Author Archives: Brian Miller

About Brian Miller

Brian Miller is the senior VP, strategic development, at BMNT Inc., an internationally recognized innovation consultancy and early-stage enterprise accelerator that is changing the future of public service innovation.

Five Principles for Innovation Deal Flow Managers

Five Principles for Innovation Deal Flow Managers

BMNT Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series explaining the common beginner-steps needed to get an innovation practice off the ground or improve an existing innovation practice. Find our first post, explaining the goals of implementing a structure to guide innovation and training workers how to use it, here. The second installment, on how to create an innovation thesis to guide your team’s activities, is here. The third piece, on how to assemble the right team for the job, is here.

GUEST POST from Brian Miller

Steve Blank, the godfather of Silicon Valley, says that “for innovation to contribute to a company or government agency, it needs to be designed as a process from start to deployment.” At the start, you need a steady influx of new project ideas to replace and restore eroding capabilities. Investors refer to this influx as “deal flow,” and it is considered the single most important factor in their success. Here are the key principles and practices to generate the deal flow your innovation practice needs to succeed.

1. Open your pipeline wider than you feel comfortable

It’s cliche to say this, but get comfortable with the uncomfortable. It may take hundreds of initial problems to find a few dozen pilot projects, and only a handful of successful programs may result from those pilots. A rigorous process, like the Innovation Pipeline®, ensures you manage the risk and uncertainty of innovation along with your finite resources. When venture capital investors raise a fund, they initially invest only about 40 percent to 60 percent of it. Cash reserves, known as “dry powder,” are held back so investors can quickly invest more in the early bets that pan out. Translating this to the government, resources are first invested in validating a project (explore). Only after validation are significant investments made in deploying a new capability (exploit).

The Innovation Pipeline

The Innovation Pipeline

To get started, you must first understand what you’re doing and where problems will come from. Are you gathering problems from your organization’s workforce (if you’re trying to improve your structure, processes, and culture), your customer base (if you’re trying to improve their job), or both?

If the former, you could use or create an internal portal, akin to a digital comment box with more rigor. If the latter, you could use a tool like SurveyMonkey or something more sophisticated. If that’s not feasible right away, just do it manually. An innovation pipeline needs a lot of inputs at the beginning in order to produce disruptive solutions at the end. It’s the fuel for innovation, so walk the halls of your organization, cold-call your customers, or deputize people already embedded in key places to be your eyes and ears, spotting and assessing opportunity by collecting problems for you.

2. Scope and prioritize problems at the atomic level to find the right project ideas

You will need to see a lot of problems, and rigorously assess them, to find the needs that will lead to transformative change. You cannot be too selective up front, so prepare for the volume by using a simple framework to deconstruct problems into their atomic units.

A Key Beneficiary has a basic need in order to achieve a desired outcome. This problem-centric approach will help you scope and prioritize all the in-bound opportunities so you can easily focus on certain beneficiaries or certain desired outcomes.

Pro-tip: If your pipeline is brand-new, focus on a beneficiary group that you can co-opt, like insurgents, to build momentum in your organization. Or focus on the desired outcomes that align to your organization’s stated and published strategic priorities. If you’re still stuck, revisit your innovation thesis (or create one if you haven’t already) to help guide your problem sourcing and triage in-bound opportunities.

3. Respond to everyone

Do not leave hundreds or thousands of people hanging if you collect their problems. If your problem sourcing is yet another black box in a large organization, apathy will quickly set in and your projects will dry up. Rather than leave problem-submitters guessing, be honest with them about (1) how you will decide what will get worked on, and (2) that not everyone’s problem will get worked on directly. This communication can be as simple as a Senior Leader announcement at a town hall, or it can be memorialized in an Innovation Doctrine that lays out the fundamental principles that guide coordinated action in your organization.

Pro-tip: the best innovation programs provide all problem owners with valuable information in exchange for their input. For example, pointing them in the direction of the office that can help them solve a simple problem; connecting them to someone experiencing a similar one, so they can band together; or just showing them a dashboard of your deal flow so they can see where their problem ranks or fits with others. A transparent and responsive innovation practice keeps contributors motivated to pursue their ideas and contribute to new ones in the future.

4. Look for patterns

Not every problem will get worked on. Even with infinite resources, you must prioritize based on your innovation thesis. However, seeing patterns in hundreds or thousands of problems, even the ones you set aside, will reveal the root cause of something greater. For example, you may find lots of problems related to testing new software. Instead of fixing each one, fix the process for testing, evaluating, and approving new software tools, eliminating an entire category of problems in one project.

5. Generate short, descriptive problem statements

Your success or failure is based on a disciplined commitment to problem-centric innovation. The best way to keep yourself honest is to initially frame projects as problem statements that provide sufficient background on the origins of the problem to be solved. This kick-starts the next stage of innovation (Curation) and ideally identifies (for the purpose of recruitment) at least some of the key stakeholders around a problem, their basic needs, and an early definition of success.

Pro-tip: a great problem statement should be shareable with and understandable by anyone. The goal is to present a clear articulation of the opportunity and to expand the coalition around the problem so that others can help you solve it.

Next, you’ll rigorously assess and prioritize your problems, and you’ll begin to interview and observe people affected by them. In the next post, we’ll share more insights on how to do it, so you know you can trust the data that results and amplify the confidence in your decisions.

Image credits: BMNT, Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Assemble Your Avengers to Accelerate Your Mission

The right team will move your innovation effort forward. Here’s how to build it

Assemble Your Avengers to Accelerate Your Mission

BMNT Editor’s note: This is the third in a weekly series explaining the common beginner-steps needed to get an innovation practice off the ground or improve an existing innovation practice. Find our first post, explaining the goals of implementing a structure to guide innovation and training workers how to use it, here. The second installment, on how to create an innovation thesis to guide your team’s activities, is here.

GUEST POST from Brian Miller

The surest way to get your innovation practice off the ground is to assemble your Avengers – a diverse team working together to solve hard problems. Here are some ideas for doing it, remembering that while an innovation system encompasses problems, technologies, and ideas – it’s powered by people and their abilities, skills, and knowledge to operate within the right structure, processes, and culture (more here from the first post in this series). Human nature being what it is, it can be challenging to get your team aligned around a different way of working.

No organization can change overnight. There is plenty of research to illustrate how changes in human behavior take time even with the right scaffolding and incentives. Yet a small team can punch way above its weight with the right methods for making progress and tools to measure it.

Once you’ve established why your innovation practice exists and assembled the right team, it’s time to figure out exactly what elements (and people) within your organization need to be connected, when, and where. Do this while increasing the volume of opportunities for the organization and the velocity of learning and progress.

Assemble a minimum viable team

This will look different in each organization that adopts it, but the initial innovation team is typically and intentionally small, somewhere between seven and 14 people, including informal allies. Some have started smaller and been highly successful, like the Defense Logistics Agency Technology Accelerator. However, additional personnel, even those contributing part-time or in their spare time, simply increase the probability of early and transformative wins. This is critical to maintaining buy-in and support from leadership and – just as important – the internal and external customers of the Innovation Pipeline® (e.g., capability developers, end-users).

  • The senior champion is a General Officer (GO) or the civilian equivalent (Senior Executive Service) unafraid to challenge the status quo – and if they made it to this level of seniority while doing so, they also know precisely how the legacy system works in practice (vice on paper) and they have a strong network to navigate it.
  • The full-time innovation project leaders (at least two to start) are generalists with a broad and diverse range of experience and networks to draw from. They have always leaned into their job, leaving it better than they found it. They are disciplined yet creative, rigorous yet personable, and are probably seen as a “fast riser” or “up and comer,” despite a reputation for comparatively risky decisions within the legacy execution system.
  • The part-time problem scoping liaison (at least three to start) are natural collaborators with a growth mindset. These team members are always looking to make improvements wherever they go and seem to find opportunities at every turn. If you ask them for information, they’re forthcoming. Instead of who is it for?, they ask, when do you need it? and what comes next?
  • A procurement or contracts specialist who is known as the go-to person in your organization and will not shy from the creativity required to be innovative. They get things done faster than their peers, seemingly without breaking a sweat.
  • Numerous on-call allies with whom you have a personal relationship, who are tired of the status quo and would jump at the chance to stealthily use their expertise to help change organizational performance.

Give them clear responsibilities

— Senior Champion: This is the most important connection to the traditional execution system within your organization. This individual provides top cover for the team, and owns the innovation thesis or purpose driving the innovation practice. The champion also removes barriers and creates workarounds (often via policy or doctrinal exceptions) when the team inevitably runs into a bureaucratic roadblock.

— Innovation Project Leader: Leads individual innovation projects, ushering them through the Innovation Pipeline® from problem sourcing and curation to the scaling of a new capability, like a mini CEO. They will:

  • Identify and test critical assumptions to validate solutions
  • Use proven methods for making progress (e.g., Lean Startup, design thinking, beneficiary discovery, minimum viable product testing, root cause analysis, user experience and user interface testing, rapid prototyping)
  • Rely on proven tools for recording and measuring progress (e.g., Investment Readiness Level, Adoption Readiness Level)
  • Alert the senior champion if something is stuck and a workaround or exception is needed

— Problem Scoping Liaison: This is a part-time role, performed while the individual is already embedded in offices, divisions, or external organizations served by the innovation system. They are your eyes and ears, working to continuously:

  • Collect innovation opportunities
  • Scope innovation projects through a formulaic, easily trained methodology
  • Recruit the right people to innovation projects based on their relationship to prioritized problems (e.g., end-users, subject matter experts, even saboteurs)

— On-call Allies: Finally, you have your allies, almost like assets planted deep behind enemy lines, waiting for your call. They are essential to achieving that goal of delivering at least one new capability within 15 months. Until your innovation practice has an alluring reputation, you’ll have to recruit these people through personal relationships. The common persona is someone tired of the status quo, with a growth mindset, an intrepreneurial spirit, who has been heroically innovating, and is dying to work within a team of like-minded heroes. Just imagine how the Avengers come together in a Marvel movie. In a way, they simply just find each other. These team members can provide:

  • IT for security and network integration
  • Engineering support to evaluate technical feasibility of new capabilities
  • Legal, policy, and human resources experts for essential advice

Train them

Now, your Avengers need a common framework and language for innovation. Your core team will be moving faster than ever before (and get uncomfortable doing so). They need the innovation basics to ground them in their new world, accelerate collaboration, and reduce the uncertainty associated with innovating. For starters, train them:

  • How to conduct beneficiary discovery interviews
  • How to turn assumptions into facts by generating and testing critical hypotheses
  • How to articulate and properly refine problems that others, without domain knowledge, can understand and contribute to solving (problem curation)
  • How to identify and recruit a coalition of stakeholders around each problem
  • The basics of Lean Startup and design thinking

Next, you’ll operationalize the pipeline by generating deal flow in the form of problems, curating them, discovering solutions by testing critical hypotheses, then incubating and transitioning solutions into enduring capabilities.

Image credits: BMNT

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Innovation Practices Need a Compelling Purpose

Innovation Practices Need a Compelling Purpose

BMNT Editor’s note: This is the second in a weekly series that will explain the common beginner-steps needed to get an innovation practice off the ground or improve an existing innovation practice. Find our first post, explaining the goals of implementing a structure to guide innovation and training workers how to use it, here.

GUEST POST from Brian Miller

Private capital investors are clear about the purpose of their investments, and it’s written down in the form of a thesis or mandate. This thesis explains where they plan to invest and why. It’s used to attract capital to a fund and deploy it for a future return. Consider Not Boring Capital, a small multi-stage fund that invests in founders and companies executing on complex, non-obvious strategies aimed at huge visions.

Innovation vs ExecutionGovernment organizations seeking alignment between innovation and execution can borrow from this common practice in order to increase confidence in their investment decisions. Recall from the last post that innovation projects are not simply smaller versions of existing programs. Resources are first invested in validating a project (explore). Only after validation are significant investments made in deploying a new capability (exploit). Government leaders feel comfortable making investments in the former, but not the latter. The common risk management approach is simply avoidance, because the rewards of innovation projects seem distant and uncertain. This is magnified in the national security community, where lives are on the line and no-fail missions are prevalent.

A carefully constructed innovation thesis will help to manage this risk and focus limited time, energy, and resources. It is what key stakeholders rally around. Yet it must be detailed enough for leadership, key partners, and even skeptics to understand how developing a disciplined process – an Innovation Pipeline® – will address the significant challenges facing the organization. Above all, it helps to build consensus and commitment. Otherwise, capabilities that emerge from an innovation practice will become orphans, never to be adopted by the enterprise.

What an innovation thesis consists of

Like the private sector, a public sector innovation thesis defines where to invest and why. It helps to filter out “nice to have” projects from the “must have.” It consists of two major parts:

1. A unique perspective on where relevant fields are going and the sorts of challenges that lie ahead. For example:

  • Emerging surveillance technology and the evolution of tradecraft for an intelligence service
  • Leaps in healthcare delivery for the Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Advanced manufacturing for the Department of Commerce
  • Commercial space investments for the U.S. Space Force and NASA

2. The types of ideas the organization will (and will not) invest in, informed by their desirability, viability and feasibility.

Desirability Feasibility Viability

How to create one

Designing an innovation thesis takes four general steps, which can be accomplished in a single day with the right stakeholders and a trained facilitator.

1. Map the organization’s current “mission model”

  • The organization’s approach to satisfying customers and partners
  • The various ways it does so (e.g., capabilities, products, services)
  • The senior leaders, end-users, subject matter experts, saboteurs, and enablers whose buy-in and support is needed to see results (e.g., legal, contracts, policy, IT, security)

2. Map the key trends and consequential forces affecting the organization’s mission. For example:

  • Emerging technology
  • Budget forecasts
  • Policy development
  • Political shifts
  • Availability of key resources

3. Identify the gaps or misalignment between 1 and 2

4. Consider how to best fill them by changing the mission model (in theory) and what innovations must be realized to do so (in practice)


Such an exercise will easily generate an artifact to communicate updated direction and guidance from senior leadership to the rest of the organization and its partners. It does not need to be anything more than a short memo or a succinct slide deck. All that is required is that it yields a clear idea of how the world is changing and how the organization intends to counter or take advantage of the momentum.

Next, a minimum viable team can begin to execute the strategy.

Image credits: BMNT

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Accelerate Your Mission

Moving Beyond Luck, Genius and Heroics

Accelerate Your Mission - Moving Beyond Luck, Genius and Heroics

BMNT Editor’s note: This blog series will explain the common beginner-steps needed to get an innovation practice off the ground, like creating an innovation thesis, organizing a minimum viable team, operationalizing the Innovation Pipeline®, leveraging world-class universities, and more. And if you already have an innovation practice, consider this a way to update or improve what you already have, because if you’re not learning, you’re already behind the curve.

GUEST POST from Brian Miller

Today’s complex era requires that governments adapt to emerging challenges by harnessing novel technologies, fostering a resilient workforce, and embracing new ways of doing business. To some, this means simply increasing research and development budgets and establishing clear national objectives. Yet this moment requires something more foundational: a new doctrine.

There is currently no doctrinal clarity or operational support for innovation at any level of the US government, so while increased spending and transformative goals will help, what the nation really needs is the implementation of a disciplined system designed to innovate and a workforce trained to use it.

Our traditional systems were designed for an earlier era of greater predictability and government-led technology development. They no longer work as intended. The current approach is not maintaining, let alone improving, the capabilities available to national decision-makers. Moreover, relying on luck, genius, or heroics to get the job done is not sustainable – if it ever was.

The US government simply lacks the capacity for enterprise innovation because the human (abilities, skills, knowledge) and organizational (structure, processes, culture) capabilities pertaining to innovation are insufficient.

These deficiencies manifest in several ways, including but not limited to:

  • Poor understanding of problems and opportunities across an enterprise
  • Disconnect between capability development and end-users
  • Limited success solving hard problems programmatically
  • The process for creating requirements is not rigorous
  • Acquisition personnel are required to make assumptions years ahead of time

At BMNT, we work with large government organizations seeking to fix or create a sustainable innovation practice in order to reliably produce transformative results.

This Mission Acceleration series is designed to share some of the common learnings and recommendations from years of supporting the lifecycle of civic innovation in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and elsewhere.

This first post explains the high, hard goals: implementing a structure to guide innovation and training workers how to use it. Subsequent posts will share other common beginner-steps to creating a sustainable innovation pipeline.

1. Implement a structure designed to innovate

Investing in innovation differs significantly from other types of decision-making. Large organizations need a reliable system to address the inherent risk associated with innovation projects. The system that fuels the necessary risk management approach is called the Innovation Pipeline®. It’s a separate but parallel structure designed for enterprise innovation that complements the legacy systems of large government organizations.

At its core, it’s a framework, helping senior decision-makers link various methods, tools, and activities into a system that is repeatable and scalable. It does not focus solely on technology, which will conceal the issues around value, usability, and adoption. It does not focus solely on end-users or the organization. Instead, it’s the means to assess all three dimensions, and it maximizes the probability that each innovation project delivers a solution that solves a real, mission-critical problem in a way that the organization can sustain at enterprise scale.

The Innovation Pipeline is necessary for many reasons, but principally because innovation projects are not simply smaller versions of existing programs. Resources are first invested in validating a project, and only after validation are significant investments made in deploying a new capability. This ensures an organization has addressed the three main sources of risk associated with any innovation project:

  • Desirability (users need it and key stakeholders will adopt it)
  • Feasibility (it can be built affordably)
  • Viability (there is a pathway through the bureaucracy to deliver it)

2. Professionalize an innovation-capable workforce

An innovation system encompasses problems, technologies, and ideas – but it’s powered by people. Yet people can only innovate if they are trained to do so. An accountable innovation training program consists of three main thrusts:

  • Energize networks within and outside government to rigorously test solutions against specific mission-critical problems
  • Provide a common language, methodologies, and tools to generate evidence for resource decisions
  • Generate buy-in and support from key stakeholders responsible for transitioning and sustaining capabilities

What we’ve learned is that a training program must address three levels of the organization in order to begin to change human and organizational capabilities.

  • Senior leaders (via a 1-day offsite to build consensus and commitment about how to permanently improve organizational effectiveness)
  • Innovation program managers (via a multi-day executive training course, plus weekly check-ins as part of a practicum)
  • Innovation project leaders (via multi-day basic and intermediate training courses, plus weekly check-ins as part of a practicum)

Eventually, the entire workforce can be harnessed to innovate.

Next in the series: Why your organization needs an innovation thesis and how to create one.

Image credits: BMNT

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.