Brewing Up Success

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Maj. Kyle Hurst


TITLE: Assistant product manager
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Assistant Product Manager for Unified Network Capabilities and Integration; Project Manager for Tactical Network; Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level II in program management
EDUCATION: M.S. in engineering and management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; B.S. in engineering management, United States Military Academy at West Point
AWARDS: C5ISR Top Ten Outstanding Personnel
HOMETOWN: Milton, Vermont


by Susan L. Follett

When he can find spare time, Maj. Kyle Hurst spends it among hops, wort and carboys—standard components for those who brew beer at home. “I like that engineering, chemistry and biology coalesce into a single hobby,” Hurst said. “Sometimes, the end product may have off flavors or unintended results. Since there are so many variables—yeast, fermentation temperatures, grain bills, water profiles—that can affect flavor, it can take some analysis and some trial and error to get it right consistently.”

Hurst’s passion for engineering, the natural sciences and experimentation serve him well in his duties as the assistant product manager for Sustainment Tactical Network (STN), part of the Product Manager for Unified Network Capabilities and Integration within the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical.

Hurst has been in his current position since September 2019. STN is a portfolio of three programs—very small aperture terminals; line-of-sight range extension radios; and network operations centers—that form the communications network for the Army’s logistics data. “Our solutions provide the warfighter with better information more quickly, bridge seams in the network, and ensure that Soldiers are always connected, which saves lives,” Hurst said. “Being a tiny part of this process is immensely satisfying.”

Hurst previously served for two years as assistant product manager for the Phoenix program within the Product Manager for Satellite Communications. The Phoenix is a ground satellite terminal that is capable of high throughputs and supports division and corps operations. During that assignment, he was part of a modernization effort using a nontraditional agreement—an other-transaction authority (OTA)—with a small business to support a pilot program with an aggressive schedule. Hurst and his team brought together government stakeholders and the small business vendor to design, develop, fabricate, test and deliver two Phoenix E-model tactical satellite terminal prototypes in eight and half months.

“Although the solution was 80 percent of the final product, the prototypes were fully functional terminals, which were assessed via multiple Soldier touch points,” he said. Those events yielded direct feedback from users that drove design changes and improved usability, durability and deployment times. “It was extremely challenging, but the government team and the industry partner made it happen and delivered equipment into the hands of the Soldier before the pilot ended,” Hurst said.

The effort required considerable coordination with numerous stakeholders, something that Hurst noted is the biggest challenge he faces in his work. “There so are many organizations that have a piece of the acquisition process, and as the materiel solution developer, I need to ensure that everyone understands our strategy and vision, even at the assistant product manager level,” he said. “Coordinating with internal and external stakeholders to ensure that the way forward for the program is understood, that a unified message is communicated, and that expectations are managed, is critical to running a successful program,” he said.

For the Phoenix OTA effort, Hurst ensured that the system requirements review, preliminary design review and critical design review were staffed by representatives from the U.S. Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager, the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence, the Network Cross-Functional Team and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, as well the 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion – Enhanced, which eventually tested the prototypes. Stakeholders reviewed the proposed design and reached consensus for key design decisions. “Although these meetings were time-consuming, the contributions from each representative were invaluable to the success of the prototype effort,” Hurst said.

The project yielded several lessons in working with OTAs. “I think the biggest misconception about OTAs is that they are a magic bullet that can be used for every program,” Hurst said. “Truthfully, they’re just another tool in the acquisition kit bag. However, given a clear developmental effort with identified Soldier touch points, OTAs can be a very powerful tool to rapidly iterate prototype designs based upon direct Soldier feedback.”

OTAs “have limitations, just like every contract vehicle, and an aggressive schedule does not replace rigor,” he added. “To any organization considering an OTA, I would suggest shopping through the different OTA consortiums for the one that best fits the needs of the program, while also considering what the end state of the effort is,” he said. “Write the requirements of that end state into the OTA and simultaneously plan the transition of the program into a Federal Acquisition Regulation-based contract upon successful OTA completion.”

Hurst has been in the Army Acquisition Workforce for almost four years. After two company commands as an infantry Soldier, he attended graduate school to continue his education in systems engineering and project management. “I was immediately infatuated with turning the qualitative into the quantitative and analyzing dynamic problems holistically,” he said. His assignment on the Phoenix program was his first in the Acquisition Corps.

“What has surprised me the most about acquisition is how complex and how big the problems are that the Acquisition Corps tries to solve,” he said. “We often find ourselves at the cutting edge of Army decisions developing future requirements and doctrine for a modernizing Army while exploring the growth of potential technologies and the constraints of current ones. We operate somewhere in the middle of these efforts, bridging organizations and supporting decision-makers where we can.”

Similar to identifying what makes a good beer, Hurst noted that acquisition success requires attention to what makes a good team. “At the end of the day, leading a team of government employees and support contractors comes down to basic leadership skills: Take care of your people; provide purpose, direction and motivation; and serve your team as best you can so that they can accomplish the mission.”

A little excitement about the work that you do is also an important ingredient. “I am in awe of the genius of the physicists and engineers who discovered electromagnetic waves, found a way to modulate information over these waves, and then developed a global network to send tremendous amounts of information anywhere in the world, at the speed of light via on-orbit assets,” Hurst said. “I hope when I describe my work to others, people find the technological complexity and dynamic challenges of managing a cutting-edge Army program as interesting as I do.”

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