"He who can handle the quickest rate of change, survives," —John Boyd
Fighter pilots have to work fast and juggle lots of decisions when engaged in a dogfight - moving at high speeds, avoiding enemies while tracking them and maintaining contextual knowledge of objectives and terrain.
At Hugo, we find this analogy very relatable, as it takes into account a key concept that we spend a lot of time thinking about - the starting point for a startup is that behind the "fundamental and all-pervasive presence of uncertainty... action and decision become critically important."
The concept of a pilot being in his/her cockpit and having to worry about everything in the three dimensional space surrounding that cockpit visualizes how we feel when building Hugo - there is a lot going on, and it has a multi-dimensionality to it.
We have learned from John Boyd's OODA Loop, how to make decisions in extreme situations. Our view is that if we can reduce the lead-time between insight and action, we can stay close to our customers and become an unstoppable force.
OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. One of the critical aspects of this mental model is that it is intended to be applied as a continuous loop - you repeat again and again until your objective is accomplished. We love that!
Another key aspect of the loop is the focus on tempo, making this model even more applicable to startups. The more you can increase the tempo of your loop, the faster you achieve your objective and the more you disorient those around you as they continue to respond to outdated information.
Here, your goal is to understand your situation as accurately as possible.
For us, this starts with customer conversations. We make sure that every single customer conversation is captured, made available to the team and connected to our bug and feature tracking systems.
But information alone is not enough, our focus at this stage is all about getting access to information and then separating the relevant parts from the irrelevant parts. We make sure that as much foundational knowledge as possible is brought into the conversation - which customer requested this feature, what messaging was used on this customer, what is their use case, does it match our target audience, is this a ‘blocker’ or ‘nice to have’?
The observation stage is vital to the decision-making process because it is where you build a map of your environment.
This is where the fun begins.
Often skipped due to it's vagueness, the Orient stage is where you turn your observations into fundamental truths - stripping out any biases that you or your company may have to ensure that what you respond to in the next phase matches reality as closely as possible.
As Boyd says, "Orientation isn't just a state you're in, it's a process. You are always orienting". This really captures the fluid nature of our world. If you accept that information is always changing, you can then view orientation as a continuous task.
At Hugo, I am one of the worst offenders when it comes to being biased or observing information through a tinted lense. This is when my team and our culture really step in to poke and prod until we think we have the same set of facts and are trying to solve the same set of problems. It's messy, but it works!
On the process side, everything that comes up from customer conversations is mapped to our Sprint Candidates board in Trello. This means that everyone can see the rationale behind upcoming work. We go through these candidates in a weekly check in meeting, where the forum is set for people to raise different points of view and to suggest new ways of solving problems.
Weekly meetings however, are where you see Hugo function as an idea meritocracy - it doesn't matter what your role is, anyone can provide input or pushback on a decision. Although it's tough, we are better individuals and make better decisions as a company because of these ideals.
Orientation for Hugo is all about being an idea meritocracy - it is a natural mechanism for stripping out any biases at the individual level that could lead to the wrong decisions being made. Hugo perfectly matches Boyd’s metaphor of a snowmobile. A snowmobile is a combination of the caterpillar treads of a tank, skis, the outboard motor of a boat and the handlebars of a bike. We have brought many disciplines together to solve a problem in a new way for our customers.
Involving the Hugo team is a critical part of our decision-making process too. Here we are able to spot the flaws in our logic before decisions are made.
We have written in the past about how the constraints of a startup often make it hard to take the time to investigate properly. What we do here is to see if we can poke holes in our decisions as a team. What mitigates against this vacuum is that we have all of our customer conversations indexed for these meetings. At a minimum we are always aware of what we're optimizing for and often that means acknowledging that our solution is flawed too.
Moving to the Decision-stage as quickly as possible helps smooth out those bumps for customers by maintaining a fast tempo, and to identify problems quickly rather than taking forever to make a decision.
Decisiveness is a big part of the Hugo culture - we know that standing still is worse than moving forward, even if we're slightly off target.
We think of the Act stage more as the test stage. We implement as quickly as possible, so that we can generate new information and run the loop again - it's that simple.
We implement as quickly as possible so that we can generate new information and run the loop again - it's that simple.
We implement as quickly as possible, so that we can generate new information and run the loop again - it's that simple.
In addition to process, we also leverage tools like LaunchDarkly to limit the exposure of our experiments. This means we can get feedback from a small number of customers quickly, without risking hurting the experience for all of our users incase we were wrong.
The OODA Loop has worked for us because it is a mental model that encompasses speed, comfort with uncertainty, embracing unpredictability and being rigorous with testing.
It informs our attitude externally and our culture internally, and it's how we think about our product too - the faster that our customers can get insights back to the team, the faster they can run through their OODA Loop, even if they don't call it that.
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