How can software support your decision making?

What is the difference between decision-making in the cockpit of a fighter jet and a public sector boardroom?  Not as much as you might think.

Colonel John Boyd revolutionised teaching in the US Air Force.  He developed a successful decision-making model to give pilots the advantage in air combat.   This is the OODA Loop decision cycle: Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act.

His training emphasised the importance of situational awareness through Observation and Orientation.  Observation is the perception of data available to you.  Orientation is the use of relationships in the data picture to understand what is happening now and, importantly, what could happen in future.  This is the basis for sound decision making under pressure and rapid execution through actions. Boyd’s theory was simple.  Work the OODA loop faster than your adversary, and you win.

This has since been used in business to achieve competitive advantage by operating inside a competitor’s OODA loop.  It also translates to the public sector – where decision making is no less important when managing scenarios such as Covid, climate change and cutbacks.

However, a frequent problem is that accepted ways of working often undermine situational awareness because of a lagging and incomplete data picture. Gathering disparate records from an array of files and systems often involves the inefficient hard graft of people-chasing and manual data updates.  This is typically distilled into briefing slides that are immediately out of date and often present an incomplete picture.  It can also be non-collaborative, with stakeholders not sharing the same situational awareness.  

A lagging and incomplete picture is as much a problem for a public sector board as for pilots - decision making and subsequent actions may be flawed.  Furthermore, it is difficult to keep oversight of those actions and see quickly where progress may be held-up.    Finally, the associated administrative overhead is an inefficient use of scarce resources and valuable time. Your OODA loop slows down, with teams perennially struggling to establish the ‘what’ rather than working on the ‘so what’.

Appropriate use of technical solutions can help, and positively influence organisational behaviour.  However, careful selection is required to ensure that they accelerate the OODA loop by bringing accessibility, simplicity, and clarity.  Consider the following elements:

Systems should be tailorable to your needs – not hard-wired to a vendor’s view of core functions, but genuinely able to connect your processes, data, and people.  Configuration changes should be swift, for the system to grow with you - and you should have the option to make those changes, because vendor dependency can slow you down.   Systems should support wide use across your organisation – with appropriate pricing, flexible license allocation, and controlled access for external stakeholders.  Systems should also remove barriers to use – through one-click access, bright and simple interfaces, and mobile apps for on-site use.   This enables a rich and live picture through rapid acceptance across your organisation.

Connections in the data need to be clear and simple.  For instance, you should be able to see immediately where an action is linked to multiple audit findings, and updates to that action should be immediately apparent to the various finding owners.  It sounds simple – but some interfaces don’t help you see the link or don’t make the link at all.  The system should have application interfaces to bring data from other systems if required to complete the picture.  

For accountability and due diligence, the system should allow you to record the history of decision making.  This includes integrated capture of meeting records, attendees, dates, and decisions – as well as the history of every record showing how it has been changed, by who and when.   

This is essential for enhanced organisational behaviours.  A system should give you immediate access to the live action picture, showing visibility of action assignment, tracking and status at any level.  This will deliver assurance that actions are being done, and will change behaviours from executive level to the front line.  It also builds trust, promoting transparency and collaboration across multiple stakeholders pursuing shared objectives together.  

Colonel Boyd’s OODA loop applies to public sector decision making as well as the cockpit.  The right system can accelerate your own organisation’s ODDA loop, producing the right decisions and actions for you to pursue your objectives.

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