The Action of OODA

[Editor’s note: this is the fifth article carrying on from an initial article about the OODA Loop]

Action figures don’t move unless you move them. They’re really inaction figures. They can’t observe, they do orient (but not in an OODA way), and they are fortunately not decisive. Hwever, as managers and hopefully leaders we can give action a home, a starting point, upon arriving at a decision.

By Patrick Edwin Moran - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3904554

Flow image by Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3904554

Clearly the actions we take are often impacting others (which should be an influence on our decision). Looking at military biographies often the hardest part for those in command is the decision to send their troups, their soldiers, and friends into the battlefield. As leaders we have to take the decision in front of us that will require the actions of others into account.

Fortunately we have a field of materials that can help us with aligning those we lead and serve without necessarily making their lives a living hell.

Action is the pump of the heart that sends the pulse going so that we can sustain momentum, stay alive, and push into the next valuable decision. Action keeps the inertia going while entropy fights to slow us down.

But it is here that we then must immediately move to restart the process. Here we jump into observation, orientation and decision again. It is at this point in time where we face a need to have accountability. And that is another blog post.

What is the most powerful action motivator you have in your arsenal for your team?

– the MGMT

The Decision of the OODA Loop

[Editor’s note: this is the fourth article carrying on from an initial article about the OODA Loop]

Remember the epic scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where the guy belts out, “My soul’s prepared! How’s yours?!” That’s a made decision. It’s ready for action. But how do you get to the decision? I’m not referring to theology, but to the point of making a decision. After the observation, and the orientation, we need to be prepared to interpret that information into a sub-set of next actions and decide. That decision is going to involve checking the options available. Seeking counsel at times. But then finally making a decision.

By Patrick Edwin Moran - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3904554

Flow image by Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3904554

Some people let decisions be made for them. Our goal is to have confidence in making the best decision possible ourselves.  This will be the thing that allows us to then learn and grow from in a meaningful, orientation impacting way. This will set us up for action.

What is the most important decision you have facing you right now? What have you done to prepare for it?

– the MGMT

 

The Orientation of the OODA Loop

[Editor’s note: this is the third article carrying on from an initial article about the OODA Loop]

The Orientation step of OODA incorporates a lot of internal context with outside information.  The data is integrated into the corpus of knowledge it is evaluated, interpreted, and prioritized. You’ll notice that the star connects 5 topics. This is not only to signify separation, but also influence. Boyd’s original intent was for single individuals to be taking on this orientation context, possibly getting input from advisors. In today’s business world of “two in the box” or committee based design this sort of singular responsibility and decisiveness is all but inpossible.

We’ll examine the orientation influences below the chart.  The orientation is our own perspective and understanding of the facts.  The goal of the OODA loop is in part to disorient our competitors.  Thus, the orietnation is a critical step in the process to help deliver great decisions that lead to high quality actions.

By Patrick Edwin Moran - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3904554

Flow image by Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3904554

Cultural Traditions

Culture for individuals is a complex topic where a global business scape means almost any numbers of cultures being joined due to international travel and a mobile labor force. Our personal culture experience keeps us grounded to what actions mean, what colors mean, and what language feels like. Watch international politics and see how various high level politicians either honor or dishonor their guests or hosts with intention or accident – all based on culture.

Genetic Heritage

Our predisposition towards those things that activate our impulses, our ability to focus, handle stress, and our core competencis drive our motives and color our perspective. While this can be a default influence, a self-aware individe al will be able to temper themselves.

New Information

As observation feeds new data into the works we mix that in with the other decision bearing influences and it has an impact on our orientation.  We need to take in new information with an open mind, but with care to fit it into what we already know in light of its reliability and in as much context as possible.  Raw data in an area where we don’t have a lot of experience (see the next section on previous experience) could lead us to make really bad decision.

Previous Experiences

Previous experience helps vet data, it helps us look for patterns, it helps us move with confidence rather than with apprehension or missing things that were buried in the details.  Thus it is important inside of an organization to give people the chance to gain experience in low risk situations so that they have gone through the drill and can perform under higher pressure situations that will use their developed experience.

Analysis & Synthesis

Analysis is the taking of complex things and breaking them down to their simplest parts. Synthesis is the opposite process.  We need both because they prove out for us that we’ve evaluated everything by breaking it down, and we’ve evaluated everything by considering its potential complexity.  If we’re willing to question ourselves, question the data, question the sources, question the interpretations others may offer and bring to bear the most carefully considered analysis and synthesis we increase the likelihood we make a balanced decision.

Not in Boyd’s List: Locus of Control.

While not in Boyd’s list, I might suggest that another 6th element worth considering is ‘locus of control’. This is a term that we’ll definitely spend some time on later on in this blog.  It is a term used to describe who has the control.  Knowing this, then leads us to consider what actions will lead to our gaining the control if we don’t have it, and maintaining the control if we do have it.

Last Considerations

Orientation is critical when we’re looking to figure out where we are in the grander scheme of things based on what we know so far. Much of Boyd’s efforts were focused on military tactics, but we can definitely see its value in a managerial and business scenario.  Are projects spiraling out of control?  Are competitors taking market share? Is a team member not telling you what you need to know until it’s too late?  Is a customer-facing demo coming up where your business is competing for the customer’s dollars? Any of these situations may lead to the OODA Loop’s orientation being critical so that you can take the Observations and drive critical Decisions and take Action.

The Observation of OODA

[Editor’s note: this is a second article carrying on from an initial article about the OODA Loop]

Observation is near and dear to my heart.  It is what the artist and the scientist have in common.  They’re both unified in their need to take in information from the world around them and combine it with what they already understand.  Boyd’s concepts of observation were dynamic.  If we look at the diagram below we see the observation receives further input from later steps for re-evaluation as new information comes in, new decisions are made, and new actions are executed.

By Patrick Edwin Moran - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3904554

Flow image by Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3904554

Boyd’s concept of orientation includes what I would consider to be some key themes of observation, but he’s concerned with observation of just data.  That’s why later stages (Decision and Action) can contribute further observational data.  When we’re looking at information we need to be very careful to separate the information from the interpretation of the data.  For example unfolding circumstances may include a competitor releasing a product that is very similar to what we’re building to release.  This is simultaneously information (the specs for the product) and potential for interpretation of that data, but we need to carefully separate the orientation (the interpretation in context) and the observations because jumping to the orientation phase too quickly could result in missing information.

Boyd’s observation includes implicit guidance and control, unfolding circumstances, outside information, unfolding interaction with the environment, and the results from later steps as we loop through the process.  Guidance and control mean that we’re seeing the process through each step with intention and taking the previous step into full consideration.  As executioners of this loop we’re looking to make sure we don’t miss something, we don’t get ahead of ourselves, and that we’re disciplined about what we’re doing.  In LEAN terminology we’re interested in the cycles being short, and that we’re responding to customer requests after getting an MVP in front of them.  This is a high paced iteration and one that allows us to be dynamic, responsive, and useful in partnering with our customers, but only when we’re observing correctly (which may include observing that we observed wrongly earlier in the process). We may see a competing product with a similar implementation, be able to understand that implementation and then get a deeper grasp of what the customer is asking for. We may see that a new operating system, a new material, a new delivery mechanism, or a new use case has opened up, and begin feeding information about those things into our observational queues.  We’re constantly feeding the loop, but looking for ever clearer information to be used.

What are the things you look for when observing for a business use case? A management use case?

– the MGMT

The OODA Loop

Recently I had John Boyd’s “Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA) Loop” introduced to me. This is a dynamic system of cyclical responses to handling an active and dynamic problem.  Its original focus was military applications, but over time it was applied to other areas such as the business world in areas of marketing and product development. The OODA flow sequence allows for a tremendous amount of resetting as more information and intel is gathered.  As you would expect from a military application new information is coming at all times and may thwart previous information so that the process should be reset.  The goal of the original application was to move so fast and with such precision that you’d get into the action path of your enemy causing their observations, orientation, decisions and actions to be thrown out of focus.

By Patrick Edwin Moran - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3904554
Flow image by Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3904554

Given that causing others to lose certainty was the key goal, why do we want to evaluate this mechanism for decision making for project management? Because it’s core function is to drive clarity of understanding and decisiveness in action.  Our customers may change their minds, they may not know what they need, and we may be getting conflicting messages.  As leaders we need to be able to take in context look at our resources and team to deduce what the best decision and resultant actions should be. We’ll be taking the next few days to investigate this flow and make its value clear for project management.

What are the systems you use to integrate changing requirements from customers and product line managers?

– the MGMT

Rigid and Flexible

Engineering is a funny thing. We demand from design and materials opposite sounding qualities quite often. We’re after Jim Collins’ “and instead of or.” But this requires a very intentional plan,  a prepared team (or company) culture, and probably some tolerance for risk.

The thing that stretches various personality types is a tendency to favor one over the other and so you’ll have a Dominant personality that wants rigidity and action, but an Influencer who wants to flex indefinitely and not have anything with structure (that’s my tendency). The goal of being both in management really isn’t the goal,  the real goal is the balance between the two.

The two offer the benefit of a firm structure that can handle an earthquake. I’m building a guitar and the top wood needs to have flexible resonance and the bracing (that you can’t see from the outside) for rigid structure and frequency transfer. That way when you strike the guitar’s body percussively you get the pop off a drum,  but when you cause the strings to vibrate you can have a long sustaining chord. this is non-trivial, but it’s produced by trial and error and testing and experience.

A manager’s job is to push his team forward into the frontier with the supplies of a rigid planner and the resilience of a seasoned veteran who has learned to reset when something unexpected comes up. This surprise may be a new opportunity that was greater than the one you were planning on being willing to let go of.

– the MGMT

The Default’s Fault

Entropy, it’s all around us. It kicks us in the shins all day long. Entropy is the default. We’re falling apart, we’re missing things, we’re letting our plates tilt just a bit to let stuff fall off of them while we look away from where we’re going. It kinda sucks. I spoke to one manager who mentioned that he’d gone on vacation and returned to discover entropy had kicked in where he left off. And then I spoke to another and another.

The default often has gaps because it isn’t thought through thoroughly. It leaves us wanting more coverage, completion, and closure. The default costs us in time, money, and stress more often than not because training hasn’t been done, the training isn’t the culture and the culture has not carried the standard.

But what can save us from this default-based entropy? What will change our training? What will change our culture? Deliberately managing.

Doing the deliberate, thought out, thing will lead to more excellence more often. It will change culture, it will change the way we make choices because it will have an influencial principle or rule gating what is the better choice from the lesser choice.

Don’t go with the default, champion the deliberate!

What are you letting slide that you can change in the next 48 hours?

– the MGMT

The “I Do It, Too” Principle of Management

Have you ever been caught off guard by behavior of others and realized later that you are doing the same thing? How about driving slower than some traffic in the fast lane? How about discovering you have 11 items in the 10 items express lane? This sort of frustration can lead a tired, grumpy individual to lose their cool and sometimes cause some real anxiety where none was needed.

In dealing with others at various levels instead of getting frustrated get real: tell them you’ve done it, too (assuming you have), turn it into a teachable moment, and steer the in the right direction. It takes a bit of humility, but can really change the dynamic of a situation.

Core Competencies Part II

Let’s say that you have figured out what your primary core competency is from the list of 31. That is to say the one that you start with, the one that is innately wired to your person and the lens that you tend to use to drive change in your life.  It’s really valuable to get a handle on that, but then you realize that you have thirty or so other competencies that you’re not using at full capacity.  There are key steps to getting these under your belt, and the first step is to begin memorization of the competencies.  This probably seems tedious, but the reality is that there are very few people out there who can’t memorize given the right technique.  I’m not going to tell you how to create a memory palace, but check out Ron White’s intro material [I’ve been through his 30 day course on CD].  With a memory palace you can store information, in sequence, and recall it with relative ease. I’ve used it to memorize The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

Upon memorizing the core competencies you can begin understanding their use in your day to day interactions with both business, your direct reports, and for personal development.  It is worth noting that this can take a lifetime.  If you spent a month focusing on each one you’d still take nearly 3 years at which point in time you might need to circle back around and start over because you’d probably have learned enough in the first pass that you’d want to take a second pass and learn more.  It is worth noting that competencies that you don’t have under your belt very well may require some time of meditation and pondering to understand their value to you.  It may be simple to understand the value of these various competencies, but you want to grasp their personal implications.

After understanding the competencies you’ll want to review the competencies daily.  If memorization is not on your current priority list take some time to write them down on a 3X5 notecard to look at during down times or before your day starts.  By having them fresh in your mind your neurological framework will literally have an increased likelihood of applying them rather than just hoping you remember them and hoping that you might apply them.  Take time to take the information into your conscious thoughts.

After your day make sure you have some time for reflection.  This can be great for all sorts of problem solving and stress reduction, but also as a measure to consider how you used the core competencies, how you might not have used the core competencies, and how you plan to use them tomorrow.

What competencies seem the least like you today?

Pencils image Creative Commons: Cleidi Isabel.

Personality Models Part I

Somewhere in the last decade I began learning about the DiSC Personality Model.  I first became aware of them through a friend who pointed me to Manager-Tools.com.  They’ve got an excellent podcast series on the DiSC framework and my attempt to duplicate it here would be less valuable at present than your listening to the series.  Rather than spend time writing about the DiSC model by itself I’d like to share a conversation I had with a friend who has a degree in psychology.  I had asked her whether or not the personality models were actually relevant in any way in light of more recent psychological research.  I’d hate to recommend folks check out the DiSC model with it being complete rubbish.

As it turns out these systems are effective starting points for learning how to interact with your direct reports and team as a whole.  In addition it is recommended by many to do a personality test before hiring on a team member to confirm that they’re aware of their own personality attributes as well as being able to ask specific pre-hiring questions about how they handle their weaknesses.  My friend shared about how someone she knew had been asked how he handled not being a heavy data collector and his answer was great: he hired people around him that had that as a strength and worked on allowing their strength to support his weakness.

Using DiSC as a starting point for growth and development and not an excuse for inaction (I was born that way is a lazy personality excuse).  Take time to understand these profiles for your own betterment and for greater ability to interact with folks from all walks of life. If you’ve learned another two-factor model for personality evaluation check out this great translator on wikipedia.