The Agility Challenge

Since the 1990’s, Agile methodologies have gained credibility in project delivery. Controversy, however, does continue to rage about the scalability of true Agile methodologies to the Enterprise environment. Empirical observations seem to indicate that successful deliveries of large scale projects lie somewhere on the spectrum between true Agile and true Waterfall, for example agile approaches in development and testing phases, with change control on prioritised requirements going into Agile sprint phases to ensure that scope creep is avoided.

In a Corporate environment, Business Process must take precedence over individuals and personal interactions promoted by Agile methodologies. These challenges are further increased as the Enterprise crosses national boundaries, with conflicting legislation and differing work and market cultures. For corporate command and control to operate in an Enterprise environment, there must be a degree of stability. Where this is threatened, an opaque ceiling could develop where the flow of information from those at the coal-face to top-level decision makers is impaired.

Stable Agility - Manoeuvrability

What is needed is an approach providing both responsiveness and operational stability. The concept of “Enterprise Manoeuvrability” is not new, and has quite literally been battle-proven by both the British Army and the U.S Marine Corps. Like Project Agility, Manoeuvrability theory started on a small scale. A US Air Force colonel by the name of John Boyd, observed that US Sabre fighter jets consistently recorded a 10:1 kill ratio superiority over North Korean and Chinese Migs that were aerodynamically superior to the Sabres. Boyd made the following observations:

  • The bubble cockpits of the Sabres allowed a 360 view of the combat arena. The Migs had old-style Russian canopies, with the pilot’s vision obscured by struts and a high-backed seat. This gave the American pilots “situational awareness”.
  • The Sabre had hydraulic controls, allowing the Sabre to re-orientate quickly and easily. The Mig just had manual controls. In a long dog-fight, exhaustion on the part of the Mig pilots would impact on their decision-making capabilities. This ability to work “within the opponent’s decision cycle” was what would provide the Sabres with their advantage.

The OODA Loop

This lead to Boyd’s development of the OODA Loop (Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action) which Boyd realised could be applied to all aspects of human competition, including business. Boyd hypothesised that the more cycles carried out within a single iteration of the opponent’s decision cycle, the greater the chances of disorientating the opponent and ensuring victory. At the end of each cycle, feedback from the action fed into orientation driving the next cycle. The decision cycle becomes the mechanism for adaption, and the ability to adapt to change, not perfect adaption to a fixed set of circumstances, is the key to survival.

John Boyd's OODA Loop

Image Source – Wikipedia Commons (Patrick Edwin Moran/John Boyd)

This concept, along with devolution of tactical decisions to “middle management” while still working within the commander’s overall vision is now recognised as having been key to success in the First Gulf War.

Realising the Benefits in the Enterprise

However to realise the benefits of OODA in the Enterprise, the two core elements that Boyd originally recognised on the Sabre jets, essentially, must be in place and sound:

  1. The Bubble Cockpit – Observation
    1. What is the competition and the client base doing?
    2. What other market and legislative forces impact on the organisation?
    3. How effective were previous observations and orientations?
  2. The Hydraulics – Orientation
    1. Interpretation of the situation. The quicker sense is made of what is going on, and the sooner an effective decision can be made, the greater the advantage. However, this phase is dependent on the following factors, common to either an individual or an organisation:
      1. Cultural traditions
      2. Heritage
      3. Ability to analyse and synthesise
      4. Previous experience
      5. New information coming in.

If observation or orientation capabilities are flawed or significantly delayed, the decision itself will be flawed or rendered irrelevant by more manoeuvrable competition. Conversely, if the two elements are optimized, competitive advantage is ensured.

Observation and Orientation with an EIM Toolset

Components of the Enterprise Information Management Toolset are now providing capabilities for effective Enterprise observation and orientation.

Key to the Observation step, is the merging and presentation of a view of both external influences (social feeds, regulatory etc.) and internal information (Lessons learnt, guidelines, SMEs etc) . A portal interface enables search across record managed internal data sources, ensuring guidance and control is just a click away. Spider capabilities allow indexing of relevant external sites, ensuring “visibility” of an evolving situation.

The information can be presented in the context of the current business situation (a new marketing campaign, or engaging with an existing client). This may involve the presentation of unstructured data (e.g. emails), in the context of the vendor or customer object in an ERP system, or the use of analytics engines against social feeds. Process Modelling tools allow analysis of evolving legislation on the corporate architecture, and fine-tuning of processes assist in addressing cultural and heritage bottlenecks within an organisation. Information for reuse in subsequent cycles and to support decisions, may be captured seamlessly into the underlying content management system. This will assist in closing a cycle, e.g. on boarding a new banking client, in significantly faster time than a competitor, allowing both enhanced competitive reputation and progression to subsequent cycles.

EIM capabilities can also be integrated directly into the Action step, through customer communications capabilities, allowing B2B and B2C marketing and customer service to take place directly off the back of decision steps made with current information directly available to decision-makers, or published out through websites controlled and branded through Web Content Management. Portals enable subsequent cycles of OODA through enabling direct feedback from the customer base.

Like many gifted visionaries, John Boyd may have been ahead of his time in his understanding of concepts and processes underlying human competitive behaviour, but with the current toolsets available in the EIM space, there is no longer an excuse for Corporate CIOs and Enterprise architects not to be able to operate within the decision cycles of both the market and the competition.

About this author

Iain Dunn

Iain Dunn

Principle EIM Architect, Digital Employee Experience

With 20 years experience in Enterprise Information Management and Governance, Iain is particularly passionate about releasing the value of information resources to drive Digital Transformation.

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