to projects, which originate in operational Air Force units, the organization works with industry partners, using human-centered design and user-focused empathy to drill down to the root of the problem and identify possible solutions that align with the mission of the sponsoring organization. Some solutions are selected to be prototyped, from which one may be selected for further development and ultimately delivered back to the user and potentially scaled for use Air Force-wide.

AF CyberWorx’s process and culture are counter to the Department of Defense’s way of doing business through its traditional requirements process. The DoD uses five-year budgets and demands that a product is fully defined prior to production, with delivery most often projected several years in the future. That process may be appropriate for major programs like fifth-generation fighter aircraft, but it does not work in the rapidly-evolving cyber realm. Instead, AF CyberWorx allows Airmen to use a solution, collect feedback, and iteratively improve upon the solution. This culture gap is also the source of AF CyberWorx’s biggest challenge – getting their solutions adopted into a program of record for widespread delivery and long-term sustainment.

Chiaramonte Luncheon with AFCEALt Col Chiaramonte went on to discuss several past AF CyberWorx projects as examples of the kinds of problems the program addresses, including a mobile phone app to provide precise positioning, navigation, and timing without a GPS signal, a cyber risk dashboard for non-cyber operational commanders called Cyber Risk Ecosystem, and a personnel readiness dashboard that aggregates data from disparate databases reflecting an Airman’s fitness to deploy.

To date, AF CyberWorx has partnered with over 200 companies and established 20 cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs). Through their partner intermediary, Center for Technology, Research, and Commercialization (C-TRAC), AF CyberWorx targets for partnership small businesses and non-traditional defense contractors that can provide insight into novel or emerging technology. Using C-TRAC, a nonprofit, to do industry outreach prevents conflicts of interest between the government and its industry partners.

Lt Col Chiaramonte further expressed optimism about AF CyberWorx’s future. Their realignment under Air Combat Command’s cyber superiority portfolio will offer access to a broader range of problems and solutions while providing stronger bureaucratic support and advocacy for solution delivery into programs of record. Additionally, AF CyberWorx expects to break ground in the next few months on a new 44,000 square foot facility funded through a public-private partnership between the government and the USAFA Endowment. The new facility will include state-of-the-art labs for sophisticated prototyping, bringing together all of the cyber-related organizations at USAFA, and will be more accessible by industry partners.

The luncheon was an excellent opportunity for AF CyberWorx to engage with the local community and industry leaders while describing the culture shifts in DoD acquisition that it is leading.

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