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 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