H4X: Let’s Talk Innovation


How do you talk about innovative ideas with government customers? 

Specifically, how do you ensure that an innovative idea actually addresses the needs of a government customer?

One approach is using Hacking for X (H4X), a problem-solving method that is gaining traction in the defense research and development community.

H4X and its related iterations – including Hacking for Defense (H4D) – are based on a Lean Startup methodology developed by Steve Blank, a veteran of Silicon Valley, and others at the consulting firm BMNT.  

In general, the goal of H4X is to test out innovative ideas with users and other stakeholders before investing too much time or energy in development—providing ample opportunity to revise a concept or to “pivot” to a different idea altogether before a line of code is written.

The methodology uses three primary tools, as explained by course materials provided to students in an H4X course at Stanford:

  • The Business/Mission Model Canvas. This is a simple form for defining the parameters of a possible solution. This includes such factors as the intended beneficiaries, the value proposition, deployment considerations, organizational buy-in and potential metrics for success.
  • The Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The idea is to come up with the simplest way possible to explain the value proposition to users/stakeholders. This might be a storyboard showing a use case, a video overview or even just a brochure outlining key features—anything 
  • Agile development. As with Agile in general, the idea is to keep users and stakeholders involved each step of the way as a system is developed.

The Office of Naval Research recently adopted H4X as the foundation for its Naval Innovation Process Adoption program, which is intended to help the Navy and Marine Corps to develop new capabilities.

But the first two steps of H4X also seem to hold promise as a way to structure dialogue between government and industry around new ideas. It provides a simple way to do a reality check—to verify assumptions and test-drive value propositions—on proposed solutions, and to create more informed buyers and sellers.


Recommended Reading

Here are some good source documents and recent media reports:


John Monroe

ConnellyWorks, Inc.
1700 Diagonal Road
Suite 450
Alexandria, VA 22314

Virginia SWaM Certification #714857

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