Accounting for Accountability

The word accountability has had disciplinary connotations for many people.  I have a variety of good stories about getting caught doing things I should not have done from growing up. I thought I was clever [but was not] and my parents were very consistent with their follow through. However, accountability is a potentially positive thing, and this writeup is an exploration of that idea.

Core Elements of Accountability
To account for the things that need to be done for success in various situations, the following elements are worth considering so that people can be held accountable for tasks:

1) An understood clear objective
2) A generally understood means of execution
3) An understood and agreed upon Deadline
4) Clearly understood benefits of success and/or consequences of failure
5) A review of completed work

The fifth element is key because when something succeeds it should be celebrated, and when it fails we need to be able to review which of the first 4 elements was missing or misunderstood. It’s the accounting of accountability.

Clarity of Objective
Knowing the objective of a task is of utmost importance. We need to be able to understand in detail what is being asked of all parties.  Often the critical piece missing from this step will create major issues for the next two elements.  The problem could be a gap in expectations because the objective was not clear.  If you point up into the Colorado Rockies and say to a friend, “Let’s go hike that mountain off in the horizon,” It will be hard for your friend to know which mountain you’re referring to.  However, if you say, “Let’s go hike Mount Evans,” your mate will have half a chance to understand clearly what is expected.  The clear objective should be understood and possible.

Clarity of Path
It’s easy to imagine the impossible, state it in clear and understandable language, and then have no way to arrive at the impossible objective.  I can say, “Let’s create a self driving hyperloop vehicle that can be turned invisible,” however, there is no clear path to achievability despite the clarity of the goal. Those leading projects should very carefully look for these sorts of tasks and avoid them with diligence.

Once a clear goal is understood those involved in the task need to have a solid outline of how the goal will be achieved.  This should be reviewed carefully, moving between the means of execution and the deadline.  If participants cannot come up with a plan for a schedule tied to an understood means of execution that seems agreeable, reasonable, and probable then the objective should be revisited or the deadline should be evaluated.  One of the worst things teams can do is understand the objective, but not have an agreed upon solution so that success seems highly likely.

Exceptions to this come with experience and the type of task.  For example we might have a team of experienced engineers doing some innovative work that is hard to plan for.  However, if it is easy to observe that there is no clear path through towards the goal this might be a red flag that should keep us from proceeding without more research.

Clarity of Timeline
After creating a situation where the goal and execution are agreed upon, the deadline should also be agreed upon.  How many times have you been approached after a deadline is given where someone wants to move it up by a week?  How many times have you agreed upon an outcome without a deadline?  Both of these situations are sub-optimal and create a harmful environment for those doing the work, those expecting the work, and accountability will be difficult to have because agreements were either broken or not made at all.  I once spoke to someone about a project they wanted rushed through for an already scheduled demo.  However, the clarity of the goal was not provided first, the only element that was agreed upon was when the demo of the product was to be ready.  That’s high risk.

Clarity of Benefit and Consequence
Take time to go over both positive and negative consequences of success and failure.  Positive consequences may be bonuses, continued employment, a big customer deal, and the negatives may be a release from a position, or a lack of a bonus.  Don’t be unclear on this, but don’t make it a threat.  The purpose of accountability is not fear, the purpose of accountability is confidence, clarity and deliverability.  Once the consequences are outlined review the goal, the means and the timeframe so that all parties are prepared for the consequences and can sign off on them ahead.  There should be no blindsiding of consequences if at all possible (sometimes 3rd parties can do this unexpectedly, but internal parties should never do this).

Clarity of Achievement
Lastly the retrospective, or post mortem, should be done to discuss what was delivered, what was learned, what could be done better next time, and a celebration of benefits or facing of consequences.

Single projects that do not have a guaranteed “next time” will still benefit from this because all parties will get a chance to learn from the experience.  It is not uncommon for R&D projects to be canceled, but leadership will still be able to learn about what happened during the steps of the process.  The post mortem also allows for failures to be called out.  Because the clarity of the first 3 parts were given participants can be held accountable.

Gracious Accountability
This review time should also be a place for contextual grace. If it is discovered that there were unclear expectations or a delegate or direct report is new to the principles above then grace may be the right response. This grace should be shown in context and all learnings discussions should be reiterated. As was said by Dr. Henry Cloud, “A fool has patterns, a Wiseman has a problem.”

Outside risks may also be a condition for leniency when an unexpected interruption of higher critical importance comes, or third parties do not deliver. These are still opportunities for growth and learning.

Concluding Thoughts
Proper accountability will actually be properly enabling.  When all of the elements above are clear then all parties can move with more confidence.  Sure, negative consequences may be possible, but positive outcomes are the goal.

Locus of Control

What is the most important thing for you to acquire? Is it money? Is it position? Each of the things we want in life usually comes with some level of control required. Someone else has something you would like – and given the right relationship, trading, or negotiations you could gain control over that thing. Locus of Control is the term used to describe who has control. Locus means location.

What often happens on teams is a shuffling of control without transparent cooperation. Deliberately managing for locus of control is important to bringing efficiency through clear roles and ownership.  When we identify who has control, why they have control, and what gives them that control we can then begin moving the control towards ourselves.

Fear is often a control removal tool that is used by sales people to get you to buy the extra warranty, but it can also be the thing that we as managers succumb to that leads us to under perform and not deliver innovation and deliberate change.

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,

Flow image by Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

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,

Flow image by Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

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,

Flow image by Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

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,

Flow image by Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

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,

Flow image by Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

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