Category Archives: VUCA

Volatile – Uncertain – Complex – Ambiguous

How to Develop a Family Hurricane Checklist Using Military-Grade Planning

Concepts Applied in This Post: Red Teaming; complex adaptive systems; Sensemaking; High-Reliability Organizing; Mindful Organizing; Principles of Anticipation; Situational Awareness; Anticipatory Awareness; Mission Analysis; Shared Mental Models; Mission Command; Commander’s Intent; ; Cynefin; vector-based goals; challenge and respond checklists; and establishing a sense of urgency.

This post outlines how families can apply some elements of military-grade planning to develop a hurricane checklist. Moreover, this post also applies to business leaders interested in real agility, innovation, and resiliency.

The Rivera girls reviewing the plan

Background

With last week’s devastation in Houston on our minds and the looming threat of Hurricane Irma in the Atlantic, I thought it would be prudent to take my family through some basic hurricane preparedness planning. To do this, I decided to take my wife, six-year-old and soon-to-be eight-year-old daughters through the same military-grade agility, innovation, and resiliency lessons that I coach to FORTUNE 100 companies and startups. After all, a family is a team and a hurricane is a complex adaptive system, right?

This activity ended up providing valuable lessons for the entire family and as a result, we delivered a challenge and response checklist, reviewed and re-supplied our emergency kits, and more importantly, we became more aware of capabilities and limitations of the socio-technical system we call our home.

Feel free to apply the approach to your household or business.

Focus on Outcomes

To start the activity, begin with a basic statement, a vector-based goal that inspires action. The outcome statement I used:

Survive for five days in our house during and following a major hurricane

Notice that my Commander’s Intent does NOT contain a clear, measureable, achievable objective or SMART goal. Why?  Because we are dealing with complexity; we cannot predict the future in the Complex domain. When dealing with increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), emergent goals are fine, as you will see.

Effective Planning

Knowing that plans are nothing and that planning is everything, I used a military-grade planning approach to help the girls understand the system we live in, the wonders and dangers of a hurricane, and their roles in the event of a hurricane. To do this, I asked the girls to write down those things that may happen during a hurricane.

Anticipate Threats

Complex adaptive systems and high-performing teams anticipate the future. One of the common planning problems I see with executive and development teams is they fail to identify threats and assumptions (do not anticipate the future) prior to developing their plan. To help the girls understand this critical step, I asked the them to write down “what” can happen in the event of a hurricane.

Having watched the news on Hurricane Harvey, they were able to identify a few threats associated with hurricanes (e.g.  flooding, no power, damage to windows). However, just as adult team members do when they have meetings, my girls went down many rabbit holes to include discussions about Barbie and Legos. The best approach to overcome this natural phenomenon (cognitive bias) is to use the basic Red Teaming technique of Think-Write-Share.

With some steering help from mommy and daddy, our girls where able to get back on course and capture several more “whats” before moving on to the next step.

Red =Threats; Blue = Countermeasures; Green = Resources Needed.

Identify Countermeasures and Needed resources.

With the threats identified, we began to write down possible countermeasures and needed and available resources that overcome those threats.  As we were doing this, we noticed the emergence of a what appeared to be a checklist (see our blue notes in the above picture). Although not explicitly stated in the Commander’s Intent, we decided that we should add “build a checklist” –an emergent objective– to our product backlog (more on this later).

Apply Lessons Learned

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Knowing that there are many lessons learned from people who have lived through hurricanes, I went online to find and apply those lessons learned to our countermeasure and resource backlog. I used the Red Cross as a source and discovered we missed a couple of minor items in our growing backlog.

*I recommend using external sources only after you develop countermeasures to your identified threats. Why? Because planning is about understanding the system; it is how we learn to adapt to change.

After we applied lessons learned, we used a green marker to identify those needed resources (see picture). These resources became part of our product backlog.

Build a Prioritized Product Backlog

A product backlog should be prioritized based on value. Since I was dealing with children who have a low attention span but were highly engaged in the current activity, I decided to prioritized our backlog in this order:

  • Build a Hurricane Checklist
  • Review with the team (family) what is in our current emergency kit
  • Purchase needed resources
  • Show the kids how to use the kit
  • Build a contingency plan –our contingency plan details are not covered in this post.

“Scrum” It

Since I coach Scrum as a team framework, and our family is a team, I showed my children the basics of Scrum. If you are not familiar with Scrum, you can find the 16-page scrum guide here.

We used a simple Scrum board to track our work and executed three short Sprints. As a result, the girls were able to pull their work, we were able to focus on getting things done, and we identified pairing and swarming opportunities. They also learned a little about what I do for a living.

Key Artifact and Deliverable Review: Challenge and Respond Checklists

With a background in fighter aviation, and having coached surgical teams on how to work as high-performing teams, I know from experience that checklists work in ritualized environments where processes are repeatable. To create a ritualized environment, we can do simple things such as starting an event at a specified time with a designated leader. Another option is to change clothes or wear a vest—by the way, kids love dressing up.

One advantage of a challenge and respond checklist is it can be used to create accountability and provide a leadership opportunity for a developing leader–perfect for kids and needed by most adults. For example, the challenge and respond checklist we developed (above) can be initiated by one of my daughters.  If we needed to run the checklist, one of my daughters would simply read the items on the left  and mommy or daddy would respond with the completed items on the right. Giving a young leader an opportunity to lead a simple team event and recognizing their leadership accomplishments energizes their internal locus of control and utimiately builds a bias toward action.

Feel free to use our checklist as a guide but remember, planning is about understanding your system.

The Most Important Step: Debrief

Yes, a debrief with a six and seven-year-old is possible. Remember to create a learning environment for them, ask them about the goal(s) they set out to achieve, and ask them what they learned. Walk them through the planning steps they just went through to reinforce the planning process. Also, ask them what they liked and what they didn’t like about working on the plan with mommy and daddy. Bring snacks.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, LLC, and co-creator of High-Performance Teaming™ – an evidence-based, human systems solution to rapidly build and develop high-performing teams and organizations.

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Cynefin & OODA: Sense- & Decision-Making for Today’s VUCA World (Part 1)

Explicitly connected to Scrum and the Lean Startup, the OODA loop is becoming part of today’s business vernacular. If you attend a Big Data, DevOps, Agile, or Cyber conference, there is a good chance that you will hear a speaker talk about “getting inside your competition’s OODA loop” or “flying the OODA loop.” OODA has even made its way into politics as a way for pundits to describe Donald Trump’s ability, purposeful or careless, to create mismatches or ambiguity for his less agile opponents—a key feature of Boyd’s OODA loop.

A decision-making process for dynamic situations, the OODA loop represents forty years of John Boyd’s research captured in several briefings and papers. His OODA loop sketch—and that’s what it is, a sketch—did not appear until 1996 even though many conference goers often hear that the loop was created in the 1950s. John Boyd has clear guidelines about the use of his sketch: (1) it can be drawn any way you want; (2) do not simplify it; and (3) do not make it more complicated than it is.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of video-conferencing with Chet Richards, author of Certain to Win: The Strategy of John Boyd, Applied to Business, and long-time friend of the late John Boyd. The purpose of our conversation was to take a look at where Boyd’s OODA loop fits in Dave Snowden’s Naturalizing Sense-Making matrix (below) and to see how we can map OODA to Cynefin, a sense-making framework. This post will look at the former and save the latter following conversations with Dave Snowden, Chet Richards and others.

Naturalizing Sense-Making Matrix: How Do We Avoid The Hype and False Promises (Dave Snowden)

On the left side of Dave Snowden’s 2×2 matrix is the scientific method. And on the right, is Observation + Hypotheses = Method. The items on the left scale at low risk and those on the right scale with high risk. Ideally, we want our management approaches that help us navigate VUCA to be in the bottom left; however, classic science is not applicable to human systems.

Methods that are supported by sound theory–those that can be replicated in different contexts—fall in the top left. The top left is good. Valuable methods derived from observations and hypotheses that have explanatory power fall in the top right. The top right is okay. Context specific methods that claim predictive power fall in the bottom right—most management approaches and Agile methodologies fall here—these are considered inappropriate. The bottom right heeds caution. To learn more about what methods may fall in each quadrant, watch this video or any of Dave Snowden’s recent talks.

Where Does the OODA Loop Fit in This Matrix?

The question Chet and I tried to answer during our call was, Where does the OODA loop fit in this matrix? Chet and I believe OODA falls in the top left. However, overcoming Popper’s falsification test is a current hurdle. And, I am sure Dave Snowden will have something to say about our justification.

Formative Factors Behind the OODA Loop: Air-to-Air Combat, Strategy and Science

Chet and I spent most of our 75-minute conversation examining the science that influenced Boyd and how he captured that in his OODA loop. Chet reminded me that Boyd defined science as “a self-correcting process of observations, synthesis/analysis, hypothesis, and test.” According to Chet, Boyd was deeply interested in how scientist learn and how knowledge grows; the work of Polanyi, Kuhn, and Popper influenced Boyd the most.

Natural sciences influenced Boyd’s thinking and are evident in several of his briefings prior to the 1996 unveiling of his OODA loop. In fact, science played a bigger role in the development of the OODA loop, more so than Boyd’s experience as a fighter pilot. However, most people associate the OODA loop with combat aviation, not the scientific method.

The sciences that provided John Boyd constraints and guidance on the development of his simple and elegant OODA loop sketch and his supporting briefings include Complex Adaptive Systems, Cognitive Science, Epistemology, Evolutionary Theory, Thermodynamics, Chaos Theory, Cybernetics, and Systems Thinking.

OODA Loop: How We Test Hypotheses

The OODA loop is how we test hypotheses. According to Chet, organizations that are trying to learn something new must use multiple safe-to-fail experiments, and through repeated OODA looping (observation, analyses & synthesis, hypothesis, and test), they see how their experiments work, and then add the results to their repertoire. To put it simply, OODA is the decision-making process that compliments the sense-making framework known as Cynefin. We will examine what this may look like in a later post.

Additional Notes

  • Chet wanted me to make it clear that Boyd took over 40 years to develop the OODA loop and one cannot learn the OODA loop in a two-hour seminar.
  • Many people use the OODA loop to sell their management and Agile methods—some of those methods fall in the bottom right quadrant of Dave Snowden’s Naturalizing Sense-Making Matrix.
  • John Boyd’s cross-disciplinary approach in building his OODA loop is similar to Dave Snowden’s approach to Cynefin.
  • Boyd claims that agility is an outcome of OODA. And that agility is an external, relative measure. Not an internal one.

I look forward to your comments and help!

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, LLC, and co-creator of High-Performance Teaming™ – an evidence-based, human systems solution to rapidly build and develop high-performing teams and organizations.

References 

OODA Loop Sketch by HurricaneAllie Design

Special thanks to Chet Richards for taking time to discuss his passion. AGLX received prior permission from Chet Richards to use notes from our 12/21/2016 conversation.

Naturalizing Sense-Making Matrix image created by AGLX Consulting and is used with permission under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Noderivs license. The Cognitive Edge method is ©2017 Cognitive Edge (USA) Inc., used with permission under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Noderivs license

Richards, Chet (2004-06-24). Certain to Win: The Strategy of John Boyd, Applied to Business. Kindle Edition.

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