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The OODA Loop and ERP

Much has already been said and written about Col. John Boyd’s OODA loop, which has everything to do with the survival of individuals to entire organizations. Boyd was a fighter pilot, consultant, and brilliant military strategist. OODA stands for Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action.

Diagram of the OODA Loop

While there is voluminous theory and philosophy behind this, Boyd discovered how to win an engagement by attacking the enemy’s mind—or getting inside his OODA loop. This essentially amounts to creating sufficient surprise, confusion, or disorientation that the enemy would not be able to process the perceptions and react correctly in time to defend himself and would effectively lose. This can be readily observed in nature, sports, and business.

Very reminiscent of Sun Tzu, where the victory occurs before the battle is fought, Boyd’s OODA loop and other discourses have been widely utilized for large military operations and quickly found their way into the business world. In an ERP project, while we may not be in a direct competitive struggle, we still find ourselves in a many-to-many engagement with strategic goals and objectives, conflict, struggles, and challenges, where multiple tactical decisions and execution need to be made within time-bound (and other) constraints based on an ever changing field. Sounds a little like war to me.

The OODA loop starts with an observation of some issue based on an individual’s physical perceptions. At this point, we now enter into the Orientation phase, the crux of the OODA loop, where it either matches the observer’s beliefs, experience, or training, or a mismatch occurs. So, in performing a business analysis, some situation or challenge is observed, and the mismatch occurs between what is happening right now versus the ideal scene, or future state, as filtered by the observer’s orientation (experience, beliefs, training, etc.). After analysis comes synthesis of possible solutions, again, based on the observer’s orientation. In one lecture, Boyd mentioned that he didn’t like being categorized as an “analyst” per se because what comes next is the synthesis of a solution and then decision to act within a given time frame, thus completing one cycle. Now, based on the results of the action, new information is observed and the cycle repeats. This is an oversimplification of a fundamental theory that has many applications and great depth behind it as there can be multiple smaller feedback loops within the greater OODA loop.

We apply the OODA loop in ERP by utilizing an agile methodology in the business analysis and project management aspects of an implementation by continuously comparing current state to future state, observing any mismatches as the basis for analysis, synthesizing solutions based on priorities such as agreement, timing, budget, resources, and practicality, and then place solutions into action. We observe the results and cycle back through over and over again. In this way we are able to immediately deliver business value, make course corrections early and often to reduce risk and increase the chances for success. Many ERP engagements contain high risk due to failure to obey the OODA loop by not taking enough passes over the area to peel back the layers and get to the real core of the issues and provide workable solutions and feedback along the way. As execution occurs, business value should be delivered at every step and new observations made to ensure that the solutions implemented thoroughly resolve the originally reported challenges, at which point new information and subsequent issues may come to light. This assumes change is always occurring, and that in order to survive, an individual or organization must continuously monitor and revise its view of reality, be rapidly able to adapt on the fly, and make new decisions based on current observations. It’s a process and a journey. Violate it and watch your plane go down in flames. Utilize it well and be victorious in your engagements.

For more related topics on ERP systems and project management, read more blogs by Darren Atkins. If you would like to learn more about the author, visit his LinkedIn profile.

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