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Increasing Flexibility and Agility at the National Reconnaissance Office: Lessons from Modular Design, Occupational Surprise, and Commercial Research and Development Processes

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Research rept.

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The U.S. Intelligence Community IC is now facing a larger number of unknown threats than at any other time in its history. Today, the biggest surprises facing the IC are likely to come from places of which the community may not even be aware. To help address these challenges, the Advanced Systems and Technology AST Directorate at the National Reconnaissance Office NRO asked RAND to perform research to help it develop strategic plans that will yield insights on becoming more flexible and adaptable. We settled on three research questions, specifically designed to target three different aspects of the NRO enterprise 1 How can the NRO build more flexible hardware 2 How can NRO personnel become better prepared to deal with uncertainty and 3 How can the NROs organizational structures be used to promote innovation and creative thought To investigate the first question, we hypothesized that there are two ways to build more flexible hardware by building in excess capability, and by using a modular architecture. It can be challenging to convince decisionmakers to support excess capability when budgets and resources are becoming increasingly constrained. Therefore, we investigated the suitability of implementing a modular architecture for the NROs space systems. To investigate our second question, we addressed two research questions Can people become more adept at planning for an uncertain future by studying surprise and Are there lessons for the IC in how different professionals respond to surprise Our research on the third question was motivated by the following objective How did some organizations that have taken steps to become more responsive in promoting innovation and creative thought achieve this We looked at three companies suggested to us by NROAST Pfizer, IBM, and Caterpillar. These companies have all been recently recognized in the media as having gone through transformations to better respond to pressures in the marketplace.

Subject Categories:

  • Administration and Management
  • Personnel Management and Labor Relations
  • Computer Hardware
  • Unmanned Spacecraft

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