Disrupting Acquisition Blog

How PEOs Can Bridge the Valley of Death

by | Mar 29, 2022 | Innovation, Portfolio Management

Group of People

Portfolio Innovation Directors

The Program Side of the Valley of Death outlined major barriers to technology insertion, yet a new DoD role could be a key linchpin to bridge the valley.

Program Executive Officers (PEOs) should establish a Portfolio Innovation Director (PID) within their organization. The PIDs would be responsible for ensuring a robust innovation pipeline is fueling novel science and technology solutions to the acquisition portfolio. PEOs could use special hiring authorities to hire a key leader who understands the technologies, DoD processes, and can connect the community. They would bring keen technical expertise and insights to program offices and strengthen connections with the commercial and defense industry.

The PIDs would actively engage the National Security Innovation Base (NSIB) related to their portfolio’s capability areas. This includes tapping the innovation hubs (e.g., DIU and AFWERX), DARPA, DoD Labs, FFRDCs, UARCs, OT Consortia, and industry (traditional and non-traditional defense companies). Establish relationships with the key players in these organizations that fuel technology solutions the portfolio may use.

They would communicate to the NSIB the portfolio roadmaps, priority needs, challenges, and future opportunities. This enables the NSIB to understand the market direction to shape their research, investments, and pitch their existing and emerging capabilities. The PIDs could advise companies on navigating the DoD and portfolio processes to include contracting, funding, timing, and intellectual property.

The PIDs would be technology scouts, constantly seeking to understand the leading technologies, companies, and solutions that could be applied to the portfolio. They would share these insights with the PEO, program offices, and others within the portfolio. PIDs would also collaborate with each other across the DoD portfolios to share insights, best practices, and challenges.

PIDs would guide emerging solutions to include DARPA, DoD Lab, and FFRDC prototypes, SBIR projects, IRAD, and commercial solutions across the Valley of Death. In some cases, this means connecting these efforts with programs within the portfolio. For the many times where program roadblocks or lack of a match stop many promising efforts, a portfolio environment may be able to sustain or scale these emerging efforts. Then as funding, tech maturity, and other factors take shape, the portfolio can integrate the new tech into an existing program or form a new acquisition program. PIDs would work with other portfolio leaders to develop and shape the processes and strategies to enable tech insertion into the portfolio suite of capabilities.

PIDs could also engage the operational communities within their Services and the Combatant Commands (especially INDOPACOM these days) to understand their priority needs, environment, and constraints and share the portfolio’s roadmaps and capability pipeline. This enables the PIDs to go beyond the traditional program-centric requirements process to fuel technology driven opportunities.

As DoD seeks to harness leading defense and commercial technologies for mission impact, it must invest in modern portfolio management practices and a key linchpin role. Each PEO has a huge opportunity to establish a robust innovation pipeline that harnesses the leading technologies for 10X mission impact. The first step is to establish a Portfolio Innovation Director and team to actively engage the community and establish the framework to bridge the Valley of Death for their portfolio.

Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed here are those of the authors only and do not represent the positions of the MITRE Corporation or its sponsors.


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