February 13, 2020

A U.S. intelligence agency needed to reimagine a large, complex, 20-year-old system for managing global intelligence data. The new system would need to explore and scale more data using automation and advanced analytic techniques. Fortunately, development of the system was put in the hands of Terry and Joy, mission-driven entrepreneurs with a history of transitioning innovative ideas into production. Instead of viewing the effort as a modern replacement for an old capability, they imagined an entirely new paradigm for their agency’s foundational data environment, one that can support the agency’s goals to scale data exploitation, automation, and digital transformation, and improve the future capabilities of analysis.  


Following their entrepreneurial instincts, Terry and Joy didn’t want to dictate a centralized solution, nor did they want to invest resources in their own assumptions. Instead, they sought to ask the right questions of the right people: end-users. By doing so, they built a coalition of beneficiaries and experts with a stake in the outcome and from them, they quickly understood the essential needs that their program should be filling and how to approach them. Most importantly, Terry and Joy began to use data-driven metrics and evidence to focus their scarce time, energy, and resources on the best opportunities for innovation. Here’s how they did it:


Using H4X®, in just four days, the assembled coalition:

  • Met with startups to shape the agency’s understanding of relevant commercial capabilities and the realm of the possible;
  • Established an initial program roadmap with short-, medium-, and long-term targets of opportunity;
  • Designed three low-fidelity prototypes (called minimum viable products) to illustrate the desired user experience and technical capabilities; and
  • Created an ecosystem of the program’s key beneficiaries to enable a recurring feedback loop with those most affected by the outcome.

Next, Terry and Joy engaged communities of interest to dig deeper, aligning their most basic needs with known products and services that can be built affordably and adopted by the agency. 

In just a few months, Terry and Joy:


  • Expanded the coalition to more than 100 mission-driven entrepreneurs from five of the six Geographic Combatant Commands, four of the agency’s five regional centers, all of its directorates, and half of the service intelligence centers;
  • Surveyed more than 100 companies; 
  • Analyzed more than a dozen recurring problem elements to inform industry engagement;
  • Designed nine capabilities to address the needs of the end-user; 
  • Identified dozens of other core, emergent, and disruptive innovation opportunities; and
  • Achieved the requisite buy-in and support from key customers that are crucial to success.

By organizing mission-driven entrepreneurs from communities of interest around common problems and the basic needs associated with them, Terry and Joy can now develop shared solutions much faster than a traditional government process would normally allow. This practice of connecting invention to adoption is critical to the U.S. maintaining its competitive edge in the 21st century – particularly at the outset of a large, transformational program.