🔁 OODA Loop

The OODA loop is the Observe–Orient–Decide–Act process for making fast decisions in high-stakes situations. It involves information gathering, data analysis, decision-making, and action before repeating the process with new data.

Daniel Jarjoura
Daniel Jarjoura

Let's talk about OODA Loops.

💡
The OODA loop is the Observe–Orient–Decide–Act process for making fast decisions in high-stakes situations. It involves information gathering, data analysis, decision-making, and action before repeating the process with new data.

🤔 Why you should care about it

"The ability to operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than an adversary enables one to fold the adversary back inside himself so that he can neither appreciate nor keep up with what is going on. He will become disoriented and confused." - John Boyd, United States Air Force fighter pilot and military strategist.

Decision-making can often take a long time when there needs to be more data to make an informed decision. Instead of dragging along in endless debates, leaders can use the OODA loop model to make faster decisions to be updated until they reach the desired result.

😫 Problem(s)

The environment is too uncertain about making a decision  —> it's hard to make an informed decision in a fast-changing environment, especially for high-growth companies.

Decision-making takes too much time —> engineer's bias for perfection and argumentation often makes decision-making a long and complicated process.

😃 Solution

The OODA loop model is based on the following four steps:

  • Observe: gather relevant information related to the situation at hand.
  • Orient: analyse the gathered information by getting our biases out of the way (cultural traditions, influx of new information, ability to analyse and synthesise, previous experiences and genetic heritage).
  • Decide: decide on a course of action based on the results of the orientation step.
  • Act: act and test the decision in the field.

Once you've enacted the decision, you will start getting feedback from the field, which should loop back into the observation phase and see if the following conclusions still hold.

For example, if you need to decide which feature you should focus on, your OODA model could look like this:

  • Observe: gather user interviews, analytics, A/B tests, benchmarks, analysis of competing products, etc.
  • Orient: identity which metrics make sense relative to the business goal (user acquisition, user retention, user satisfaction…)
  • Decide: choose the feature with the highest probability of yielding the desired result.
  • Act: build and launch the first version of the feature.

And when the feature is live, go back to Observe mode and gather live users' data.

💡 Key Concepts

Mental model —> intellectual tool or framework, similar to algorithms, allowing us to make sense of a situation or solve a problem.

Double-loop learning —> the modification of past decisions or decision-making models in the light of new information.

Control theory —> the development of models or algorithms governing the application of system inputs to drive the system to the desired state.

😡 Detractors

"Since we've started using the OODA loop, we're changing decisions every other week" —> OODA loop and other control models should not be a justification for impatience. Sometimes, you still need to have enough new information to change direction.

"Speed is not important if you make the wrong decision" —> it's essential to differentiate speed and velocity. You shouldn't use the OODA model if you're not moving towards your goal.

📚 Top book

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War - Robert Coram

🗂 See also

🧠 Mental Models

📄 Architecture Decision Record

⚙️ Output vs Outcome

📝 Top content

The OODA Loop: How Fighter Pilots Make Fast and Accurate Decisions - Farnam Street

The Use and Misuse of the OODA Loop - Venkatesh Rao

Much Ado About The OODA Loop - Cedric Chin


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Daniel Jarjoura

Helping CTOs scale their team and grow as leaders | Founder @ The Unicorn CTO | Solopreneur