Boiling the Ocean, Analysis Paralysis, and the OODA Loop

When the pursuit of holistic elegance stalls many process and IT teams, breakthroughs are made with a refocus on the simple goal of agile operational excellence.

I find that most process experts are similar to IT professionals: both often want to accomplish the goal with a prideful elegance--and this is a good thing. Well, except when there is too much of a good thing. This can happen with the best professionals, especially those responsible for designing solutions, when they believe they should unleash their full talent at the problem.

Process experts are hyper-driven to perfection (e.g. Six Sigma), efficiency (e.g. Lean) and frequently both, with a super-savvy for metrics to demonstrate their impact and justify the effort. Generally speaking, the bigger and more holistic the process improvement, the more impressive the measured value. With over-reaching documentation and data-collection of as-is processes, and burgeoning project details and dependencies, Time-To-Value (TTV) fades to oblivion as the project begins to “boil the ocean”.

On the other side of the Process-Technology fence, software architects are hyper-driven to re-use, high scalability, and exhaustive feature sets with a penchant for less transparency--the mystique of the black art of software speaks for itself. In sliding towards a workable solution planned for the future vs. one planned for change, “analysis paralysis” frequently ensues.

Neither discipline aspires to stall out, nor do they want a DOA project filled with finger pointing and lasting resentment. The real goal, seemingly so hard to remember, is invariably quite simple: deliver agile excellence in an agile way.

OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act)
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Col. John Boyd crafted the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act) shown above specifically to illustrate how to out-maneuver your opponent, get within his decision cycles, and confuse him to the point he locks up while you soundly defeat him—the ultimate in agility. Originally applied to U.S.A.F. air combat tactics, then to U.S. military tactics, the OODA Loop has been applied to business in general and more specifically to Continuous Improvement (CI) and Business Intelligence (BI). At an abstract level, the loop lays out a straightforward approach to craft and solve a challenge. The trap: it is too easy for methodical problem-solvers to overly focus on walking through the main steps of the cycle. The means to avoid the trap are often overlooked: the Implicit Guidance and Control transitions. In effect, this is where a practitioner's true skill (the right mix of mastery and gut feel) contributes to the Loop, driving much faster velocity through opportune short circuits that avoid information and processing overload.

As Boyd pointed out: wars of attrition are un-winnable in today's world; it's the agile spearheads that accomplish the mission. So it is in business, where we cannot support massive projects that sap momentum and funds. The nimble, phased iterations are how to deliver that increased execution velocity and shortened TTV to sustain continuted improvement.

Questions: How important does your organization rate TTV? What ways do you use to avoid the debilitating scope creep? Are your approaches different for the IT shop vs. the OPEX team? How large is your backlog of improvement projects due to prohibitively long TTV?

For a great biography read, check out Boyd: the Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.

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