Tag Archives: Decision-making

Planning is Everything… If You Know How To Plan (Part 1)

In the next two minutes, you will learn what planning is and why it is a critical enabler in today’s VUCA world.

The above General Eisenhower quote and similar ones by Perter Drucker, Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, and Mike Tyson, are peppered in leadership and team-building presentations at conferences, company off-sites, and in blog posts. Although powerful—just as strategically hanging posters of your company values above water coolers does nothing to change your organizational values—sharing a planning quote at the beginning of your planning sessions does nothing to improve your organization’s planning capability.

Background. As an Agile Coach with a military strategic and operational planning background, I’ve noticed that very few organizations and coaches know how to plan. A common planning mistake organizations make is throwing a group of people into a room for one, two, or three days to “plan” without showing them how to plan. As a trained and experienced military planner, I know that the science and art of planning (knowing how to plan) must be learned, practiced, and reinforced at every level of an organization.

Knowing how to plan is a human interaction skill and when combined with other cognitive and social skills such as closed-loop communication, the emergence of a collaborative and innovative organization becomes possible. 

What is planning? 

  • The primary goal of planning is not the development of detailed plans that inevitably must be changed; a more enduring goal is the development of teams and organizations who can cope with VUCA
  • Planning provides an awareness and opportunity to study potential future events amongst multiple alternatives in a controlled environment. Through planning, we begin to understand the complex systems we are trying to modulate.
  • Planning is an anticipatory decision making process that helps teams and organizations cope with complexities
  • Planning is continuous.
  • Planning is Fractal. A stand-up is a fractal of a sprint planning session. A meeting should be a fractal of a strategic planning session.
  • Planning is part of problem solving.

Why Plan? 

  • Builds individual and team situational awareness and the organization’s sensemaking capability
  • Helps build leadership skills
  • Planning helps individuals, teams, and leaders anticipate the future
  • Planning helps organizations navigate complexity
  • Planning helps individuals, teams, and organizations understand the system (operational environment) 

How to Plan?

For how to plan, I will save that for another day. There are great planning processes out there that an organization can start practicing today. In Part 2, I will provide a Rubric that will inform your planning how.

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 

Norman M. Wade. The Battle Staff Smartbook: Doctrinal Guide to Military Decision Making & Tactical Operations. Lightning Press, 2005

JP 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, 11 August 2011

Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), March 2015. http://usacac.army.mil/sites/default/files/publications/15-06_0.pdf

Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

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Planning is Everything… If You Know How to Plan (Part 2)

In Part 1, I provided the “What” and “Why” of planning. The intent of Part 2 is to provide organizational leaders a planning Rubric, one that organizations can use to evaluate the adoption of a third-party’s planning process or to help leaders in the development of their organization’s planning “How.”

Based on my experience, training, and education in iterate planning, here are 10 criteria I find essential for any planning process:

  1. Context
  2. Goals | Objectives | Commander’s Intent
  3. Anticipate the Future
  4. Mitigate Cognitive Biases | Challenge Assumptions | Reduce Risk
  5. Low-Tech, High-Touch
  6. Contingency Plan
  7. Retrospective… Part of the Plan
  8. Simple
  9. Iterative
  10. Designate/Rotate the Facilitator

1. Context

You must understand your operating environment (system). Is your operating environment ordered, complex, or chaotic? Not sure? Use the Cynefin framework to help make sense of your context before developing your mission goals, objectives, or Commander’s Intent.

2. Goals | Objectives | Commander’s Intent

If you are operating in an ordered system, then you should be able to establish clear, measureable, and achievable objectives (SMART goals/objectives are okay if you like redundancy). However, this is an unlikely scenario given the amount of VUCA in most operational environments.

For organizations and teams that operate in a complex system—which should be most organizations and teams—using a defined outcome such as SMART goals is not so smart. Why? You cannot predict the future in complex environments. Since complex environments are dispositional, we need to start journeys over stating goals. Vector-based goals are fine—wanting more of X and less of Y is a good example of a vector-based goal and also serves as a decent Commander’s Intent.

3. Anticipate the Future

Complex adaptive systems anticipate the future. Your planning process should include a step that allows team members to identify potential threats to the goals, objectives, or Commander’s Intent. Threats include things such as holidays, days off, system availability, weather systems, outbreak of the flu, multiple futures, etc.

Anticipatory planning also includes identifying resources and people—both available and needed.

4. Mitigate Cognitive Biases | Challenge Assumptions | Reduce Risk

Use Red Teaming, liberating structures, or complex facilitation techniques to mitigate cognitive biases, challenge assumptions, and reduce risk. These tools also help identify weak signals—where innovation comes from—and serve as a check against complacency.

5. Low-Tech, High-Touch

Use a large canvas or board to plan. Sending PowerPoint decks back and forth is a horrible way to plan (Conway’s Law). PowerPoint is a presentation tool, not a planning tool. A high-touch, low-tech approach to planning requires people to be present, both physically and mentally, in a room or rooms.

6. Build a Back-Up or Contingency Plan

You cannot plan against every contingency—those items that you identified as threats or impediments—but your planning process should include a step where the team looks and plans against some of the known unknowns from the complicated domain. Do not spend too much time on unknown unknowns—an organizational adaptive mindset, partially developed from learning how to plan, is a great tactic for protecting against risks in the complex domain.

7. A Retrospective… Part of the Plan

Planning is part of problem solving and building situational understanding; however, a retrospective is far more important than planning and must be included in your plan. Daily re-planning sessions (stand-ups) should also be included in your plan.

8. Simplicity

You should be able to use your planning process as a way to lead a meeting or a stand-up (a re-planning session).

9. Iterative

Planning is not sequential, it is iterative. It is okay to go back and revisit a previous idea, assumption, objective, etc.

10. Designate a Facilitator

If your team and organization knows how to plan, you can eliminate the need to follow a coach who is an expert at putting planning quotes on the board. Leading a planning session builds leadership capability. It also creates team and organizational accountability.

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

Norman M. Wade. The Battle Staff Smartbook: Doctrinal Guide to Military Decision Making & Tactical Operations. Lightning Press, 2005

JP 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, 11 August 2011

Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), March 2015. http://usacac.army.mil/sites/default/files/publications/15-06_0.pdf

Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

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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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High-Performing Teams: Built from the Basic Skills of Human Interaction

I’ve struggled my whole life to connect the dots. I’m the smartest dumb person I know, and I at times amaze even myself with the brilliance of my own insights, which generally occur simultaneously alongside my forgetting to turn off the stove, or turn on the dishwasher (which I’ve just finished loading).

I recall quite vividly sitting in Instrument Ground School, well along my way to becoming an F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), and learning about Crew Resource Management (CRM) for the first time. My overwhelming thought at the time was, “why do they insist on teaching us things we already know?”

Of course, they weren’t. Instead, once again, I was both intelligent enough to recognize the value of CRM for what it meant to my situation immediately, but not smart enough to appreciate, in any sense whatsoever, the importance of its formation and history, nor its incredible potential to help people everywhere to work together, in any environment or on any problem; from operating rooms to oil rigs, from ocean floors to outer space.

High-Performance Teaming™, one of Crew Resource Management’s successors, leverages those same skills which have been proven to help teams perform and succeed in High-Reliability Organizations across cultures and industries to include NASA, surgical teams, nuclear power stations, civil and military aviation, and special forces units, to name just a few.

The simple reason that these tools work across such diverse types of teams is not because they are based in the newest or most proven processes, or the latest in business operating frameworks or methodologies. Rather, these tools work because they focus on building the skills which enable dynamic, positive, and powerful human interaction.

By leveraging our shared human abilities to learn and improve, and targeting the skills specifically connected to the human capability to effectively function as part of a team, we can develop high-performing teams regardless of functional level or the domain of work.

Take, for example, rock climbing.

I know – “whaaaat?” Stick with me. I was recently asking one of the teams I work with what they would like to do to celebrate our successful (and early) completion of a software feature. Typically I would expect the standard answers: go to a team lunch, after-work drinks, trip to the pinball museum, Friday-night pool – the usual things teams choose to do. Yet, as is becoming standard, the team surprised me.

“The weather Thursday is supposed to be beautiful. How about if we do a team rock climbing day?”

Now I’m a climber and so are a couple of other people on the team, and going climbing together is something we’d half-joked about plenty of times, but this was a real suggestion. So I asked around, gave it some thought, and realized we could use the experience to not only have fun and bond further as a team, but to actually train with the skills we’d been talking about at the office in an entirely different context. My hypothesis was that a team of individuals climbing together is still a team, and the same skills which drive human interactions within teams in an office environment, an operating room, or in a cockpit, should be congruent.

So we went rock climbing, and discussed the litmus test. Here’s how I set up the day and the High-Performance Teaming skills we discussed in the context of our day on the rock.

Communication. As it was actually quite windy at the climb site and we were a few hundred feet up the side of a hill beside a busy interstate, the conditions for clear and easy communication were not good. Yet communication is critical to good team performance. Personal tendencies, culture, speech, choice of words and a standard vocabulary, not to mention overcoming environmental challenges (wind, noise, etc.) were all critical to our performance.

Assertiveness. Given the challenges already acknowledged to our communication, combined with the fact that we had a few new climbers who hadn’t done this sort of thing before, we recognized the need for everyone to assume an assertive role in helping the team ensure that we achieved our goals. We needed everyone to speak up when something didn’t look right or make sense, or when they did not understand anything about what they were being asked to do.

Goal (or Mission) Analysis. I asked the team at the parking lot to state what they believed was our goal for the day. “Go climbing,” “have fun,” “enjoy the outdoors,” “bond as a team” were a few of the responses. All noble and understandable goals, to be sure, but I offered another: “come back safely.” Understanding what your primary goal or goals are isn’t always intuitive, obvious, or easy, but getting it wrong can create a cascade of mistakes due to your team being misaligned on the very fundamental issues around why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Situational Awareness. Understanding that we’re going to have to make decisions about which routes to climb, who will be climbing belaying, whether we need to clean routes behind us, and a host of other potential situations (what happens if someone is injured?) requires us all to constantly re-assess and evaluate where we are in our day, what we are doing, and what we are trying to do. We need to ensure that we are fully aware of what is going on around us, and what is supposed to be going on around us.

Decision-Making. Early in the day our ability to decide on which routes to climb and which partners would climb/belay in what order was affected by stress, but as the day wore on and the stress of working together in a new team diminished, fatigue and the potential for complacency set in. Our ability to make the right decisions in important situations such as who climbs next, when to clean the route and move, who leads, where and when to relocate, when to take a break, and when to stop for the day, hinged on our ability to communicate well, maintain our situational awareness, and maintain focus on our primary goal – a safe return.

Agility. Many people talk about being Adaptable, however I prefer the term Agility. Agility, I’ve heard said, is Adaptability in a timebox. We had no sooner hiked around the corner to our climbing site to begin execution of our plan to climb the first two pitches (which were not challenging by design), then we had to adjust our plan due to the fact that both routes were already being worked by the local fire department, also out for a day of cliff rescue training in some gorgeous weather. So we quickly re-planned and moved to an alternate site.

Leadership. In a team of peers, leadership is often a revolving position. In a team with three experienced climbers and three beginners, we needed to rotate leadership responsibilities at different times based on the situation. Yet what most people get totally wrong is what the leader actually does. The leader isn’t there to make decisions and pass out orders, rather to pull the team together, ensure everyone understands what is occurring and what the plan is, solicit feedback and invite constructive dissent, to support assertiveness, and to leverage the collective wisdom of the team in analyzing goals and making collective decisions. Leadership is not about being right, it is about what is right. As each of us moved through moments of assuming leadership, our interactions were all similar: does everyone understand and agree with the plan? Does everyone understand what is being asked of them? Are you ready to move forward? Are we all ready for the next step?

Empathy. The ability to recognize and respond appropriately to the emotional state of others is a fundamentally human skill which powers every other social interaction skill. Looking at my climbing partner who is about to start on the route, I ask “ready?” The novice climber looks back tentatively and responds “ready.” However I see in his stance, face, and eyes that he is struggling with fear, doubt, and uncertainty. I encourage him to begin the route by pulling the rope tight and responding “on belay – I’ve got you.” This gives him some confidence. I don’t want to take his fear and uncertainty away – I want him to work through it on his own, which I know he can. This is empathy in action.

The skills required to enable and power high-performance teamwork are grounded in our fundamental ability to interact with other humans. This statement will continue to be true until the day arrives when we need to team with robots or aliens, at which point it is conceivable that other skills might be required. However for the entirety of human existence, people have needed to work together and have, unsurprisingly, evolved to do just that. The amazing thing in our growing technological age is that some of those natural, instinctual, basic social skills are incredibly difficult to recall and apply. Yet train, learn, and apply them we can, and in doing so we can actually help build and become the incredibly high-performing teams we’ve always envisioned.

 

Chris Alexander is a former F-14D Flight Officer, the co-founder of AGLX Consulting, High-Performance Teaming™ coach, Agile coach, and Scrum Master, and has a passion for working with high-performing teams. Learn more at https://www.aglx.consulting.

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The Missing Half of Team Performance: The Social Skills Behind High-Performance Teaming™

The overwhelming majority of businesses and organizations today are incredibly focused on adopting processes, tools, and frameworks to supercharge their teams’ productivity and quality, but in doing so they are solving for only half of the problem.

Whereas the team approach is often seen as a solution to cognitively complex tasks, it also introduces an additional layer of cognitive requirements that are associated with the demands of working together effectively with others. [1]

We are incontrovertibly human. When working in teams, we are humans working with other humans. Unlike a software program, the daily inputs and outputs of our lives are far too complex and changing to conceivably map and understand in a finite way; the potential derivations of our interpretations and reactions throughout the course of simply living our lives is, literally, infinite and unknowable.

Yet in virtually every business, organization, and team across America, we are focusing our efforts on establishing and implementing process, creating standardized operating procedures, rules, guidelines, policies, and training programs to build great (productive) teams. In doing so, we are ignoring the very thing which actually creates a high-performing team: us.

It actually isn’t rocket science: the interactions of the team members, not their individual intelligence, experience, education, or technical skill, is what determines how effective and how high-performance the team will be.

[T]he number one factor in making a group effective is skill at deep human interaction. That’s a remarkable finding in itself when we consider that groups are hardly ever evaluated on that basis. Everyone seems to think that other factors— leadership, mix of technical skills, vision, motivation— are more important. They matter, but not nearly as much as social skills… Social skills were the most important factor in group effectiveness because they encourage those patterns of “idea flow,” to use [Dr. Alex] Pentland’s term. Slicing the data in another way, those three elements of interaction [short & rapid idea generation, “dense interacting,” and turn-taking on idea-sharing and feedback] were more important than any other factor in explaining the excellent performance of the best groups; in fact, they were about as important as all the other factors— individual intelligence, technical skills, members’ personalities, and anything else you could think of— put together. [2]

To put the above a bit more succinctly, the best teams are not characterized by having the most intelligent, most skilled individuals; they are characterized by the quality and quantity of the team members’ social interactions.

There is an incredibly valuable point in this: the traditional focus on an individual’s knowledge, experience, and skills in a technical or process domain is only half of the story in building high-performing teams. The other half of the story is understanding how they perform in team environments and how well they contribute to a team’s overall performance and effectiveness.

Teaming Metaphors

A useful metaphor for the technical versus non-technical and social skills is live theater. Think of technical skills, scholastic education, and work experience as simply foundational elements of your business’ or organization’s ability to perform.

They are the stage, the lighting, the seating, the curtain, the orchestra’s space. Those elements are the theater.

However, the actors’ and actresses’ abilities to perform on that stage, to create something memorable and incredible – those are the social skills, the non-technical “secret sauce” of how the team actually performs together. For that great performance to occur, you need more than just the stage and the lighting – you need the performers and the magic that happens when a great team produces what a great team can.

Or consider the difference between watching a great football player play, and a great football team play. (This applies to both types of football.) A team of individuals with a star or two will never come close to achieving what an amazing team can achieve, regardless of their star power.

As I reported in my Harvard Business Review article “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” my research group and I have collected hundreds of gigabytes of data from dozens of workplaces. What we found was that the patterns of face-to-face engagement and exploration within corporations were often the largest factors in both productivity and creative output. [3]

Learning Social Skills

So what happens when you’ve hired the most technically skilled, scholastically educated people, and their social and teaming skills are virtually non-existent? Fear not – there is great news

Growing numbers of companies have discovered what the military learned long ago, that the supposedly ineffable, intractable, untrainable skills of deep human interaction are in fact trainable… Businesses can’t even begin to get better until leaders acknowledge that these skills are the key to competitive advantage, that methods of developing them may be unfamiliar, and that measuring the results will never be as easy as gauging operating efficiencies. If companies can get past those obstacles, which in most organizations are more than enough to stop managerial innovations dead in their tracks, then they have a chance. [4]

Yes – trainable.

Although it should come as no surprise, due to the fact that we all share the common trait of being – well, human – it is good to know that we can actually focus on and learn those critical skills which enable us to team effectively with other humans.

The military and commercial aviation have been doing this for decades already.

Yes – decades.

The fact that the social and non-technical skills teams need to reach high-performance are trainable and able to be improved upon over time, just as one would improve their knowledge of emerging coding practices or new technologies, is not conjecture or hypothetical experimentation. In fact, it has been operationalized and regularly improved for years.

High-Performance Teaming™

Founded in Crew-Resource Management (CRM) fundamentals, High-Performance Teaming™ provides teams at every and any level with the social, non-technical skills they need to perform at the highest levels. It targets exactly what makes effective teams – the ability for team members to engage in regular, high-quality interactions and input-feedback cycles to build the Shared Mental Models (SMMs) and communication loops which drive team performance and output.

Specifically, High-Performance Teaming™ builds the critical social skills teams need in:

  • Communication – the mechanics behind speaking and listening, non-verbal signals and cues, the human factors (culture, language, personality) which influence our communication patterns, and how to affect them through awareness.
  • Assertiveness – the behaviors behind respectfully asserting knowledge and opinion, and how to handle those assertions in a team.
  • Situation Awareness (SA) – the team’s ability to build a shared conception of their environment, and the degree to which it matches reality; requires Shared Mental Models, operational analysis, spatial awareness, etc.
  • Goal / Mission Analysis – the ways in which the team plans, executes, and learns based on their shared model of tactical to strategic goals; driven by alignment, communication, SA, and powers Decision-Making.
  • Decision-Making – utilizing collective intelligence of the team and leveraging the team’s SA combined with Goal / Mission Analysis to build consensus on solutions to complex problems, which in turn will drive execution and directly impact performance.
  • Agility – the ability to remain flexible and adapt to change; resilience in the face of a changing environment and rapidly evolving problem-set.
  • Leadership – one of the critical enablers to team effectiveness in non-flat environments, effective leadership is vital to creating Assertiveness, leveraging team collective intelligence in building SA and Goal / Mission Analysis, and getting to the correct decisions which enable organizational execution in a time-critical manner.
  • Culture – another enabler of team cohesiveness and resiliency; purposefully constructed and monitored through Shared Mental Models, Culture is a powerful contributor to Alignment, which is critical to reducing waste/churn and helping teams remain resilient and goal-oriented.
  • Empathy – the foundational element in every social skill; the ability to recognize and respond appropriately to the thoughts and feelings of others.

If you’ve gone through multiple team processes (traditional project management, Scrum, XP, SAFe, etc.), and you’re still wondering why your teams are not producing and improving, ask yourself if you’ve been solely concentrating on the Technical Skill & Process side of the equation – the side which only effects what processes teams are using to organize and conduct their work.

If you have, perhaps it is time to start giving your teams the social and non-technical skills they need to actually improve how they work together. Scrum (for example) is a great process which sets the stage for the performance, but High-Performance Teaming™, grounded in the science behind Crew Resource Management and team effectiveness, is the tool set your teams need to actually perform.

Contact AGLX Consulting today to bring those social skills to your teams!

 

Chris Alexander is a former U.S. Naval Officer who flew the F-14 Tomcat, and is Co-Founder and Executive Team Member of AGLX Consulting, creators of the High-Performance Teaming model.

  1. Cooke, N. J., Salas, E., Cannon-Bowers, J. A., & Stout, R. (2000). “Measuring team knowledge.” Human Factors, 42, 151-173.
  2. Colvin, Geoff (2015-08-04). Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will (pp. 126-7). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  3. Pentland, Alex (2014-01-30). Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – The Lessons from a New Science (p. 93). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  4. Colvin, 2015 (p. 204).

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Why Your Next Agile Coach Should be a Fighter Pilot

As technological adoption and innovation accelerate through Mach 3, more business leaders will turn to fighter pilots to help their businesses survive and thrive in today’s VUCA world. For example, the cognitive and social skills naval aviators developed in the cockpit are in high demand in industries where teamwork is essential and team failures costly (e.g. healthcare, oil and gas, mining, energy, and commercial aviation). As more companies adopt a team-based approach to product delivery, and product and companies’ lifecycles shorten, the demand for proven team performance training and coaching will accelerate.

The cognitive and social skills (nontechnical skills) fighter pilots learn are rooted in what is considered to be one of the success stories of modern psychology and cognitive engineering: Crew Resource Management (CRM). CRM training, affectionately known as “Charm School,” covers crucial aspects of resilience including the topics of situational awareness, mission planning, team dynamics, workload management, effective communication, and leadership. CRM was developed in response to the realization that the kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication (nontechnical skills).

A 50,000 foot view of CRM

  • CRM is the foundation of a human-systems approach, Threat and Error Management (TEM), designed by Human Factors engineers to help us understand and direct human performance within complex operating systems.
  • Human Factors is the applied science of how humans relate effectively and productively with one another in highly technological settings.
  • Crew Resource Management (CRM) is defined as the use of all available resources—information, equipment, and people—to achieve safe and efficient flight operations.

Fighter Pilots as Agile Coaches?

In the 1950s, John Boyd, a fighter pilot and military strategists, developed a decision cycle that changed the “The Art of War.” The decision cycle Boyd developed is known as the OODA Loop and refers to Observe-Orient-Decide-Act. In business, the speed at which the OODA Loop is executed allows the company to get “inside the decision cycle” of its competitors or valued customers. The OODA Loop is an exercise in empathy.

Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup and entrepreneur, attributes the idea of the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop to John Boyd’s OODA Loop. At the core of Steve Blank’s Customer Development model and Pivot found in his book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, is once again OODA. In his new book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Dr. Jeff Sutherland, a former fighter pilot and the co-creator of Scrum, mentions that the origins of Scrum are Boyd’s OODA and the Toyota Production System.

Scrum is based on my experience flying F-4 Phantoms over North Vietnam… Fighter pilots have John Boyd’s OODA Loop burned into muscle memory. They know what Agility means and can teach it uncompromisingly to others.

-Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum

What’s missing from today’s Agile Coaching toolkit is the proven human-interaction skills (nontechnical) developed for technical teams who operate in complex environments, CRM. The Agile community is making the same assumptions fighter and commercial pilots made pre-CRM: That effective teams can be built without any formal guidance or instruction. “Leaving it up to the team” is a recipe for failure.

Fighter pilots, unlike some agilists, are horrible marketers. Crew Resource Management is not your DaD’s Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) nor does it tell you how to do more with LeSS; CRM is a proven approach to building agile at scale. CRM does not replace Scrum but provides the tools an enterprise needs to transition command-and-control managers into servant leaders and build effective and efficient teams. CRM is the “Science of Teamwork.”

9 Cognitive and Social Skills Fighter Pilots Bring to the Agile Fight

1. Adaptability. The ability to alter a course of action based on new information, maintain constructive behavior under pressure and adapt to internal and external environmental changes. The success of a mission depends upon the team’s ability to alter behavior and dynamically manage team resources to meet situational demands.

2. Empathy. Empathy? Fighter pilots and empathy? Yes. John Boyd’s OODA is really about empathy. According to Geoff Colvin, empathy is “discerning what some other person is thinking and feeling, and responding in some appropriate way [1].” OODA is an exercise in empathy. Moreover, according to Geoff Colvin, empathy is the foundation of all other abilities that increasingly make people valuable as technology advances [1].”

3. Assertiveness. One’s willingness to actively participate, state and maintain a position, until convinced by the facts that other options are better.

4. Decision Making. The ability to choose a course of action using logical and sound judgment based on available information.

5. Leadership. The ability to direct and coordinate the activities of other team members or wingman and to encourage the team to work together.

6. Mission Analysis. The ability to develop short-term, long-term and contingency plans and to coordinate, allocate and monitor team resources. Effective planning leads to execution that removes uncertainty and increases mission effectiveness.

7. Situational Awareness. The degree of accuracy by which one’s perception of the current environment mirrors reality. Maintaining a high level of situational awareness will better prepare teams to respond to unexpected situations.

8. Communication. The ability to clearly and accurately send and acknowledge information, instructions, or commands and provide useful feedback. Effective communication is vital to ensuring that all team members understand mission status.

9. Workload Management. The implementation of a strategy to balance the amount of work with the appropriate time and resources available. It includes making sure those people are alert and vigilant (preventing fatigue); figuring out who does what delegation; teaching people how to manage interruptions (and limit interruptions at critical moments; prioritizing tasks and avoiding task oversaturation; and avoiding pitfalls such as continuing a project, flight, or activity even when it’s becoming clearer and clearer that it is dangerous to do so. Workload management in high-reliability industries also means doing all of the above under stress.

While putting this list together I came up with more than 50 examples of why a fighter pilot should be your next Agile Coach. Please feel free to add more or comment on my choices for this article.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator and co-founder of AGLX, LLC, a Seattle-based Agile consultancy that melds the proven principles of High Reliability Organizations with today’s Agile practices.

[1] Geoff Colvin. Humans are Underrated: What high achievers know that brilliant machines never will. (Portfolio/Penguin, 2015).

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