Kessel Run works through growing pains

The Air Force's deputy CIO, Lauren Knausenberger, said the military branch's popular software factory has been a "victim of its own success" as it navigates trying to keep the spark as it gets bigger.

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The Air Force's software factory darling, Kessel Run, has been experiencing some growing pains, according to the Air Force's new deputy CIO, but there are still lessons to be learned.

Lauren Knausenberger, the Air Force's deputy CIO, said during the Billington Cybersecurity's virtual summit Sept. 8 that the military service's widely lauded software factory has been "a victim of their own success."

"They grew incredibly quickly. And so just like any small business that grows very fast, you get to a point where you have to adapt your practices and try to keep those things that make you awesome and unique but still kind of grow up as a bigger organization," Knausenberger said. "That's what they're struggling through right now."

For the past two years, Kessel Run has been hailed as a model for software success in joining development, cybersecurity, engineering processes in the Defense Department. It also heavily influenced other services, namely the Army, which set up their first software factory under Army Futures Command this summer. The big question, even from Congress, has been what makes the group so successful and how does DOD replicate that across its organizations.

For the Air Force's newly minted deputy CIO, the key is harnessing talent and targeting a problem that benefits the collective enterprise.

"We've done DevOps only at the edge in a lot of ways and it's only now that we're bringing that capability from the individual warfighter solving a problem for him- or herself to an enterprise way of thinking," Knausenberger said

She also said that government organizations should take note of Kessel Run's successes in attracting and retaining talent.

"Branding matters even in government," Knausenberger said. "Your top talent doesn't want to work for 'name that acronym,' but your top talent is willing to work for a place like Kessel Run especially if that branding is backed up by a culture that is fun and drives forward all of those principles that achieve success in a DevSecOps environment."

Even with the growing pains, Knausenberger said the group is still asking "how can I be more secure than I was yesterday, how can I deliver more value, and just try to stay question on those end users."