Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Disrupting the OODA Loop

I got a lot of re-tweets over the weekend regarding a blog post by Kas Thomas on "The Principle of the Last Responsible Moment." Thomas' post has mostly to do with project planning and the fallacy of the complete specification. But the actual principle he's talking about is a military tactic which is oriented toward threats, or in the realm of business, competition.

I've always been a big believer in strategy, but I'm an equally big believer in execution. They are the yin and yang of business competition; execution limiting and informing strategy, strategy creating the pathway for execution. I've always thought it absurd when somebody describes a business as being either a "strategic play" or an "execution play" -- business competition is inherently always both.

The military has been dealing with the problem of strategy vs. execution for a long time. Everyone has heard the truism that "no plan survives contact with the enemy," but the military has a doctrine to deal with that fact, called "OODA" -- Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. OODA was first articulated by Air Force Colonel John Boyd, and it describes a continuous command and control feedback loop, in which unfolding circumstances inform changes in strategy and execution. It is to the military what agile development is to the software team.

To me, Boyd's key competitive insight is the idea of "tempo" -- the speed with which you can run your feedback loop compared to your enemy. The most profound disruption occurs when you can strategize and execute inside the decision-making window of your enemy. As Boyd wrote about aerial combat:

"Time is the dominant parameter. The pilot who goes through the OODA cycle in the shortest time prevails because his opponent is caught responding to situations that have already changed."

This is a massively important idea. Getting your opponent to respond to your moves prevents them from seizing the initiative and surprising you. I've seen this play out in business many times. In traditional video games, long development cycles created numerous examples of teams that conceptualized new products and delivered them to market while their competitors were mired in delays, grabbing market share and reinforcing brand. We've all seen supposedly weaker technologies vanquish more established ones through rapid, directed innovation in response to market forces.

Time is of the essence. If we've learned anything from the media and technology revolutions of the last 30 years, it's that things happen a lot faster than everybody thinks.


6 comments:

Chris Hopf said...

Excellent post Mitch. The element of time is of paramount importance. Leadership is key to establishing and sustaining a sense of urgency that best positions businesses to create, recognize and capitalize on opportunities (opportunities it would otherwise miss completely or the full benefit of).

This is a true game changer that for whatever reason "leaders" lose focus of all too quickly.

Anonymous said...

Dead on about tempo, Mitch.

Gen. Gordon Sullivan (Army Chief of Staff - Ret.) wrote in his management tome "Hope is Not a Method," that a correct assessment of what's really happening versus what's not happening (Observe & Orient) and the courage to respond immediately (Decide & Act) defined elite field marshals. Sullivan and Boyd were contemporaries in violent agreement.

An interesting account from Sullivan was the drive to increase the speed/tempo of firing large caliber ordnance. The US Army reduced it from 10 minutes at the time of Kuwait to well-under 3 minutes 10 yrs later, with aiming/guidance aided by improved technology. The simultaneous increase in accuracy AND over 3X volley-rate made for a devastating battlefield tempo.

This is proxy for the iteration / implementation tempo (baselined against the real competitors) businesses must achieve.

- Tom Ellsworth

J said...

I think the developers of Duke Nukem Forever should have paid a little more attention to this OODA. By the way, is this the same Mitch Lasky of Pine Crest class of '80?

ambien said...

An interesting account from Sullivan was the drive to increase the speed/tempo of firing large caliber ordnance

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