Misuse of OODA Loops – not as simple as you think

Credit – Mihai Ionescu

Funny thing I always see with OODA Loops. Today it was on Linkedin between meetings. Let me start with – I’ve respected Mihai and his work for years. He’s a good business strategist. But we may disagree on this fine point.

While OODA Loops and the PDCA Demming Cycle cosmetically look and sound the same, they are actually different animals that do different things, and one needs to be careful is mixing them on paper. And I think what Mr Ionescu presents in the above diagram does have merit. But it does confuse 2 different animals that don’t often fit togther, because they are not as similar as they seem.

credit – Wikipedia

PDCA is a Proscriptive Business tool. It tells you a set of steps to follow to control how things are happening. You check of the boxes on the list of:

  • Plan
  • Do
  • Check
  • Act.

An OODA loop is a behavioural science desciptive model of how aminals (like humans) make decisions.

credit – Wikipedia

Observe Orient Decide Act. Is a decription of how the mind works. it’s not a check list of steps to follow.

PDCA is a Recipie that tells you a way to do things, like make a meal.

OODA is describing hunger, what your brain does regardless.

Confusing or mixing descriptive biology with the Demming Cycle is silly or potentailly misleading even when useful.. Especially when you consider PDCA is really just taking very old engineering control loop theory and applying it to manufacturing, and them later busines quality in general.

PDCA is great for measuring and controling what happens.

But OODA is more like F=MA (Newton’s Second law of motion). It’s mathmatical model of nature, not a check list of managment steps.

That all being said, can you adapt OODA as a check list for a process diagram in business theory? Sure. You can do the same thing with Slope intercept form in algebra y=mx+b

But that’s changing what it is and what is means. Like a “Tiger Team” is a supposed to be a short term team that fixes a critical problem. It’s not a group of trained predatory cats.

The point being, OODA and PDCA don’t mix easily. It’s like saying the first step of making dinner is to make people hungry. Hunger is not a thing you do. Hunger is something that happens to you naturally. The recipie for dinner is simply one of many ways to deal with hunger.

OODA loops are something that happens to you. Like hunger. You can manage OODA loops and manipulate them like hunger. But neurologicaly, Observe, Orient, Decide, Atc, is actually how the human body is built, and a useful decriptive behavioural model of how humans make decisions.

PDCA, Control loops, Demming Cycle is a rule, a method, a recipie or tool. It’s something you choose to do or not do. You can actively not do PDCA in business. Not using some sort of PCDA effectively is actually a common problem.

So they are apples and oranges. 2 different things. Mixing them in a process flow is a tricky thing than can confuse what is happening in your porcess flow, and can miss use or miss represent the concepts in that process flow.

But people have been misunderstanding and misusing OODA loops since the 20th century. Nothing new here. And to be fair, even that can be useful. I’ve used a Screwdriver to hammer in nails before. But a screwdriver is so much more than small club.

Just because it’s simple, does not mean it’s easy. Just because it works, doesn’t mean you are using it right or to it’s full potential

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