Disruptive solutions process

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The disruptive solutions process (DSP) is a concept for innovation execution applied to the mishap prevention part of the combat operations process, often at tactical or operational level, primarily in Air National Guard applications. However, it has been used successfully in other government agencies and in the private sector. At its core is the notion of iterative, low cost, first-to-market development. The term 'disruptive' was borrowed from the marketing term disruptive technologies. DSP was created in 2005 by fighter pilot and United States Air Force/Air National Guard Colonel Edward Vaughan.[1]


Typical defense industry bureaucratic approach to problem solving involves exquisite, enterprise solutions requiring long lead times, establishment of large, standing teams, and relative inflexibility. The long development cycles and lead times associated with this approach sometimes result in fielding a solution that is no longer relevant.[2] Recent attempts to resolve inefficiencies may include overwhelming with superior funding, resources, and manpower—for example, take any major weapon systems development such as a new fighter jet or IT system.[3] Conversely, when resources are constrained, bureaucratic staff adopt a tactic of continuous process improvement, similar to that espoused in Kaizen, total quality management, and Lean Six Sigma. This further discourages innovation and perpetuates low value programs and work teams that should be eliminated altogether rather than "improved".

Because most preventable "safety" mishaps are caused by human factors (83% of Fiscal Year 2007 Air Force major mishap costs due to human factors per AF Safety Center)[4] and can be traced to human cultural and behavioral issues, according to DSP, safety can and should uniquely apply a "disruptive" solution set to addressing the issues. Such a disruptive, iterative approach may not be appropriate in otherwise hardware-centric, large budget programs, such an aircraft procurement and production.

To address the safety cultural issues associated with mishap prevention in a large bureaucracy, Air National Guard safety directorate pursued a disruptive approach in requirement definition, problem identification, solution vetting, funding, and procurement. Using Boyd's Observe, Orient, Decide, Act OODA Loop to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the process, DSP was created. However, taking on a bureaucracy is not without its downside. Fiefdoms and stovepipes within the system attempt to protect their "turf" and "lanes" with rules, regulations, and non-stop administrative delays and paperwork. All this requires commitment to a long-term solution set, while constantly changing the solution itself in order to work through the bureaucratic hurdles.

The DSP approach is both persistent and adaptive, which makes it entrepreneurial, according to Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek in their article "Fending off the Recession with 'Adaptive Persistence'", published in the Harvard Business Review, April 2009. They write... "Persistence is about refusing to give up even in the face of adversity. Adaptation is about shortening the time to success through ingenuity and flexibility. 'Adaptive persistence' entails alternating between anticipation, changing course, and sticking with it, deftly navigating that paradox with aplomb."[5]

Basic process[edit]

The "process" is executed similar to a venture capitalist's portfolio of projects in that the team invests small amounts of resources in many disruptive ideas. Steps in the process are not rigorous and may be eliminated, combined, or reordered as appropriate to the desired outcome. Then the team assesses initial demonstrations and validations (DEM/VAL) of those solutions, choosing only to fully develop those that show success and return on the investment. Within the simplified OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) model, step 1 would be observe, steps 2 and 3 combine to form orient, steps 4 and 5 are decide, and step 6 is act.

Essentially DSP is a six-step process that runs counter to the military mantra of "requirements driven", which is backwards-looking, and focuses instead on projecting future market needs that will eventually become formal requirements, but not currently identified as such. This is accomplished by looking at front-line problem solving activity and scaling these solutions up. These six steps, when applied rapidly, can get ahead of recognition, providing viable solutions at the point and time of need:

1. POLL FIELD—IDEA MINING: use network of professionals at the field unit level to identify best practice mishap prevention, education, mishap investigation, procurement, and other tools. Project unpublished requirements by including end-use customers in the idea mining process. Look for full and partial solutions.

2. CONSOLIDATE / RACK AND STACK: Heuristically sort list of ideas into groups based on resource requirements, proven record, technology leveraging, mission accomplishment, Department of Defense, Air Force Instruction, and National Guard Bureau identified needs. Based on chosen development cycles, monthly, quarterly, etc., rank order all projects based on overall value to the force using DSP assessment algorithm (citation forthcoming after public release of algorithm).

3. ELIMINATE BAD FITS: Scrub the list for those items requiring major hardware, Air Force Major Command level funding, or other special, difficult to acquire funding or processes. Enterprise-level and/or exquisite programs are anathema to this innovative process. Additionally remove from consideration solutions that duplicate or compete directly with future programmed or existing military programs unless the cost savings is significant. Eliminate those programs that are not scalable in scope.

4. SELECT AND DEM/VAL: Consider resource requirements and rapidly source field unit funding or headquarters seed monies in the sub-$50K range to perform a limited DEM/VAL of concept. Many technology solutions can be demonstrated with little or no initial funding. Air National Guard Safety office has a presentation on creative funding without a budget. Use rapid contracting mechanisms through government contracting office, primarily employing SBA set-asides, blanket purchase agreements, or previously procured assets that may be re-roled into current use. This requires expert contracting officers and staff who possess training in performing basic functions of government contracting officer representative, or contracting officer technical representative. The key is to remove barriers to execution that typically delay other military efforts.

5. ITERATE FOR RESULTS: Establish definition of success at the outset. Measurable and reportable. Demonstrate measurable results within six months and seek further external and scalable funding from sources such as DARPA, Defense Safety Oversight Council (DSOC), other services, other government agencies, etc. Match requirements to resources and solutions.

6. LEAD AND MARKET: lead the effort on behalf of the United States Department of Defense, Joint, Interagency, etc. and tighten the OODA loop down to nothing. Essentially creating an agile, continuous loop so tight, Boyd might describe it as an OODA Point. Market the solution intensely and seek buy in by returning the solution to same experts that initially proposed it. Identify capable project leaders to run with the project.


History and program successes[edit]

DSP was initiated during OIF in 2004, when a joint, interagency team, led by then-Major Edward Vaughan and then-Major Cameron Guthrie, created Project BLACK MOUNTAIN. The project evolved from a combined requirement to better share real-time tactical data among ground and air forces, as well as promote mid-air collision avoidance (MACA) within the area of responsibility (AOR). This project, which is no longer classified, assembled an ad hoc tactical datalink using in situ components within an Internet Protocol-normalized network throughout United States Central Command's AOR. Data from otherwise incompatible systems was shared in near real time using data packet conversion methods, developed on location. BLACK MOUNTAIN provided a viable fill in the gaps left by the dismantled Battlefield Universal Gateway Equipment (BUG-E)[6] gateway solution by distributing a redundant, universal concept of operations to remote stations. The disruptive and austere nature of the solution project, and its unexpected and rapid success, led to creation of DSP as one way of streamlining bureaucracy in both combat non-combat environments.

More recently, DSP has been used in the ANG and USAF to create and field mishap prevention programs. Safety programs created, executed, or developed using DSP:

SEE AND AVOID – Joint DOD and Interagency with AOPA, EAA, and FAA. It is a web based civilian-military midair collision avoidance program created by then-Lt Col Ed Vaughan and led by ANG Safety directorate from 2005 to 2009, considered a best practice. ACC is partner; AFCENT asked for Iraq, Afghanistan coverage, now under contract, currently led and funded by FAA and ANG.[7]

WingmanDay.org: Originally fielded as RealBase across the Air National Guard...this Comprehensive Commander’s Toolkit identifies safety issues, resiliency subject matter, and provides tools for commanders, leaders, and care practitioners to address; created by ANG Safety directorate after 2007 Safety Stand Down Day to provide ONE STOP SHOPPING for commanders and leaders. The RealBase web portal ran through 2009, when IT officials at the National Guard Bureau suspended it. In 2011, the program was relaunched as Wingman Day. The Air Force Safety Center took the RealBase Toolkit concept and developed one-stop-shopping online tool kits hosted on the secure Air Force Portal.[8]

Maintenance Resource Management (MRM): Joint DOD-wide. Originated by Lt Col Doug Slocum (AZ ANG) --see Maintenance Resource Management. ANG included it in DSP and took it DOD-wide with ANG and DOD funding...now Air Force program mandated by Air Force Instruction 21–101. Air Force Safety Center will propose way ahead on ORM revitalization & role of CRM / MRM.

FlyAwake: ANG-wide, soon to be DOD-wide Joint Service. 201 Airlift Squadron (DC ANG), under command of Col Woody Akins, originated the basic concept for a web-based fatigue risk management tool which returns quantitative fatigue analysis for given flight schedule. This tool was based on the algorithm contained within FAST. Under direction of program manager Captain Lynn Lee, the ANG integrated it into the DSP and took it ANG-wide, then DOD-wide.[9]

Wingman Project: The Wingman Project was created by Lt Col Edward Vaughan, chief of aviation safety at the Air National Guard in August 2007. Wingman Project is an ANG suicide intervention initiative that SHOWS, not tells, family and friends of distressed Airmen how to intervene to save a life, using a validated model known as ACE (Ask, Care, Escort). The Wingman Project provides training and awareness through media outreach in 54 U.S. states and territories.[10]

ANG AFCAST (online safety cultural survey) was the first Air National Guard variant of AFCAST. Dr. (Lt Col) Tracy Dillinger developed AFCAST for the US Air Force. In 2006/2007, Air National Guard provided key funding to the Air Force Safety Center to keep the AFCAST program viable. In return, a customized cultural tool for ANG, called ANG AFCAST was developed in 2006/2007 by the Chief of ANG Flight Safety in collaboration with Dr. Bob Figlock. The Defense Safety Oversight Council[11] later funded the Joint Safety Climate Assessment System,[12] under the leadership of Col Don White. ANG adopted JSCAS in lieu of ANG AFCAST based on better effectiveness. JSCAS and Joint MRM were briefed together in 2007 by ANG Safety officers to the Chief of the Navy Safety Center at Norfolk as complementary programs. Used to assess unit cultural issues and target solutions to the base needs. JSCAS

dBird bird mortality model. Created and developed as interagency program combining partners from CDC, Smithsonian, NSF, USDA, DHS, and NOAA under ANG leadership to track, target, and predict movements of pathogen-infected bird flocks using BASH resources such as BAM/AHAS, NexRAD radar system, and others.[13]

BASH: ANG has comprehensive full-service BASH assessments and plan writing program, with MIPR and contracts from ANG to USDA and the world’s leading expert in avian wildlife biology, Dr. Russ DeFusco.[14][15]

Air Reserve Component Chief of Safety Course (ARCCOS) – created by the ANG safety directorate in 2005, ARCCOS is tailored to ANG/AFRC needs; syllabus designed and course taught by ANG, well represented at active duty mishap investigation courses.

Low Altitude Deconfliction Program – Deconflict.org is online scheduling function with FAA's MADE program to provide collision avoidance for military aircraft operating in low altitude environment.[16]

Ready 54 – Ready54.org is online joint resiliency outreach and education tool with associated mobile apps. Ready 54 is a joint endeavor between the Air and Army National Guard.[17]

In the news[edit]

On September 25, 2009, Dr. John Ohab of the American Forces Press Service, and host of Armed With Science, interviewed Lt Col Edward Vaughan about the Disruptive Solutions Process. An article about that interview can be found here Defense News Service. A direct link to the interview here [18]

See also[edit]

Citations and notes[edit]


  • Lee, Lynn "Face of Defense: Air Guardsman's Entrepreneurial Approach Earns Safety Award"[5]
  • Boyd, John, Organic Design for Command and Control [6]
  • Kotnour, Jim, Leadership Mechanisms for Enabling Learning Within Project Teams in proceedings from the Third European Conference on Organizational Knowledge, Learning and Capabilities, Proceedings OKLC 2002 [7]
  • Osinga, Frans, Science Strategy and War, The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, Abingdon, UK: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-37103-1.
  • Richards, Chet, Certain to Win: the Strategy of John Boyd, Applied to Business (2004) ISBN 1-4134-5377-5
  • Ullman, David G., “OO-OO-OO!” The Sound of a Broken OODA Loop, Crosstalk, April 2007,
  • Ullman, David G., Making Robust Decisions: Decision Management For Technical, Business, and Service Teams. Victoria: Trafford ISBN 1-4251-0956-X – ties the OODA Loop into decision making processes.[8]

External links[edit]