Are You Experienced?

Jimi Hendrix unknowingly posed an important business process question in 1967 as the title to a song and his debut album. An earlier article, “If It’s Not a Process, It’s a Problem,” discussed the importance of processes. This article will discuss how we go about developing good processes. Any good process begins with experiences. Experiences are an accumulation of encountered events. If, and only if, one gains skill or knowledge from those experiences can they lay claim to experience.

This brings to mind the familiar expression “Good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement.” Of course, this is an over-simplification. Experience comes from encountering events, making judgements/decisions about how to act in those events, and evaluating those decisions to determine lessons for the future. Lessons should be learned from both bad and good decisions.

Colonel John Boyd developed a learning process which can be applied to developing processes. Boyd’s process consists of Observation – Orientation – Decision – Action. Developing good processes (and improving existing processes) requires:

  • observing the many aspects of an event/situation;
  • orienting to those observations by applying experience, education, knowledge, analogy;
  • deciding on a hypothetical action;
  • taking the action decided upon;
  • observing the result of that action;
  • using the new observations to re-orient;
  • deciding on a new hypothetical action; and
  • repeating this process continually.

You may recall from the earlier article that a process is a documented, repeatable series of steps necessary to deliver an output. Developing a process requires determining what the most effective and efficient steps are to deliver that output. Without a process work can be performed in a variety of ways by different people leading to inconsistent product and service. By observing the way the work has been performed in the past we can begin applying Boyd’s learning process to our process development.

There are several key aspects of the OODA approach when designing processes. It is continuous meaning that every process can eventually be improved. Processes must be observed which is to say measured. A good process may continue to be measured/observed for many cycles before re-orienting. Re-orienting means applying experience (including the observations/measurements), education (formal learning), knowledge (learning from mentors and peers), and analogy (leaning from similar experiences). Decisions are hypotheses or best guesses as to what specific actions or steps the process should consist of. Finally, the result of those actions must be observed and measured in terms of both effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness is the degree to which the desired output is achieved. Efficiency is the minimization of cost in delivering the desired output.

Processes will improve continuously through the application of the OODA approach. With an effective, efficient process, a business can answer “yes” to the Hendrix question “Are you experienced?”