OODA loop

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I asked Dr. Jeff Sutherland, the co-creator of Scrum, what is the most important learning for all Scrum practitioners and trainers. He looked at me with locked on crazy eyes and said: “They must have the MINDSET of Scrum!” I physically rocked back on my heels from his focus and intensity. I was brave enough to put my ego all the way aside and assume I might not at all understand the mindset of Scrum. I seized the moment, which in that situation took no small amount of courage, and asked, “What is the mindset of Scrum? Self Organizing teams with less than 10 constraining rules according to complex adaptive systems?” His eyes became even wilder, they would have been at home in a raptor during full dive. His tone was strong, full of vibration, and final. “The OODA loop.”

The OODA loop is a 4 part plan of attack defined by John Boyd to explain his absolute dominance in military air combat. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Reading into it, the Orient is deeper than I and many others initially give it credit. John writes that you aren’t orienting with the current situation, you are orienting yourself with where you envision the other airplanes and missiles will be in 15 seconds. You aren’t actually seeing the current situation at all, but channeling a vision of the key players in the near future, then placing yourself in the advantageous place in that probable near future. This is described by martial artists and race car drivers as seeing the world but it is white and light gray, and it is a meditation-induced vision in real time. The Decide step is to then choose where you want to be in that vision, 15 seconds from now, to be at the advantage. John Boyd is the winningest combat pilot ever.

This is Scrum product ownership. The product owner works 20 hours a week to understand what is possible 15 sprints from now, and another 20 hours influencing the world to stretch what will be possible in 15 sprints, and then composes the product backlog to put their team and their product in an advantageous position 15 sprints from now. Release plans are product backlogs that stretch 150 sprints long with key experiments and validation points along the way. And the objective is to shoot down all opposing companies and products, out maneuver them and blow them up, in the fewest possible sprints. Product Owners are fighter pilots, Scrum Masters are giving them more and more powerful jets, and Delivery Team Members are the jets. Welcome to awesome, let’s fly somewhere worthwhile.

Measures I’ve found useful: I measure Scrum Master’s impact by velocity, the speed of the jet, which is increased by removing anything preventing the team from being happier or faster. I measure on quality, the reliability of the jet, with numbers such as Defects Found in Field, and the specific metric varies with the mission or goal represented by the product backlog. I measure Product Owners on the value of the outcome of their prioritized backlog of missions and goals, the Product Backlog; with numbers such as company bank account balance (I currently can only use this for teams that have achieved Continous Deployment to production within a sprint), and the specific metric varies with the mission or goal.

Joe Justice is the President of Scrum@Hardware at Scrum Inc., and the CEO of WIKISPEED Inc.

WIKISPEED is a registered road-legal automotive manufacturer with operations in 23 countries.

  • Michel Löhr | Mar 14, 2017 at 11:35 AM

    When OODA thrives over Scrum being the superb mental agility, I find it interesting that Jeff (especially given this fighter pilot background) has not integrated more of OODA into Scrum. Would be interesting to know if Jeff even had personal training from John.

    The biggest problem however is to really understand (the value of) the OODA loop in the first place, since there no written materials regarding the matter outer then the well known diagram.

    The best online source I have found on OODA is:

    And regarding Scrum, to me the biggest bottleneck is the (single) Product Owner concept. Scrum offers only a list (BL) as a tool. How is that sufficient for handling complex adaptive systems?

    Next Inspect & adapt on Scrum itself is way to slow/insufficient to handle ever increasing complex exponential markets/environments.

  • Norm Conrad | Nov 1, 2016 at 8:57 PM

    How does that square with race drivers’ looking one or two corners ahead?

    • Joe Justice | Dec 8, 2016 at 7:36 PM

      If you mean “given that race drivers look two corners ahead, could the author make explicit how that analogy maps to a Product Owner executing the OODA loop” then I can try to help.

      Race car drivers at very high speeds report they are driving the track based on their memorization of the track and “seeing”, or imagining or visualizing and in any case, their brain actually shows them the visual of their car two (or even more) corners ahead. This is identical to the reports of John Boyd executing the OODA loop during aviation combat, and identical to the reports from the most effective Product Owners I’ve had the privilege to work with. For a Product Owner, the race track in the market, their chosen driving line is the backlog, their speed is the team velocity, and the other cars on the track are other products, services, and companies.

      Interestingly, those other cars sometimes are broken down but still blocking the driving line, or think they are in another race entirely but still on your track too.

      Let me know if I missed your question?

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