Helping the Gnomes that Code

Some emphasize that product development begins with writing code and that effort transforms into a win. The lingering question for this type of three-part development model is “What is Phase 2?”

What is Phase 2?

Some emphasize that product development begins with writing code and that effort transforms into a win. The lingering question for this type of three-part development model is “What is Phase 2?”

What is Valued by Gnomes that Code?

Many managers track business metrics and project metrics during Phase 2 to forecast the potential to win.

What is valued by gnomes that code?

Gnomes associate winning with factors that include autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Dan Pink wrote about what motivates individuals in his book Drive.

Gnomes can develop autonomy, mastery, and purpose in an environment when there is a moderate amount of volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors. Gnomes can benefit in a development environment that is characterized by a moderate amount of adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Taleb called this type of environment antifragile.

Development Options

Taleb wrote ‘The option is an agent of antifragility.’ An agent obtains results.

An appropriately designed network continuously synthesizes development options that provide the potential to take action that may result in a favorable gain. When an attractive gain may be realized, options are exercised.

Development options:

  • Include tasks that are likely to improve the antifragility of the network during a project
  • Are a response to the question ‘what should the network embrace now to improve the potential to win in the future?’
  • Are continuously synthesized and exercised during a project within the development network to refine the focus and direction of efforts to generate a win
  • Are consistent with the concept of safe-to-fail experiments that have an asymmetric payoff function (large potential gain, small potential loss)
  • Are exercised, evolve, or expire

The capabilities of the network impact the attractiveness of the development options that are generated.

To the extent that options are exercised and provide feedback, confidence in their attractiveness tends to increase.

Multiple options can be active simultaneously to provide multiple opportunities to win within the network’s current capabilities and within the project’s current constraints.

Precursors to Development Options

Analysis is a precursor of synthesis. Analysis is a problem solving approach that divides the whole into its constituent parts. Synthesis is a process of connection.

A synthesis approach enables one to imagine how several capabilities may work together to produce the desired result. Validation may follow from a combination of decision, action, interaction, and more observations.

John Boyd represented these items in his OODA Loop sketch in his final briefing titled “The Essence of Winning and Losing” in 1995. I have expanded Boyd’s notation to represent the interactions of individuals and their efforts during a project.

A series of OODA loops with hierarchy

John Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch notation can be expanded to represent the interactions of individuals and their efforts during a project. This illustration includes the representation of simultaneous efforts within a hierarchy and the pursuit of two options simultaneously.

The following notation represents synthesizing options and exercising options throughout a development project.

Synthesizing and exercising options during new product development

Synthesizing many options and exercising attractive development options should occur rapidly throughout a project. ‘Synthesize options’ includes imagining solutions and documenting them. The cloud filled sky background of the ‘exercise option’ portion of this graphic represents the interaction of prototypes with the environment (which includes customers).

Designing to Improve the Capability to Synthesize and Exercise Attractive Development Options

Optionality can be improved by design. Concepts that can be employed in a development environment to help gnomes that code improve their capability to synthesize and exercise attractive development options include:

  • Requisite variety
  • Pair Development
  • Disintermediation
  • Recursion

When the network has requisite variety, the network has to potential to recognize all problems and to activate appropriate responses.

Requisite variety

Requisite variety addresses the importance of having proficient practitioners with a diversity of capabilities that can be mobilized in a dynamic network. The table indicates that this environment has requisite variety because the number and type of responses represented is greater than or equal to the number and type of problems represented.

Requisite variety is associated with mobilizing a network of contributors with diverse specialties and multiple perspectives. To be successful, individuals may require additional training, access to individuals with unique expertise, and new ways to cooperate.

During the project, individuals engage and disengage to maintain requisite variety and avoid the paralysis associated with excessive variety.

Pair Development facilitates the synthesis of options to develop a self-correcting focus and direction informed by the analyses of multiple perspectives.

Pair development is implemented by facilitating the interaction of individuals of different disciplines (such as a coder and a market specialist). Pair development may include activities such as dialog and sketching.

Pair development with gnomes

Pair development provides an opportunity for interaction through activities such as dialog and sketching to transform orientations. The result of pair development should be a synthesis of options, not a summary of previous activities.

Pair development provides benefits beyond distributed cognition. The purpose of pair development is not cross-training. The result of pair development should not be a summary of previous activities.

Disintermediation efforts may involve removing layers of management or removing other barriers. Disintermediation efforts may have objectives such as:

  • Improving agility
  • Rapid recognition of problems
  • Rapid implementation of solutions
  • Faster cycle times

Achieving these objectives may require the re-design of the network to facilitate communication, cooperation, collaboration, and harmony among individuals.

Achieving these objectives may require evolving the way that individuals experience the interactions of customers with prototypes (or other experiments related to the product being developed). Direct observations that promote full-fidelity interactions are preferable to mediation approaches such as presenting individuals with reports that summarize activities.

Recursion is a solution or technique in which large problems are solved by reducing them to smaller problems of the same form.

Recursion is a solution or technique in which large problems are solved by reducing them to smaller problems of the same form.

Recursion is a solution or technique in which large problems are solved by reducing them to smaller problems of the same form. A recursion approach works best in a development network with requisite variety that observes the interactions of multiple potential customers with evolving, functional, holistic prototypes.

The network’s perceptions of large problems shape the focus and direction (schwerpunkt) of the project. When developing a new product, the large problems include the customer’s experience with the product.

Large problems are evaluated by the interactions of people with products during activities such as buying, setup, use, maintenance, and troubleshooting. The large problems include the customer’s perceived value of the new product in comparison to alternatives.  The large problems may be evaluated in terms of the delight produced using the product to accomplish a task.

Recursion approach to new product development

A recursion approach provides multiple channels of feedback to a development network with requisite variety that evaluates multiple opportunities to win. Customers interacting with prototypes is represented in the upper-right corner. Four snapshot of the development network are represented during the project.

A recursion approach provides multiple channels of feedback to evaluate multiple opportunities to win.

A recursion approach works best in a development network with requisite variety that observes the interactions of multiple potential customers with evolving, functional, holistic prototypes. The interactions provide multiple opportunities to detect mismatches and develop corrections.

Mismatches: the difference between the phenomena that is observed and the conceptual description of that situation

A recursion approach provides validation that is beyond the results available from surveys. Prototypes are evaluated beyond their functionality. A recursion approach includes evaluating how one user describes a solution to another user.

A recursion approach is used to validate the attractiveness of development options.

When practicing recursion approaches, individuals that tend to identify themselves as independent specialists shift to identifying themselves as contributors to development options. Their perspectives change. They engage in efforts to solve the large problems.

Transitioning from Coding to Winning

Gnomes know how to write code.

To transition from writing code to winning, gnomes benefit from concepts such as requisite variety, pair development, disintermediation, and recursion contribute to improving the capability to synthesize and exercise development options rapidly in an antifragile development environment.

This enables gnomes that code to become winners that code.

The gnomes synthesize and exercise options.

During Phase 2, the capability to synthesize many options and exercise attractive development options rapidly enables a properly prepared network of individual contributors to realize non-linear gains that are not possible by alternate development approaches such as ones that focus on managing mandates. This enables gnomes that code to transition to winners that code.

 

Diversity in Expressing Wins

Ultimately, gnomes that code express their wins through actions that are consistent with motivating factors such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Gnomes that code may express their wins to their peers through recurring actions such as pushing files to their Git repository or answering questions on StackOverflow. These types of actions improve their development experience.

When the gnomes that code win, their success propagates. Customers express their wins by actions such as posting product reviews that described how the products enable them to be successful. Managers achieve their desired business objectives and project objectives. Managers may express their wins through actions such as presentations and publication on innovation. They may be rewarded with stock options.

Individuals in different roles express their wins to their peers through unique actions

Individuals in different roles express their wins to their peers through unique actions. Gnomes that code may express their wins through actions such as pushing files to their Git repo or answering questions on StackOverflow. Customers may express their wins by actions such as posting product reviews that describe how products enable them to be successful. Managers may express their wins through actions such as presentations and publications on innovation.


Notes:

The “What is Phase 2?” question was included in the “Gnomes” episode of South Park, Season 2. 16 December 1998. That episode provided an inspiration for this post.

The Law of Requisite Variety was formulated by W. Ross Ashby.

This post included material from my book Developing Winners.

Podcast[Requires iTunes or Apple Quicktime. Duration 9:24 minutes:seconds]

Design Thinking and the OODA Loop Sketch

Design Thinking is associated with innovation. The OODA Loop sketch encapsulates ideas associated with the essence of winning and losing. There are similarities in these two approaches and several significant differences.

Design Thinking

According to Wikipedia, Design Thinking is a “formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues, with the intent of an improved future result.” Some illustrations of a process model for Design Thinking include six process phases.

A simplified process model for design thinking

A simplified process model for Design Thinking with iterative linkages between phases

Detailed process model for design thinking (Thoring & Müller, 2011)

A detailed process model for Design Thinking (based on Thoring & Müller, 2011)

The process phases are:

  • Understanding: Typically characterized by communication with other stakeholders and research. The goal is to collect existing information and become an expert.
  • Observe: Typically characterized by designers conducting interviews and observing people with a problem. The goal is to gather insight about the needs of users.
  • Point of View: Typically characterized by storytelling, clustering insights, and synthesis. The goal is to shape the perspective of each team member.
  • Ideation: Typically characterized by brainstorming, clustering ideas, and prioritizing. The goal is to generate ideas for possible solutions and then select one idea for more development.
  • Prototyping: Typically characterized by creating models, role playing, developing videos and graphics, and creating prototypes.
  • Test: Typically characterized by observing individuals interacting with prototypes. The goal is to gather feedback from users and stakeholders about the concept and the prototype.

The exclusive OR gateway (illustrated as an ‘X’ in a diamond shape) is a decision point for releasing/shipping the product to the market.

To some, a Design Thinking approach suggests that individuals can improve their potential for innovation by embracing a perspective consistent with that of the role of a designer. Alternatively, individuals without formal design training can embrace a design thinking approach as a complement to techniques associated with a master of business administration approach to management.

When employed for new product development, Design Thinking is an approach to innovation, not a guarantee. The product may be an innovation or a relatively worthless result. The market decides.

Proponents of Design Thinking include the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (D-school) at Stanford University, Roger Martin at the University of Toronto, and Tim Brown of Ideo.

OODA Loop Sketch

The OODA Loop Sketch was presented in “The Essence of Winning and Losing” briefing to the public in June of 1995 by John Boyd, a retired US Air Force Colonel. His sketch encapsulated ideas that he had developed since his time as a US Air Force fighter pilot in the late-1950s.

OODA Loop sketch

OODA Loop sketch that includes feedback, feed forward, and implicit guidance & control. Based on a 1995 sketch by John Boyd.

One OODA Cycle, which includes concurrent observation, orientation, decision, action, and unfolding interaction with environment, can occur in a moment. The duration of the OOCA cycle can be represented by the width of one group of OODA components. An OODA Loop approach involves multiple OODA cycles that enable a win.

A representation of a series of air-to-air combat maneuvers

A simplified, illustrated version of a series of air-to-combat maneuvers with corresponding OODA loops during a competitive encounter between fighter pilots (represented by BLUE and RED) plus several gunsight images. This illustration includes a representation of “getting inside an OODA loop” and the win.

Often, an OODA Loop approach is associated with warriors involved in combat. Concepts that can be employed to shape a competitive win include:

  • Discerning tactical dispositions
  • Detecting mismatches
  • Generating mismatches in time, tempo, or rhythm
  • Generating mismatches in ability
  • Novelty
  • Cheng/Ch’i
  • Shih and the node
  • Manipulating friction
  • Generating confusion for the adversary while promoting harmony within your network

Concepts, such as harmony, initiative, adaptability, Schwerpunkt, and cycle time, associated with the OODA Loop sketch can be employed by individuals or groups during projects.

Similarities of the Design Thinking Process Model and the OODA Loop Sketch

The Understand item of the Design Thinking process model is similar to the Unfolding Circumstances and Outside Information items of the OODA Loop sketch.

The Design Thinking process model and the OODA Loop sketch include Observation components.

The Point of View component with its storytelling and synthesis items in the Design Thinking process model is similar to the Orientation component with its prior experience, cultural traditions, and analyses & synthesis items of the OODA Loop sketch.

The Ideation and Prototype items of the Design Thinking process model are similar to the Decision and Action items of the OODA Loop sketch.

The Test component of the Design Thinking process model is similar to the Interaction with Environment item of the OODA Loop sketch.

The phrase Design Thinking and the pre-cursors to the OODA Loop Sketch were developed in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

Contrasting the Design Thinking Process Model and the OODA Loop Sketch

Perhaps the most significant difference of these approaches involves perspective. A Design Thinking approach has biases for certain orientations and tools. It tends to be prescriptive.

An OODA Loop approach embraces wider perspectives and requisite variety.

Another difference involves durations. The process model of Design Thinking suggests that the time between “understanding” and “test” is in the range of hours to years. A Design Thinking approach could develop as one sequential progression from understand to test. When there is negative feedback, focus may be re-established on a particular item (such as ideate) and the sequence is resumed from that item.

One OODA cycle can occur in a moment. The goal of a series of OODA cycles is to enable a win.

Building and Employing Snowmobiles

Prior to presenting his OODA Loop sketch in 1995, Boyd summarized his insights about winners and losers in statements about snowmobiles.

A loser is someone — individual or group — who cannot build snowmobiles when facing uncertainty and unpredictable change; Whereas,

A winner is someone — individual or group — who can build snowmobiles, and employ them in an appropriate fashion, when facing uncertainty and unpredictable change.” (Boyd, Revelation, 1987)

The concept of a snowmobile was used as a placeholder for something valuable. Boyd’s distinction that winners “build snowmobiles, and employ them” acknowledges that winners go beyond synthesizing options. They design, engineer, assemble, and test their products. They are persistent in evaluating the interaction of people with their products.

The phrase ‘appropriate fashion‘ includes characteristics such as the product’s features and the product’s reliability. It includes communication about the product. It refers to the user’s experience.

The word ‘can‘ emphasizes factors such as timing (such as the availability of snow to test a snowmobile), technology readiness, and the current alternatives offered by competitors.

The phrase ‘when facing uncertainty and unpredictable change‘ acknowledges the need to improve qualities such as agility and adaptability.

A winner is not required to be the inventor of a product or technology. A winner is not required to be the first-to-market a product.

The interplay of building, employing, and evaluating produces innovation. Boyd concluded that a “continuing whirl of reorientation, mismatches, analyses/synthesis and the novelty” is a “conceptual spiral for… innovation.” (Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, 1992)

Innovation and Winning

Individuals that embrace a Design Thinking approach tend to pursue innovation efforts from a specific perspective and to promote a specific process. Individuals that embrace concepts encapsulated in Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch strive to win with a “variety of possibilities as well as the rapidity to implement and shift among them” (Boyd, Patterns of Conflict, #176)

In Boyd’s revelation, the capability to build and employ snowmobiles in an appropriate fashion when facing uncertainty and unpredictable change was used to recognize innovation. Therefore, individuals within a network that have this capability are innovators. Boyd’s revelation can be re-written as: An innovator is a winner — individual or network — who can build new products, and employ them in an appropriate fashion, when facing uncertainty and unpredictable change.

Additional Information

1. This post included extracts from my book “Developing Winners: Assimilating the Insights Encapsulated in Boyd’s OODA Loop 2. A humorous presentation, entitled “How to Lie with Design Thinking” by Dan Saffer quips that a Design Thinking approach relies too much on “the fun parts of design” and rearranging small pieces of paper with glue on one side. 2. Virgil D. White “received a patent (in 1917) for an attachment designed to convert a Model T into a ‘Snowmobile,’ a name coined and copyrighted by White” in 1913.

2. In 1917, Virgil D. White received a patent for “an attachment designed to convert a Model T into a ‘Snowmobile,’ a name coined and copyrighted by White” in 1913.

Antifragility in New Product Development

In the book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb shared insights on optionality that can be expanded to include new product development environments.

This post provides an introduction to the non-linear gains associated with antifragile systems that may be realized by designing new product development environments that help individuals improve their capability to synthesize many new options continuously and enhance their proficiency to exercise options that are attractive. This post includes a comparison to concepts represented in Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch.

Fragile, Robust, Resilient, and Antifragile Development Environments

Taleb’s classification of systems as fragile, robust, resilient, and antifragile may be used to characterize development environments. Every development environment can be characterized in terms of its fragility, robustness, resilience, and antifragility.

Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A development environment that tends to be fragile does not welcome disorder. When uncertainty is injected, the results may be unpleasant.

In a fragile development environment, one obstacle can prevent the realization of value. Examples of harmful conditions include:

  • Incorrect, incomplete, or misleading information
  • A problematic handoff between functional groups
  • Disagreements among functional groups

Unpleasant results may include delays, cost overruns, and insufficient adoption of the product. Individuals tend to be frustrated. The more fragile the development environment, the less likely it is to thrive.

From project-to-project, a robust development environment tends to survive unchanged. Processes tend to be preserved. Individual contributors tend to retain their employment status.

From project-to-project, a resilient development environment survives changes from external factors. After a project is complete, there may be changes such as a re-arrangement of the organizational chart. New tools may be incorporated. The organization survives to serve the needs of the next project.

The word ‘antifragile’ is an adjective created by Taleb. It can be defined as the exact opposite of fragile.  According to Taleb, “Antifragile is beyond resilience or robustness.

An antifragile system thrives and grows when exposed to a moderate amount of volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors. An antifragile system benefits from a moderate amount of adventure, risk, and uncertainty.

Iatrogenesis

In Chapter 7, Taleb described the concept of iatrogenics as “damage from treatment in excess of the benefits.”

Iatrogenesis: preventable harm resulting from the treatment or advice of a healer.

The word iatrogenesis is not common in product development but harmful inputs may come from multiple sources. These include:

  • Specialists that assume that solutions to development problems relate to their area of expertise.
  • Innovation pundits, consultants, and vendors that offer their favorite tools and techniques as solutions
  • Interventionalists that believe that their contributions will improve outcomes
  • Status quo

It may be difficult to recognize the harmfulness associated with specific sources because of cognitive biases or unvalidated claims. Recognizing harmfulness is more difficult in development environments that isolate individuals of different functional specialties.

New product development efforts can suffer from iatrogenesis. Approaches to recognize potentially harmful inputs and reduce potential damage from harmful inputs include:

  • Requisite Variety
  • Disintermediation
  • Pair Development

Requisite Variety

The concept of requisite variety can be used to emphasize the importance of having a diversity of potential responses in a development environment.

Requisite Variety: For a system to be viable, only a variety in responses can force down the variety due to disturbances.

The Law of Requisite Variety was formulated by W. Ross Ashby

The Law of Requisite Variety was formulated by W. Ross Ashby

For a development environment to be successful, only a large repertoire of possible responses can address the variety presented by a complex set of development problems that emerge throughout projects.

In a new product development environment, requisite variety may be achieved by mobilizing a network of contributors with diverse specialties and multiple perspectives. To be successful, individuals may require additional training, access to individuals with unique expertise, and cooperation.

Without requisite variety, previously successful responses to familiar patterns may not be recognized as insufficient responses.

Without a variety of potential responses at the appropriate times, a development environment may be fragile.

If there is excessive variety, the agility of the development environment may be reduced. To ensure appropriate adaptability, the network determines that certain responses should be amplified. Other responses are attenuated.

Disintermediation removes layers between individual contributors and data. It removes barriers between decision makers. One way to facilitate disintermediation in new product development environments involves individual contributors experiencing the interactions of customers with prototypes (or other experiments related to the product being developed). Direct observations that promote full-fidelity interactions are preferable to mediation approaches such as presenting individuals with reports that summarize activities.

Pair Development is implemented by facilitating the interaction of individuals of different disciplines (such as a coder and a marketer). Pair development provides an opportunity for interaction through activities such as dialog and sketching. The result of pair development should be the synthesis of options, not a summary of previous activities. Typically, no slides sets are used during these interactions.

Pair development in new product development

The result of pair development is the synthesis of options that is informed by the analyses available from multiple perspectives.

The purpose of pair development is not cross-training. The purpose is to develop a self-correcting focus and direction informed by the analyses of multiple perspectives.

Reducing iatrogenesis is a pre-requisite to synthesizing more attractive options.

Typical Options

A typical option, such as a financial option, provides a buyer with the potential to take action by a specified date without an associated obligation to buy or sell. Typically, an individual decides to exercise an option based on their perception of value at a specific time.

According to Taleb, optionality is the property of asymmetric upside (preferably unlimited) with correspondingly limited downside (preferably small).

Optionality: a quality of state where choice or discretion is allowed.

In Chapter 12 Taleb stated that “An option is a substitute for knowledge” In Chapter 13, Taleb wrote “antifragility supersedes intelligence.

The value of a typical option depends on factors such as the negotiation skills of the individuals involved and the type of control individuals have over their decisions. Development options require additional proficiencies.

Example

Taleb summarized the experience of Thales, an ancient philosopher. Thales acquired an option to use equipment that may be needed during next year’s harvest. His potential profits or losses were not be determined solely by the accuracy of a crop forecast. If there was an abundant harvest, he could exercise his option for the equipment and be rewarded financially. If the harvest was scarce, he could decline his option and not suffer a loss. The harvest was bountiful and Thales built a substantial fortune.

Development Options

To improve the potential for success in new product development environments, an option must be more than a negotiated agreement based on a speculation. Development options are the most valuable when associated with current capabilities or a capabilities that may be acquired within an appropriate amount of time for an appropriate cost within the project constraints.

The approach to development within a network of individual contributors includes the interplay of capabilities with analyses and synthesis.

Synthesis is a process of connection. Synthesis generates something new and different. A synthesis approach enables one to imagine how a several capabilities may work together to produce the desired result.

In a properly designed new product development environment, proficient individuals analyze situations and synthesize new options continuously.

The interplay of synthesizing options and exercising options to improve antifragility

The interplay of synthesizing options and exercising options improves antifragility

The interplay of synthesizing options and exercising options includes interaction with the environment (feedback) that enables a network of individuals to comprehend, shape, and adapt during development. This enables operation at faster tempos and rhythms and the compression of cohesive observation-orientation-decision-action time cycles.

The capability to synthesize many development options and exercise a few attractive development options rapidly and repetitively enables a properly prepared network of individual contributors to realize non-linear gains that are not possible by alternate approaches such as ones that focus on managing mandates.

Comparing Development Options to Concepts Represented in Boyd’s OODA Loop Sketch

Concepts related to development options have similarities with concepts represented in John Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch.

  • The concept of synthesizing development options is similar to the Observation and Orientation items represented in Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch.
  • The concept of exercising development options is similar to the Decision, Action, and Unfolding Interaction with Environment items represented in Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch.
  • The outcome from cycles of synthesizing a multitude of development options and exercising a multitude of development options is consistent with victory and the representation of a “series of maneuvers” in an OODA Loop context.
  • The non-linear gains associated with exercising attractive options in antifragile environments are similar to Boyd’s themes for vitality and growth.
Concepts related to development options have similarities with concepts represented in John Boyd's OODA Loop sketch.

Concepts related to development options have similarities with concepts represented in John Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch. Synthesizing development options is similar to the Observation and Orientation. Exercising development options is similar to the Decision, Action, and Unfolding Interaction with Environment items.

Enhancing Optionality throughout Development

For each development project, the goal is to change the environment to improve the capability to synthesize a multitude of development options and exercise a multitude of development options that are attractive. To increase this capability throughout development, invest to improve the following objectives:

  • Design the development environment to embrace optionality
  • Produce new repertoire based on theory and refined by practice with others seeking a high level of proficiency. This requires a sustained, deliberate effort.
  • Develop the capability for rapid cycles of observation, orientation, decision, and action which is based on the OODA Loop concept from John Boyd.
  • Improve the capability to shift rapidly between options which is similar to the concept of Fast Transients from John Boyd. This is similar to improving agility.
  • Improve the capability of individuals to synthesize options that are cohesive across the network and cohesive over the duration of the project(s).
  • Improve the proficiency to exercise attractive options. Identifying attractive options includes developing a holistic perspective and recognizing iatrogenesis.

Antifragility and Development Experience

Individual contributors invest much of their time in new product development projects. Their personal investment is what Taleb refers to as “skin in the game.” I refer to an individual contributor’s day-to-day and year-to-year set of perceptions and responses as Development Experience [DX].

There are multiple approaches to improve an individual contributor’s development experience by reducing fragility, increasing robustness, or increasing resilience of the development environment. An individual contributor’s development experience may improve dramatically by designing the development environment to improve antifragility. According to Taleb, “The option is an agent of antifragility.” Options make vitality and growth possible.

Development options are agents of development experience. Development options drive non-linear gains in antifragile development networks. Designing to improve development options stimulates better performance from individual contributors even when there is volatility. This inspires better performance from others. This creates virtuous circles, beneficial cycles of development efforts. This inspires greater commitments to project success.


Additional Information

1. Taleb includes Post-Traumatic Growth as a characteristic of antifragility in Table 1 in his book. In “Beyond Surviving New Product Development” I defined:

Post Development Growth: the positive changes experienced by individuals that result from enhanced new product development capabilities. Post Development Growth includes reflection to achieve cognitive clarity. It goes beyond reflection to action.

An antifragile development environment is more likely to produce Post Development Growth. This tends to enable better outcomes in future projects.

2. A fragile development environment is consistent with the model introduced in “The Devastating Zero Model of New Product Development.”

3. Too many inputs may be harmful because it may be difficult to discern the valuable from the harmful or signal from the noise. Too many inputs reduce a network’s agility. A requisite variety approach must include ways to evaluate potential contributions to project goals. One approach is the development of “continuously correcting, network-informed schwerpunkt” described in my Reimagining How New Product Development Artifacts Impact What We Should Be Doing Today post.

4. This post included extracts from my book “Developing Winners: Assimilating the Insights Encapsulated in Boyd’s OODA Loop

Podcast
[Requires iTunes or Apple Quicktime. Duration 15 minutes]

Paul McCartney and Subtle Signals

When the Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan Show on 9 February 1964, there was noise from screaming fans. During this performance, John, Paul, George, and Ringo had difficulty hearing each other. However, they delivered a great performance. How did they coordinate their musical efforts?

Requisites to Coordination

The requisites to coordination in that noisy environment included:

  • Individually, John, Paul, George, and Ringo were proficient musicians. They invested years developing their musical abilities.
  • As a group, the Beatles practiced together for years. They performed under a diverse set of conditions. They had experience in ideal performance conditions and challenging performance conditions.
  • Musically, they knew what to expect. They pre-selected songs for the performance that they had mastered. The arrangements were designed for live performance by four musicians. These arrangements were familiar.
  • They did not rely on a technology that they could not control. They did not have a sophisticated audio monitoring system. They did not have headphones or in-ear personal audio monitors.
  • They did not rely on delayed feedback from others involved in the production.

In part, the quality of the musical performance required using information accumulated in the past to influence the future. This can be called a feed forward approach. A feed forward approach benefits from the involvement of proficient practitioners. In a feed forward approach, training precedes performance.

In other contexts, a feed forward approach may be characterized by a control signal that is transmitted from a source to a destination.

Prominent Signals and Subtle Signals

During the performances in 1964, the crowd noise was a prominent signal. During the performances, there were valuable subtle signals.

In a noisy environment, these subtle signals correlated with specific parts of each song. They included:

  • Discernible sounds such as the crash of a cymbal or the rumble from the bass drum
  • Facial expressions of the other musicians including mouth movements
  • Movements of fingers, arms, and feet of the other musicians
  • Interactions with the environment such as instantaneous interaction of the performance and reactions from the crowd

(Based on remarks by Paul McCartney in “The Beatles: The Night that Changed America. CBS 9 February 2014)

The subtle signals provided feedback during the performances. Feedback is an approach that uses information about current results to influence operation in the present. Feedback modifies a system based on interim results. Feedback changes the system output. This approach may be referred to as closed-loop feedback.

Subtle signals should be incorporated judiciously. Considerations include:

  • Valuable subtle signals may not be available when they would be the most useful.
  • Valuable subtle signals may be overlooked by novices.
  • An individual musician may not have the capacity to discern valuable subtle signals from the spurious subtle signals. Stated another way, an individual may not know that a subtle signal is valuable when they detect it.
  • The value of amplifying a particular signal by a specific amount is assessed by the nature of the results and the interaction with the environment.

Incorporating the appropriate subtle signals enabled the Beatles to be proficient performers in environments with nearly overwhelming undesirable noise.

Camera Operators Coordinated Their Efforts

It was so noisy in the Ed Sullivan Theater during the Beatles’ performances that the camera operators could not hear the instructions from the program director. The camera operators were proficient individually. They formed a cohesive team. They framed every shot without being able to hear the coordinating instructions from the director. The next week, a decision was made to replace the open-ear headphones with over-the-ear headphones.

(Based on remarks by the production crew in “The Beatles: The Night that Changed America. CBS 9 February 2014)

Mismatches

Mismatches address the differences of “our mental images/impressions and the reality it is supposed to represent” (John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, 1992, 25)

A 2-dimensional model of impression, representation of reality, and reality.

A 2-dimensional model of impression, representation of reality, and reality.

Impressions flow from previous experience which includes knowledge, skills, training, and capabilities. Practice and theory shape impressions. Impressions establish the boundaries of the decisions that can be made and the actions that are possible. Words that can be substituted for impressions may include hypothesis and model.

Impressions may be faulty or incomplete. Impressions are built on assumptions. Biases influence impressions. Individual observations may be misleading. Errors may be unknown.

Representations of reality are influenced by:

  • Observations
  • Feedback from decisions
  • Feedback from actions
  • Interactions with the environment

Representations of reality may be faulty or incomplete.

Approaches should be developed to detect and correct mismatches. A properly developed approach enables impressions and representations of reality to be addressed and improved.

Mismatches address the differences of “our mental images/impressions and the reality it is supposed to represent” (John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, 1992, 25)

Mismatches address the differences of “our mental images/impressions and the reality it is supposed to represent” (John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, 1992, 25)

The mismatch approach summarized in this post is based on the insights of John Boyd. Some of his insights are encoded in his OODA (for Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action) Loop sketch (Boyd, The Essence of Winning and Losing, 1995).

OODA Loop sketch

OODA Loop sketch that includes feedback, feed forward, and implicit guidance & control. Based on a 1995 sketch by John Boyd.

Although the word “mismatch” is not one of the labeled items, the concept is encapsulated in the sketch and described in Boyd’s Conceptual Spiral briefing of 1992.

In situations that rely on a coordination of efforts, the potential for success is improved with rapid feedback and feed forward capabilities. An approach that has been developed to detect and correct mismatches can provide a way to make corrections dynamically. It provides a framework to ensure that mistakes aren’t propagated.

Proficient craftsman can incorporate selected subtle signals appropriately to achieve valuable results nearly instantaneously.

A mismatch approach can be used in situations that include preparation, performance, and retrospective phases. In these situations, there may be long delays between analysis, plans, actions, and consequences. In these types of situations, feedback is delayed and it is more difficult to perceive relationships between cause and effect.

Prominent signals, subtle signals, and noise plus their interactions contribute to mismatches. Mismatches are multidimensional.

Applications to Development Experience in New Product Development

John, Paul, George, and Ringo continuously synchronized their efforts. Subtle signals helped Paul McCartney and the other Beatles coordinate their musical efforts during performances on the Ed Sullivan Show under conditions of extreme noise in 1964.

To improve your development performance, evaluate your approach to:

  • Requisites to Coordination
  • Subtle signals
  • Feedback
  • Feed forward
  • Impressions
  • Representations of reality
  • Mismatches

An appropriate analysis will suggest additional investment opportunity areas such as theory and practice. You will have insights to discern the valuable subtle signals from the spurious.  Strive to improve your agility so that you can learn faster than the speed of the market and faster than competitors.

Analogous concepts can be applied to improve Development Experience [DX] in new product development.

Additional Information

The concept of prominent and subtle signals is not the same as weak and strong signals as described in the February 2014 McKinsey & Company article, “The strength of ‘weak signals:’ Snippets of information, often hidden in social-media streams,” offer companies a valuable new tool for staying ahead. In that article, weak signals refer to beliefs of a small population of elite users that may be thought to have a better than average capability to predict trends in the future. Subtle signals can be used to impact the present.

Endnotes

This post included extracts from my book “Developing Winners: Assimilating the Insights Encapsulated in Boyd’s OODA Loop


Podcast

[Requires iTunes or Apple Quicktime. Duration 9:20]

Feedback and Feed Forward Approaches in New Product Development

This post explores feedback and feed forward approaches to improve development experiences in new product development (NPD).

This post was inspired by a new appreciation of the feedback and feed forward labels in John Boyd’s OODA loop sketch of 1995.

OODA Loop sketch
OODA Loop sketch that includes feedback, feed forward, and implicit guidance & control. Created by Mark A Hart. Based on a 1995 sketch by John Boyd.

A more common and older use of the phrases feedback and feed forward is from the design of control systems for mechanical and electrical devices.

To prepare for sharing these insights relating to new product development, I will review simplified electrical circuits that can be used to control the temperature in an electrical, tank-type appliance used to heat and store hot water.

Initial Design of a Water Heater

An initial system design includes a tank to store hot water. It includes a heater in an insulated tank. It includes a switch to activate the heater and a sensor to measure the water temperature. The water temperature is regulated by turning the heater switch on and off.

An initial design for an electrical, tank-type appliance used to heat and store hot water

An initial design for an electrical, tank-type appliance used to heat and store hot water

A more sophisticated design would permit a user to input a set point for the desired water temperature. Ideally, the system would provide water at the set point temperature regardless of how much water was used for any task.

A Feedback Approach to Controlling Temperature

When a feedback approach is implemented, the temperature of the water exiting the tank is measured and that information is used to control the heater circuit.

A feedback approach to controlling temperature

A feedback approach to controlling the temperature of a water heater

This type of control is a feedback approach because the temperature sensor is after the circuit element producing the heat.

Feedback is an approach that uses information about current results to influence operation in the present. It includes modifications to a system based on results. Feedback produces a reactive response. This approach may be referred to as closed-loop feedback.

For this design, there is a characteristic lag (a delay after hot water is depleted before the heater is activated to raise the water temperature) and overshoot (a condition caused by exceeding the temperature set point because of a delay in deactivating the heater). An unsophisticated control circuit can not distinguish a scenario when a small amount of water is used or when a significant amount of water is used.

A Feed Forward Approach to Controlling Temperature

One implementation of a feed forward approach senses the amount of cold water entering the tank. The heater is turned on as a function of the amount of cold water entering the tank. This approach uses knowledge about the system to predict how much additional heat will be required. Such an approach is proactive.

A feed forward approach to controlling temperature

A feed forward approach uses knowledge about the system to transmit a controlling signal from a source to a destination

Feed forward is an approach that uses knowledge about the system to transmit a controlling signal from a source to a destination. A feed forward approach is a rules-based approach.

Simultaneous Control Systems

A feed forward approach should be used with a feedback system. These are complementary approaches. The combination provides a system that is more responsive and more effective.

There are examples of analogous approaches in new product development.

Feedback Approaches in New Product Development

During new product development, it is common to present product prototypes to potential customers and gather feedback. Prototypes can take the form of surveys, A/B tests, and other interactions with hardware, software, and concepts.

This approach may be associated with other popular phrases such as ‘fail fast’ or ’safe to fail experiments’ where learning follows the development of a prototype. Another popular version of this type of approach includes the concept of a minimum viable product (MVP).

Feedback approaches are consistent with processes such as Steve Blank’s Customer Development methodology where ideas and hypotheses are tested ‘outside of the building.’

Like other feedback approaches, these approaches are reactive approaches. There is a lag between ideation and observing results. There is a lag between research, developing an approach to the problem, decisions, and actions and the results from the unfolding interaction with those efforts.

Feed Forward Approaches in New Product Development

In a feed forward approach, a controlling signal is transmitted from a source to a destination. This is more a sophisticated approach than a simple handoff from one person to another. This is more effective than operating in silos. The control signal is persistent.

Rules shape the next steps. Rules may be explicit. Exceptions to rules may be permitted. Rules are propagated to the next development effort.

A feed forward approach benefits from the involvement of proficient practitioners. In a feed forward approach, training precedes effort. Training precedes the development of a prototype.

A design thinking approach is consistent with the concept of a feed forward approach.

Actionable Items

Feedback and feed forward approaches provide advantages in system controllers and new product development.

Now that you understand how to differentiate feedback approaches from feed forward approaches, take some time to classify some of your most frequently used methodologies.

Where there is feedback control, you can investigate ways to reduce the lag time following decisions and actions. You can review how feedback from prototypes is evaluated and incorporated into your efforts.

Where there is feed forward control, you can determine how investments in mastering the fundamentals and deliberative practice can enable you to do things that are beyond your current ability. Embrace more diversity in how problems are framed and solved. Learn faster ways to correct mistakes.

Feedback and Feed Forward in the OODA Loop Sketch

In John Boyd’s OODA loop sketch of 1995, feedback is indicated between Decision and Observations. Feedback is indicated between Action and Observations. Feedback is implied between the Unfolding Interaction with Environment and Observations.

In new product development, it is common to present product prototypes to potential customers and gather feedback. There is a lag between research, developing an approach to the problem, decisions, and actions and the results from the unfolding interaction with those efforts.

There are three labeled instances of feed forward control. These feed forwards should not be oversimplified to the concept of a transfer in a sequential process. Observations continuously shape orientation. Orientation shapes Decision. Decision shapes Action. These enable individuals to:

  • Create and test new actions
  • Update the way they approach problems by employing “a variety of domains or across a variety of competing/independent channels of information.” (Boyd, The Essence of Winning and Losing, 1995)
  • Employ new repertoire

An Additional Approach

There are two  implicit guidance & control labels in the OODA Loop sketch. Implicit guidance & control combines the best attributes of feedback and feed forward approaches. These will be explored in another post.

Summary

Feedback, feed forward, and implicit guidance & control approaches provide advantages that include improved agility, better accuracy, and more effectiveness. These advantages contribute to better development experiences in new product development.

This post included extracts from “Developing Winners: Assimilating the Insights Encapsulated in Boyd’s OODA Loop” by OpLaunch founder, Mark A Hart.

Feedback and Feed Forward Approaches in New Product Development. This podcast is available on iTunes. Search for Development Experience.