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KR leaders focused on people, work experience to recruit, retain top talent

By Damany Coleman, Public Affairs Officer, Kessel Run

BOSTON (8 February 2023) – Diverse talent + incredible culture = mission success. That seems like easy math, but for Kessel Run leadership, it’s a challenge they’re focused on year round.

Today, the clearest benchmark for success at Kessel Run would be to become a disciplined agile development organization while producing, delivering, and maintaining high quality software that delivers combat capability in high-end threat environments.

Everyone’s favorite paradox can be adopted obliquely here, as the chicken or the egg must precede the other, seemingly infinitely. At Kessel Run, the cause and effect chain breaks if they put products before their people, or people before products.

Over the past five years, the consensus has been to always, as neatly as possible (and within the bounds of bureaucracy) braid both priorities together: attract targeted talent and make useful software that will prevail in conflict.

“An organization independent of the individual personalities and heroics will endure over the long run,” said Col. Richard Lopez, the Senior Materiel Leader for Kessel Run, a division within Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Digital Directorate. “Creating a robust organization that will deliver for many years to come is our focus. To get there, we must concentrate on people and processes.”

According to the recent State of the Federal Cyber Workforce Report, not only did the COVID-19 pandemic expose the potential weaknesses of the Nation’s infrastructures, it also fundamentally changed how many “software factories” and other government services do business.

Heroics, as Lopez calls them, won’t improve how Kessel Run delivers or acquires software, nor will it help us modernize weapon systems for Air Operations Centers over the long haul.

The needs of the end-user are constantly being evaluated, with data security and architecture in mind. They’re also honing what it takes to produce onboarding programs that make sense, and streamlining how they spin-up new hires to make sure they have all the resources they need to succeed.

One of those initiatives is quarterly culture events, aptly named Celebrating Kessel Run, or CKR. Ideas Over Rank, one of KR’s four core values, was the theme of the first cultural day just last year.

CKR days are deliberate attempts to reflect on the Kessel Run journey that began back in 2017, and it's also a great opportunity for employees to talk shop, network and brainstorm. The next CKR’s theme will be “Bias For Action,” another core value. That event is slated for February.

One Kessel Run alum, Rob Murtha, now the Director of Innovation at Clarity, said that he’s always thought the core values integrated well at KR. “Bias For Action” is his dearest choice, in a tie for first place with “Intense Customer Focus.”

“I think (good culture) really starts with customer obsession,” said Murtha. “ I think that, and each individual's understanding of the ‘why’ behind KR is so much more important. It’s asking ourselves: What deliverables from a product perspective are translating to enhanced capability that will make this country safer?”

Murtha continued by saying that there will always be opportunities to optimize culture and build a healthy familiarity with bias for action, amongst other intangibles, without putting extra pressure on teams for outcomes.

Aaron Kristopik, a product designer on the All Domain Common Platform product line and attendee of the last cultural day event, said that Kessel Run has found success by continuously iterating on outcomes that matter to the individual, the organization and our most important stakeholders, the end-users.

“If you don't have a real outcome you’re striving toward, all you have is inputs and outputs,” said Kristopik. “And if there's no goal that you're striving towards, it’s all just numbers being added together for no real value whatsoever. So I think we should definitely take calculated risks where we can.”

Kristopik, a Marine Corps veteran who has been with KR since 2019, said that he thinks since Kessel Run has set a standard for creativity and innovation, getting our house in order has been a bit different than what’s going on at other Defense Department entities.

“The customer is specifically important because of that reason,” he said. “That's what we cherish and pride ourselves on. We still always need to think about how our decisions are going to impact our teams and our organization, as well as the end-user and the entire ecosystem.”

In recent months, and as Kessel Run continues to evolve throughout time, the standard for creativity and innovation will always be intertwined with our need for reliable, robust, and scalable applications. For years Kessel Run’s “Bias for Action,” and Murtha’s tie for favorite core value, “Intense Customer Focus,” were targeted at the applications that the warfighter interacted with.

The new focus, according to Lopez, is to “Make sure there is high availability of data and applications so our warfighters are always ready to fight.”

What we care about most now goes beyond what the warfighter sees on the screen. We’re acutely aware that this sentiment extends to the entire ecosystem, because, as Lopez continued, “you don’t really have a capability unless you can maintain.”

Leah Vincuilla Peterson, Chief People Officer at Kessel Run, said KR’s existence in the software and tech ecosystem is more important now than ever, with that context.

Peterson thinks the reason people consider a career here or with Kessel Run’s partners is because of the value of the work they do. We agree.

“The world has changed for a lot of people, so the government has to change how it markets itself to find those people,” Peterson said. “Kessel Run, for various reasons, has a responsibility to show everyone that there is a better way to attract, hire and keep diverse talent. Not only do people deserve to feel seen and heard, we also want them to know that they picked the right way to serve their country, working here at Kessel Run.”

Air Force Life Cycle Management Center
Digital Directorate
HBB, Kessel Run
Media and Communications Engagement
Email: media@kr.af.mil