Kessel Run & Agile Software Development

When a billion dollar modernization contract failed to solve an operational problem, the Air Force and DIU turned to BMNT for a different approach. The result was Kessel Run and the adoption of agile software development by the US military.


In 2016, US Air Forces Central (AFCENT) was conducting an air war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It was the most important combat airspace in the world.

Yet the greatest concern on the mind of one commander was not where the enemy was, but whether someone would erase his whiteboard.

AFCENT was using physical whiteboards and Excel spreadsheets to manage all U.S. and allied air operations in the Middle East and parts of North Africa, Central Asia, and South Asia. Despite numerous attempts by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, AFCENT had been unable to modernize the software in its Air Operations Center, which would better allow it to plan and conduct air operations.


As the AFCENT Commanding General, LtGen Jeff Harrigian was willing to try a different approach. Working with Raj Shah, then the head of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), and USAF LtCol Enrique Oti, they turned to BMNT.

BMNT used its sprint model for agile problem solving, and quickly assembled the right Air Force stakeholders from around the globe. Our team then designed multiple solution concepts for new software tools with stakeholder input, and developed Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) for testing the concepts against the critical assumptions. The process was completed in less than 90 days.


LtCol Oti used the MVPs to secure $5,000,000. He spent it on Pivotal Labs using DIU’s Commercial Solutions Offering, and Pivotal Labs used it to build prototypes of new flight planning tools. 

It took the team less than four months to produce a working prototype after getting all the agreements in place. The prototype reduced the human effort to plan air operations by 88%. What previously required six people to work for eight hours now took one person only three.

The prototype saved more than time. It also cut human error in half, and saved 400,000 to 500,000 pounds of fuel each week, producing a savings of $750,000 to $1,000,000, which was enough to cover the costs to mature and implement the solution.

BMNT’s sprint led to:

The Air Force’s cancellation of the AOC 10.2 modernization contract with Northrop Grumman, saving $390,000,000 in program costs; 

The Air Force’s creation of the AOC Pathfinder Program; and

The Air Force’s creation of Kessel Run, the U.S. military’s first sustained agile software development program.


MIT Mission Innovation Working Paper on Kessel Run

Kessel Run website