Guiding Quote

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Einstein

Monday, April 2, 2012

Project Managers and Politics: The OODA Loop 101

John Boyd, Colonel USAF, developed the Observe – Orientate – Decide – Act loop for analyzing military tactics. In its simplest form it is a linear flow with a feedback loop between Act and Observe. There’s much more to it than that, but as a starter we’ll consider it in this form.

You Observe a threat.

You Orientate or position yourself to handle the threat.

You Decide how to address the threat.

You Act.

You Observe the effect of your Act and so on

The key element in this process is the orientate phase. It’s where you answer the ‘so what’ question. We’ll address the more sophisticated aspects of the orientation step in later blogs.

So far the simplified process doesn’t seem too innovative. The innovation is the concept of the speed of the process. This concept was initially developed by Boyd, who was a fighter pilot. In a dogfight the person who goes through the OODA loop quickest has a key advantage. It is the source of the saying ‘getting inside’ your opponents decision cycle. If you react even slightly quicker than your opponent then they are disadvantaged. Repeat the cycle a few times and they are defeated.

So how does this impact project managers and politics?

From a positive viewpoint if your project is moving through its OODA loop quicker than your client’s review progress then you’re seen to be delivering value. For example: Most companies have quarterly review processes, if you are using Agile development techniques then with a four to six week sprint period you would be delivering value two to three times within a review cycle. If there’s the potential of budget cuts then your project is well placed to survive; compared with projects that are still generating requirements.

If a company can improve its products more quickly than its competitors then it will be successful. For example Asian car companies used to introduce new models every two years whereas US companies took three years. One cycle was bad; thirty years worth was disastrous.

From a politics viewpoint the key is to convert your opponents loop from OODA to OO-OO-OO. You extend their cycle time; in other words we get them oscillating between observe and orientate – analysis paralysis.

So if you’re opponents want to undermine your project it’s much harder for them if you’re a moving target.

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