MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.-“How might we provide better customer service to our clients addressing Personnel, Sustainment, Readiness and Training?"
That was the unit challenge statement addressed by 18 Army Reserve Soldiers and civilians from the 63rd Readiness Division to kick-off the unit’s first National Security Innovation Network Bootcamp, hosted virtually by the 63rd RD, Feb. 14-17, 2022 and Feb. 23-24, 2022.
The purpose of this NSIN Bootcamp is, to take an internal look at each 63rd RD section or directorate and discuss issues that create bottlenecks or stalemates in how we provide services to our customers pertaining to Personnel, Readiness, Sustainment and Training, according to Army Reserve Maj. Antoine Brooks a future ops officer with the G3/G5 and the 63rd RD’s NSIN Bootcamp lead.
The workshop was led by two instructors from the University of California-Berkley in partnership with the Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit.
“NSIN Bootcamp is practice-first, and our experience with applying the methodology to diverse problems as facilitators is the key driver of our relationship to our Bootcamp partners,” said Vivek Rao, one of the two NSIN Bootcamp instructors and a lecturer and researcher at the Haas School of Business and the College of Engineering at UC-Berkeley. “To this point we have run Bootcamps with 27 organizations across the DoD, so we have a lot of experience working with diverse challenges and diverse mission partners.”
A variety of challenge area statements
Some of the 63rd RD’s PRST challenge areas that were addressed during the NSIN Bootcamp were how to update the daily personnel status report on time while meeting accuracy requirements; how to create a more seamless in-processing procedure for new 63rd RD Soldiers and civilians while assigning them laptops in a more streamlined manner and how can the Public Affairs Office improve access to hi-speed commercial internet/Wi-Fi by obtaining and using a Mobile Broadband Kit.
The training’s intent was for participants to be able to gain hands-on experience through practical problem-solving to develop a prototype of a minimum viable product that directly addresses a problem that the unit is facing beyond the speed of government, according to Brooks.
Everyone who attended had a practical problem to solve that was directly correlated to the scope and question, “How might we improve customer service?” he added.
Days 1-2-Introduction to the innovation process
During the first two days, the exercise instructors introduced the entire group to the innovation process, while explaining how to create an innovative thinking mindset.
They also broke the class up into small groups and then had them choose one specific challenge statement, as a group, to address and offer specific solutions to resolve and improve that specific issue, all in a virtual unclassified learning environment.
The 63rd RD Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment’s challenge is a request for orders process standard and their timeliness, according to Army Reserve Civilian Joshua Gholston, G1, staff training specialist, HHD, 63rd RD.
This, “delays or prevents Soldiers from going on orders, affecting mission completion,” he added.
The goal of the event was for the sections to walk away with the ability to identify areas that can be addressed using innovation or technology and then apply lessons learned to improve 63rd RD’s customer service internally and externally.
The instructors used class lectures, discussions and presentations mixed with anecdotal evidence and real-life stories of how innovation broke thru in the past via a reexamination of outdated processes at various companies and organizations, throughout the six days of virtual classroom instruction.
These real-world stories of innovation in action showed the participants how a new way or innovative way of looking at a stereotypical or standard procedure or problem ultimately created significant changes and improvements in other organizations’ customer experiences.
During these initial days there was also a team formation survey, an exploratory interview homework assignment related each participant’s challenge statement and the creation of a stakeholder/journey map.
Gholston said he has also participated in something similar in the past, “I am a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.”
The goal for the final group solution end brief was also explained as well as how to make sense of data, how to frame opportunities while understanding the end-users and stakeholders.
Day 3-Inteviews and “How might we?”
During the latter part of week one, the instructors reviewed with the entire class, “How might we?” questions, like reframing an idea or process and how to generate concepts or improvements to the challenges of providing better customer service that were being addressed in the breakout sessions with the small groups.
There was also individual homework to conduct a second interview to gain information from end users about specific PRST challenges being addressed by each individual group and the feasibility of the prototypes.
Army Reserve Civilian Wajiha Qureshi, a budget analyst in the 63rd RD’s G8 section’s resource management office, said, she participated in class, “to provide maximum efficiency in the division.”
Qureshi said she had attended a similar type of training at 1st Special Forces Command Headquarters in North Carolina in 2019 and at Stanford University in 2018.
Day 4-Building prototypes, getting feedback
The small groups came back together again, on the final day of week 1 to iterate and develop their innovative solution prototypes.
The NSIN Bootcamp program is an accelerated course in which participants are introduced to the concepts and methods for innovation in the context of real-world problems facing their units, according to Brooks.
Using the same concepts and methods taught at leading U.S. tech and business schools, the course uses human-centered design (HCD) methods for problem framing and solving, in addition to hypothesis development and testing.
These tools allow commanders to capitalize on the talent in their organizations and receive an initial framework for solutions, he added.
Also on day four, individuals were required to conduct a final interview for homework to gain preliminary feedback on their innovative solutions prior to the second week of the Bootcamp.
Throughout the course the instructors shared best practices of other innovation successes to demonstrate that change and improvements can happen within large and small organizations.
Day 5-Iterating on prototypes, testing and implementation plans
By the end of day five, each small group was transferred back into their virtual room and went over testing and implementing their prototypes and plans as they refined their solution concepts for their end brief.
Army Reserve Capt. Joshua Lantrip’s, G1, 63rd RD said he participated in the 63rd RD's first NSIN Bootcamp, “to represent the G1 portion of 63rd Readiness Division.”
Lantrip is a G1 operations officer in charge of consolidation and management of human resource information and programs at the 63rd RD.
He had never participated in training like this before.
Many of the participants in the 63rd RD NSIN Bootcamp had not even met before.
The NSIN Bootcamp will make for more strong connections and better communication within the organization, Qureshi said.
The end state is to identify a minimum of three areas that have been named as priorities by the command and meet the criteria of PRST and as a group determine which challenges are most easily addressed and present those ideas to the NSIN instructors as potential challenge statements to be developed during the Bootcamp, Brooks added.
Day 6-Storytelling, pitching, feedback; a possible way forward
The final day was the small groups’ storytelling and pitching of their innovation solutions for their challenge statements they had chosen during the first week.
The course ends with service member teams pitching their solutions to the senior leader, according to Brooks. The pitch event will provide the option for the commander to act on the momentum and ideas generated by the NSIN Bootcamp.
Solutions chosen by the commander are set on a deliberate path towards implementation, he added.
In the afternoon of the final day each group’s elected speaker, briefed virtually to the entire class, Army Reserve Col. Carlos Esparra, the G3 deputy chief of staff, 63rd RD and Army Reserve Civilian Mr. Kario Harris, the 63rd RD’s civilian chief of staff, via a shared screen PowerPoint, for their feedback and next steps.
The 63rd RD PAO’s challenge area statement brief focused on obtaining an MBK device for the PA directorate to replace the current cell phone Wi-Fi hotspot, to create higher resolution quality when live-streaming significant unit events.
A PAO dedicated MBK would also improve the directorate’s efficiency when publishing command information media content to the unit’s social media platforms that would drive increased viewership, interactions, user engagement by internal and external audiences while also disseminating Army Reserve recruiting and retention themes and messages, according to this small group’s briefer.
All of the groups had a good back and forth discussion with a lot of questions and ideas from Esparra and Harris during the end briefs.
"I thought it was an excellent opportunity for the groups to work together on solving a problem set,” Esparra said.
During the small groups’ final briefs, both Esparra and Harris gave their insights and ideas on how to possibly implement the new and innovative solutions to the problem sets generated by the original 63rd RD challenge statement.
“We were highly impressed with the solution set that emerged from the four teams in the Bootcamp,” Rao said. “Teams engaged creatively and proactively with a variety of innovation activities that showed the 63rd RD's willingness to experiment and try new approaches to problem solving.”
Army Reserve Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matthew Stubbs, the G4, automotive maintenance warrant officer for the 63rd RD was part of a small group working on the PERSTAT challenge statement.
He briefed his team’s innovative solution, using the current SharePoint in a new way for the daily PERSTAT.
“Particularly successful for this group was the 63rd's ability to connect abstract concepts to low-risk experiments and prototypes that they could try and implement immediately, what one team called ‘baby steps’ - this team, for example, pitched a prototype leveraging SharePoint for personnel accounting enroute to development of a new software and app system; SharePoint could be implemented tomorrow, whereas the new app might take months - doing SharePoint first would be a huge win against the problem, and potentially help marshal support for a larger-scale systems build, Rao said.
Our group’s actual pitch was to utilize the SharePoint ‘grid view’ as the ‘baby step,’ working towards the ultimate prototype software and app system, according to Army Reserve Master Sgt. Pedro Garcia, HR Operations, G1, 63rd RD.
As far as leveraging SharePoint, the main intent is to "utilize SharePoint as the main interface, with end-users providing daily PERSTAT reporting through the grid view option, that is customizable and scalable as needed," Garcia said.
The NSIN Bootcamp provided our group with an innovative approach to solve an organizational problem utilizing readily available public platforms, products and tools, Garcia added.
“I would encourage the 63rd RD to keep this experimentation mindset active across the range of activities you all pursue as an organization,” Rao added.
After Action Report or AAR
“It was an absolute joy working with the 63rd RD,” Rao said after the conclusion of the workshop.
“It has been fantastic getting to know members of the 63rd RD,” he added.
“You get out what you put into this workshop,” Lantrip said, “good engagement.”
Lantrip suggested having a broader audience from outside the organization.
“Some ideas and takeaways are applicable to everyday functions, others require more efforts to implement,” Lantrip added.
Brooks said he participated in the workshop because, he felt it was something that can help the 63rd and the Army across the board relook and improve some of its' processes thru technology or collaboration.
Also, Brooks has participated in something similar to a NSIN Bootcamp before.
“Yes, I have,” Brooks said, “but, never in the military. I will absolutely use some of the lessons learned in my day-to-day business.
One of Qureshi’s NSIN Bootcamp takeaways was that now she has a better understanding of the goals and priorities of the organization.
It was a “great opportunity,” she said.
She would “absolutely” use the NSIN Bootcamp lessons learned, to enhance the transformation of work into a timely manner and work hard to build healthy work relationships and an inclusive environment.
“I really enjoyed the innovative solutions presented by the teams to resolve their challenge statements,” Esparra said. “I wish we had done it with the entire command and that maybe possible in the future."
The main ideas that Gholston, “gathered from the NISN Bootcamp were: in order to positively impact change, it is important to clearly identify current processes and the main problem; understanding the target group of impact and stakeholders (and) consider multiple solutions in order to ensure that the best solution is selected.”
Gholston suggested utilizing the training so we can conduct a semiannual review of critical processes, he added and scheduling the training on three full days and incorporate a process review for each section incrementally.
This ultimately benefits everyone involved Gholston added.
The biggest takeaway is that the (NSIN Bootcamp Innovation) process can be easily applied to solve organizational problems in the military, to include the civilian sector, Garcia said.
“Incorporating individuals with different perspectives worked to propel the group to success, Gholston said. “I think that this type of training has the potential to greatly impact success for any organization.”