This is a article on: the OODA Loop

Low-Stress Decisions
with the OODA Loop

1 What are indicators you need the OODA Loop?

  • Arbitrary decisions are increasing risk, blindsiding you with new challenges during implementation or after going to market.
  • "Insurmountable" problems are causing unquantifiable loss of competitive advantage, you feel customers may be slipping away while the business is stuck.
  • You feel powerless to deliver on-time and at the approved cost, with any "fixes" for these problems focusing on a single project or blame of people.

The above image shows typical "bad" decision process outcomes -- increased risk, lost advantage, and increased time and expense. Though there are many possible causes for these outcomes, some of the most common are unsubstantiated and unilateral decisions, hesitation and failure to act, cost overruns and schedule delays. The root cause of these problems may be traced back to the decision process.

2 What is the OODA Loop?

  • Identified by John Boyd (USAF) as a way to address the life-and-death decisions of combat superiority, and since applied in business.
  • A single process with the scalability to support effective decision-making for one choice by an individual and the decision needs of complex multi-project, multi-discipline corporate environments.
  • Clear decision-making process steps with the agility and adaptability to address changing conditions, late data discovery, and diverse stakeholders.

The above image shows the simplest form of the OODA Loop, a circle containing four sequential steps which are to Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. That is to collect and review data, derive deeper meaning, make decisions that stand up to scrutiny, and make timely execution of the decision. This form is presented to enable rapid understanding and adoption. As your process maturity grows, you will want to learn and use the more advanced form of the OODA Loop described in the works of Boyd, Richards and others.

3 How can I begin using the OODA Loop?

Observe (make a list of) the current people and data involved in decision-making, used to make and execute the decision if you were not using the OODA Loop. This should include any data consulted from monitoring, reporting and business intelligence systems.

Orient the existing resources on your list (produced in the Observe step) by sorting them to the four steps of OODA -- Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act -- producing one new list for each step. Remember to include any regularly-consulted compliance and audit benchmarks (privacy regulations, PCI-DSS, COBIT, etc.) in the Orient list.

Decide with the assistance of stakeholders and the decision approver how OODA will be used. Alternately decide to use the OODA Loop as a personal tool to understand decision process problems and aid you in preparing decision support materials. If the business has desire for immediate gains in decision quality, it may find value in consulting a seasoned practitioner.

Act on the decision to use the OODA Loop for the first time, integrating people per the Decision. Though the people Acting on a decision typically include approvers, stakeholders, contractors, partners and vendors, our first use of OODA likely will be more limited.

Observe the results of your OODA Loop use. This is key to treating the OODA Loop as a Continuous Improvement process, not a decision-making procedure. Regardless of how broad the participation, it is important to identify gaps in the decision support data (Observe) and problem analysis (Orient) no matter where they are detected. As these "not enough evidence" or "bad evidence" problems are identified, you may integrate learnings to Observation and Orientation in future decisions.

How does OODA reduce stress?

A Evidence combats arbitrary decisions.

The data gathering activities of Observe and the analysis activities of Orient steps ensure decisions are backed by facts which are transparently available to other participants in the decision-making process. Continuous Improvement enhances the quality of data and analysis.

B Reuse combats delayed decisions.

Use of OODA as a shared process allows rapid integration of new information and participants. Data fire drills are reduced through the identification of already-available data. Continuous Improvement addresses decision process gaps so they do not impact future decisions.

C Diagnosis without blame combats incomplete decisions.

With clear steps in the decision process, each step integrating a known list of data and resources, the specific progression to decision and result remains clear even when projects derail. By focusing failure analysis on the decision cycle, we reduce the tendency to blame the individual or team for failing results. Process improvements and improved evidence may then be used to prevent future failures and inform actions that reduce the business impact from a failure.

The OODA Loop can help your business achieve success while reducing stress from arbitrary, delayed and incomplete decisions.