INTERVIEW: Kaylee White

INTERVIEW: Kaylee White

Recently I had the honor of sitting down with a wonderful member of team Toolkit, Kaylee White! Kaylee, a Senior Agile Design Engineer in MITRE’s Agile Systems Design and Enginnering Department, is one half of Toolkit West, calling Hill Air Force Base home along with another member of team Toolkit, her husband Niall White. Kaylee has been a rockstar member of MITRE’s culture since 2017, and I couldn’t wait to hear more about her Toolkit journey!

Melanie: Kaylee, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today about your Toolkit experiences! I am curious about how your MITRE journey began- how did you come to work here, and what has your experience been like so far?

Kaylee: Initially, MITRE was not on my radar, and I was looking at design agencies and commercial technology companies— very non-governmental work; but my now Group Leader received my resume, probably through a university career fair, and asked if I had ever considered MITRE. I began the interview process and was excited about MITRE as I began to hear about the mission and opportunities. Through this experience I have had a lot of opportunities to pave my own way. I have learned about a lot of different perspectives and have met many people with totally different experiences than me—there are always new challenges as well, which is exciting.

Melanie: How did you come to join the Innovation Toolkit Team?

Kaylee: Niall gave a talk about design in cyber security, which was also his thesis topic, and because of my design background he invited me to present with him. It caught the attention of the ITK team, and they reached out to us afterwards. We learned about what they were doing, and they asked if we would like to contribute to the tools and methodologies for MITRE. It took off from there.

Melanie: How has it been being a distance member of team Toolkit at a MITRE site?

Kaylee: It can be hard, when you have a mainly in person group, and then people who are distant, it can feel like you’re missing content, body language or chatter that may go on in person; but this team has been so considerate of that. When we have suggestions, and let them know there are challenges with distance, I see them making the effort to address those challenges. We try to use video chat more often for meetings.  Additionally, the people in person pause in conversations to allow the distance members to jump in during meetings. We are included on opportunities to participate in work, regardless of our location. We have been able to do a lot of collaboration from East Coast to West Coast.

 Melanie: Tell me what problem this service solves?

Kaylee: ITK gives people who are excited about innovation a way to communicate it, rearticulate it and practice it with other people. Yes, they are innovation tools, but they are also communication tools. Sometimes someone needs that. They need to know there is someone else out there on the same team, who may feel the same way as them, pushing for innovation.

 Melanie: What has been a standout experience for you in your toolkit journey? Or a great learning example for others? What inspires you?

 Kaylee: Seeing this entrepreneurship model has been really exciting; to see how motivated people can be to start a movement; or make an impact on a corporate level.

I’ve learned a lot from this team about creative optimism; enthusiasm around making these processes available to other people and to see how our team and members of our team really put in that passion and elbow grease and effort to make it happen because they care. I am learning from my teammates about that and I appreciate that.

 Melanie: What was the last new ITK skill you learned, and how has that helped contribute to your delivery services to our customers?

Kaylee: I am learning a lot about storytelling, how to convey innovation on a personal level and how it can apply to humans that are in a technical world. Communicating the value and application of innovation using stories has helped a lot.

Melanie: With so many great services, why should people choose ITK?

Kaylee: They are lightweight, cheap and easy to use. They always leave you with an artifact that can be referenced later and get you on the path to action.

Melanie: Do you have a favorite ITK tool? If so, why?

Kaylee: I like the problem framing tool, because it’s satisfying to articulate the root problem that we are trying to solve and brings focus to our work creating solutions.

Melanie: How has ITK contributed to your MITRE experience? Has it changed the way you approach your own projects outside ITK?

Kaylee: Yes, sometimes I am able facilitate workshops on my own projects and when people see it in action, they are excited to use it more. When the opportunity arises, I try to use those tools on my own projects. Sometimes it’s hard because I am not necessarily the decision maker on a project, but when the opportunity arises its always nice to bring people into conversations using the tools.

 Melanie: If you were to make three promises to someone who wanted to use ITK, what would they be?

Kaylee: We can help drive novelty, impact and experimentation.

 Melanie: What are your hobbies outside of ITK and MITRE?

Kaylee: My husband and I have been remodeling our house since the fall, but when we had a kitchen (it’s under construction at the moment) I like to make bread, including grinding the wheat myself, etc. I really appreciate the science behind tweaking recipes. I also like being outside— my husband and I do a lot of mountain biking and cycling.

Melanie: Any advice for someone new to ITK?

 Kaylee: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” -John D. Cook (and also said by, the ever-fabulous Ms. Frizzle)

Melanie: Anything else you would like to share?

Kaylee: Reach out to us! We’re all available at ITK@MITRE.ORG

NASA Premortem

NASA Premortem

Last year I had the opportunity to serve on a National Academy of Sciences committee. We were chartered to help NASA improve its innovation ecosystem, a truly awesome experience. One of my main contributions was to lead several Premortem sessions, where participants imagined a future scenario where NASA has failed completely. As always, the Premortem produced several moments of insight & honesty. It continues to be my favorite tool in the kit.

If you’re not familiar with Premortems, the objective is to build clarity and consensus about what success looks like. Although a lot of the discussion is focused on describing a hypothetical failure (making the description as stark and dystopian terms as possible), the key question in the Premortem canvas is actually “If the only thing we do is ______, that’s a win.” We don’t start with that question, but I always make sure we get to it before the Premortem is complete.

Here’s a short excerpt from the National Academy committee’s report, describing the consensus these groups came to during the Premortems:

…one of the answers that popped up in all three sessions was “to build strong collaborative partnerships with industry and internationally.”


In particular, a number of session participants acknowledged that NASA is no longer the only game in town and argued that the agency’s continued presence as a relevant leader in space and aerospace will thus depend on its role as a collaborative partner rather than an independent actor. One example that a number of participants mentioned is the existence of civilian space companies such as SpaceX that are increasingly accomplishing missions that were previously done by NASA alone. As long as NASA is recognized as a valuable partner in these missions… then the agency will rightfully receive some of the credit for successes in this area.


…three main things that participants identified as being important for avoiding a dystopian future: developing strong partnerships with industry
and internationally, continuing the learning culture at NASA and building on it, and improving communication across NASA and with those outside of the agency. NASA is already doing many of these things, the session participants said, but there is room for significant improvement in each area.

If you’d like to learn more about how NASA used the Premortem and how they answered the “If the only thing we do…” question, or even if you just want to see what NASA’s senior leaders are doing to help the agency improve, check out the full National Academy committee’s report, now available as a free PDF (see the “Download Free PDF” link on the right of that page).