Feds Need To Be Pirates, Not Ninjas, Says Defense Health Official


Defense Health Agency's David Cooper urged his fellow feds to embrace pirate principles—at least when it comes to mobile apps.

In the great internet debate over pirates and ninjas, feds working in app development should be siding with the former, according to a Defense Health Agency official.

David Cooper, mobile applications lead for the agency’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology, extolled the virtues of the pirate metrics framework for determining whether an application is meeting the needs of its target users. The name comes from the sound made by saying the acronym, AARRR, which stands for acquisition, activation, retention, referral and revenue.

“All it’s really about is how you apply data to think about your product in a more meaningful way,” he said, speaking at Nextgov’s Limitless Government event Thursday in Seattle. “How do you put meaningful guide points along the customer journey through your product and how to do you attach meaningful data metrics to each of those points.”

Cooper pointed to a recent example where the pirate framework helped his team identify exactly why an app wasn’t performing as well as they would like.

“I noticed that acquisition was great; we were getting people in through our marketing efforts, driving them to our store page. Retention was great; once they downloaded the app we had 75 percent retention after 30 days. Activation was not great; we were losing about 50 percent of people,” he said. “So that helps me and my team know where to focus our limited efforts.”

But the pirate mentality can—and should—extend beyond the metrics framework, Cooper said. Asked whether pirates are better than ninjas, Cooper didn’t hesitate.

“Pirates, absolutely,” he said. “Ninjas act alone, they act silently. Pirates do it brazenly, they have a crew, they raid [the General Services Administration] 18F’s GitHub for code—like I have done so many times for projects.”

Cooper encouraged developers across government to adopt the pirate mindset.

“Use that comradery, that team environment to do something brazen and bold,” he said. “I think all of us government folks can embrace [that] and sail forth.”