Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For using “bureaucracy hacking” to help the U.S. armed forces reboot tech capabilities 

When a US$500 million, 10-year modernization effort for a U.S. Air Force weapons system failed to deliver, government leaders demanded change. From those messy ashes rose Kessel Run, an internal software startup revolutionizing how the military branch built and delivered software.

With no professional software experience, Hannah Hunt may have seemed an unlikely pick for founding chief of staff. But that was sort of the point. She had done stints at the Department of Treasury and Department of State, among other places. And that diverse background gave her a license to disrupt.

“I’m one of those people who picks up a lot of different things very quickly,” she says, including what she and other government IT pros call “bureaucracy hacking.” 

Between 2019 and 2020, Hunt helped scale Kessel Run from 200 to 1,400 team members, in part by slashing the usual time to hire from 180 days to 30. At the same time, the team was cranking out mission-critical security software with unprecedented speed and agility.

In October, Hunt moved to the U.S. Army as chief product and innovation officer of the newly formed Army Software Factory. Among the central strategies: putting soldiers front and center in the army’s software development process.

“I’ve found there’s a big portion of the Department of Defense that’s really focused on technologies or wanting to modernize, not based on what users need but based on what people think is the shiny new technology,” Hunt says. “What I have to do is stand the ground of what the user needs, which is the soldier in this case and also the user of application teams using our infrastructure. If we’re not outcome-oriented, then none of this matters, because we’re not delivering value to soldiers.”

User feedback is baked into the best commercial software applications, but it can be a rarity in the U.S. Army, where legacy programs can date back 20 years or more. That creates pain points for soldiers, Hunt says, in both the workloads they manage and the missions they perform. By bringing soldiers into the process earlier and assembling a more diverse team, Hunt aims to resolve those unearthed pain points and build solutions that are actual solutions.

“When people do the same job over and over again, they sometimes think that’s the only right way to do something,” she says. “But we need more people who are willing to change and who have a different perspective. When you bring in millennials or women or people of color, they have so many more and different perspectives—and that drives better outcomes.”

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