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Issue #5. OODA, measuring in gray or risky zones

Cyril Lagrange
Cyril Lagrange
Measure the invaluable to make better decisions.
Most of what we need to know is invisible, so long we take an open and bold perspective to identify and measure it. Building leadership and innovation capabilities, changing behaviors, tapping immaterial assets are invaluable linchpins to grow sustainable human and business ventures.
#Performance #Transformation #Management #KPI #OKR #OODA

Landing is like finding a solution to a problem
Landing is like finding a solution to a problem
Hi Friends!
In your personal and team experience, you may have noticed that your performance measurements often miss out on many critical dimensions despite available technologies, not to mention human acceptance, and fall short of grasping complex and underlying changes. The hard side is that you are part of the equation.
We design or choose an existing framework to increase certainty and improve the sense of mastery. Doing so may introduce bias upfront in what we measure and limit our ability to find unexpected insights and options. Indeed, when considering significant initiatives, the choice of the management and measurement framework is never neutral.
Searching for certainty
As human beings, a fortiori in business activities, we tend first to develop extensive sets of measurements on what we see and think to make ongoing decisions in business and economic activities. We need to increase certainty in any situation to make the next step. Fear of the danger, including the unknown and the potential consequences, looms consciously or not.
As Lord William Thomson KELVIN ( 1824 - 1907 ) put it back in the 19th century,
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
We unconsciously apply this tenet in our daily activities as we directly refer to what we know (the current situation or problem). Then we strive to measure the impact of a problem or new information as it is. Ultimately, we try to determine how it aggregates based on our understanding of measurements: improve or alter, cost or benefits, keeping things as they are, or changing perspectives. Does it relate to you?
This premise is at the core of many continuous improvement frameworks such as Lean Manufacturing or Agile methodologies in the digital world.
A referred to in many business materials and white papers, the notion of OKR aspires to grasp these complex connexions, search for meaning, and ultimately measure to uncover certainty. This search for certainty leads to design connexions between what we intend to do (Objectives), actions, and the resulting impacts.
Connecting OKRs, KPIs, OVSs, and DVSs in SAFe® - Scaled Agile
Although this approach may appear straightforward, as exemplified in the article attached above, it may be misleading or unpractical in various conditions:
  • Objectives may not be easy to define upfront or contradictory.
  • OKRs for everything may optimize the minor parts and lead to losing understanding of the big picture, not to mention the usual inconvenience of data overload and proliferation of dashboards.
  • Oversimplification and all kinds of cognitive bias when picking measurements, data inputs, and subjectivity in defining what “key” and results should look like
In many complex situations, straightforward measurements systems and a simplistic approach to identifying objectives may be misleading.
Intents, first decisions, and determining the correct data require considerable upfront exploration and experimentations to gauge what’s happening and possible pathways in those contexts.
That’s where the OODA decision loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Adjust) helps you to bridge the gap between the legitimate yearning for certainty and deciding in gray and risky zones.
Air combats and preparations are a compelling metaphor of risk, danger, and the realm of tough and impactful decisions. During the Korean War, John Boyd, US Aircraft pilot in the US Army, coined the OODA loop. In that context, he wondered what kind of decision mindset would dramatically increase the odds of the pilots (and supporting teams) to avoid dangers, win air combats, and survive and land back safely.
Hence, he and the Air Force framed the OODA decision mindset that would steer individual and team decisions in a wide range of risky, complex situations where information and possible options are difficult or impossible to secure right at the beginning.
Under uncertainty, clear intent but adjustable objectives against circumstances
Under uncertainty, clear intent but adjustable objectives against circumstances
OODA is about deciding in the gray. When you can’t have all the information to secure a high-confidence decision, you need to gather a certain amount of observations, select your options before deciding, and tolerate significant and quick adjustments in the face of possible errors or new information about the environment.
Traditional management and measurement frameworks presuppose that setting goals (objectives and expected results) is effectively possible and desirable and stands to the end, whatever “key” and “result” mean in a given context.
In new disruptive or unknown situations such as dealing with the impacts of climate change and disaster or a pandemic, you navigate brand new perspectives, often lacking predictive data and incapacity to figure out exact possible scenarios in the long haul.
Resting on the OKRs approach often creates a rigid perspective and linearity based on the initial prediction between objectives and results. At the same time, the reality may dramatically differ, suggest alternatives, or step aside.
Orientation means that you have to identify the possible pathways and gather enough information on each to refine risk assessment and find the most desirable options given your overarching purpose.
Deciding in the gray, or in the context of rapid change and risks, let alone dangerous situations, is far for complex than creating and maintaining a set of OKR-type performance measurement systems.
When the team has gathered the information required and fresh insights (Observe), mapping possible options based on a first risk assessment and understanding of better opportunities (Orient), you can start making rapid and potentially radical decisions: step aside, retreat, and start over, filter out options, broaden your perspective on some promising aspect, deep dive into other, or whatever make sense for you on your pursuit.
Then, you and your team, provided you have grown into clarity, may start articulating comprehensive predictive scenarios and modeling impacts to your base situations)
Deciding in the gray is also much more dynamic. Opting for the OODA mindset doesn’t mean that you give up on having some king of objectives and results in mind when your start the loop. It implies that you genuinely accept that some initiatives need exploration, quick testing, or larger experimentations, embracing risk and iterating the next loop through the learning from the previous one.
Adjustments come on the way, often in the form of intentional and precise decisions, made by teams with direct and secured access to the correct information, with higher autonomy driven by a more decentralized organization.
OODA decision loops provide flexible and actionable guidance to make fact-based decisions in gray zones when data, time, and experience are initially running short or are just inexistent. It represents an exciting alternative to the process-based organization when the situations and outcomes may require more decentralized decision-making, risk tolerance, and a constraint to leverage explorations.
The OODA approach isn’t in the same category as Agile and Lean methodologies as the OODA decision loops support big choices and initial strategic decisions. Agile methodologies propose iterative operational models to implement decisions already made and stabilized, ultimately to optimize cost, time-to-delivery, and quality, not to frame a risk-opportunity analysis or to solve big problems. Lean approaches focus on optimizing the existing operations, not exploring new fields.
Liked it. Would you mind sharing it via email, Twitter, or LinkedIn? Contact me through my website to investigate and reflect with me from a professional perspective on your business challenges.
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I help clients solve open problems, create value beyond financials, and achieve greater agility, as a B2B professional consultant in business and digital transformation.

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Cyril Lagrange
Cyril Lagrange @lagrange_cyril

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