Sunday, January 20, 2013

OODA Loops for Mitigating Dynamism

Fast decisons are essential in dynamic enviornments, but they still need to be good decisions.

Making quick - good decisions in combat...

A US Air Force military strategist analysed why in Korea the US F-86 was able to defeat the better performing MIG-15. He coined the term "OODA Loop", which stands for:

Orient, Observe, Decide, Act
(J. Boyd, 1986)

The US aircraft's bubble cockpit gave its pilot greater situational awareness. The design allowed the pilot to observe the result of their actions and make decisions more quickly, and then work themselves into a better position.

What about Dynamic Environments...

In a dynamic environment a decision must be made in time to still be relevant. To quote from Boyd’s last briefing, “without the ability to get inside other OODA loops (or other environments), we will find it impossible to comprehend, shape, adapt to, and in turn be shaped by an unfolding, evolving reality that is uncertain, ever changing, unpredictable” (John Boyd, 1995).  In his paper “‘OO-OO-OO!’ The Sound of a Broken OODA Loop”, David Ullman related how businesses are paralysed by rapid change rates, and are incapable of making a decision (Ullman, 2007), the colloquial term being “paralysis by analysis”. My study participants emphasised that the “speed of decision is more important in a rapidly changing environment than a perfect one. If you wait for all the information, your window of opportunity is past” and another concluded that in “rapidly changing projects, those (project managers) that have hard times making decisions don’t survive very well”. So the speed of decision appears to be more important than achieving a perfect decision, but that doesn't mean making decisive guesses.

Fast decisions still need to be informed decisions.

Fast decisions still need to be well informed decisions. So how do you make an informed decision quickly. My participants turned up a number of approaches, and one of them correlates with Boyd's theory on OODA loops.

High Levels of Situational Awareness
  • Constantly updated high levels of awareness of changes in the project environments.
  • Rapid and regular pragmatic reporting to inform rapid and pragmatic decision-making;
Simon Collyer

Collyer, S., Warren, C., Hemsley, B., & Stevens, C. (2010). Aim Fire Aim - Project Planning Styles in Dynamic Environments, Project Management Journal, 41(4), 108-121.
Collyer, S., & Warren, C. M. J. (2009). Project Management Approaches for Dynamic Environments, International Journal of Project Management, 27(4), 355-364
Boyd, J. (1986). Patterns of Conflict. Retrieved from
Ullman, D. G. (2007). "OO-OO-OO!" The Sound of a Broken OODA Loop. Crosstalk,.