Speed versus Quality

Bob came to see me.  “When the examiners come just say Plan, Do, Check, Act.”  “Um, What?”  “Oh and Alignment and Implementation.  That’s key.”  I rolled my eyes only after he left my office.  The Baldridge examiners were coming and I had a script to follow, apparently.

Thanks Cavegirl for the book recommendation Why Business People Speak Like Idiots:  A Bullfigher’s Guide.

Business books seem to come in two categories: weighty and academic, or fluffy and light.  The fluffy kind remind me of that soap filled with so much air that “it floats”.  No, floating is not a feature dammit; you’re selling a small amount of soap pretending it is a lot of soap.

Even though the Bullfighter’s guide belongs in the fluffy category, it has one saving grace.  It is also quite funny.  You don’t read business books for entertainment, as a general rule, but this one is an exception.  It was very satisfying to see pomposity skewered at every page turn. The takeaway message:  “Personality, humanity and candor are being sucked out of the workplace.”

But I digress.

Back to PDCA (Bob’s jargon du jour).  I am not slamming PDCA, first described by the original business genius W. Edwards Deming.  I am objecting to seeing it turned into a catchphrase meant to impress rather than to be implemented.

Today I learned about the OODA loop, which to me is a more useful concept than PDCA.  PDCA was always presented as “you have to do this.”  OODA, it turns out, is what we all do anyway, to survive.  The key is how quickly we do it.

I viewed a slideshow from Jeff Attwood.  The slideshow is about coding, but its principles can be applied to any endeavor.  The basic premise it that you are going to suck.  Embrace the suck, and rather than stew and stew until you achieve perfection, put it out there and get feedback.  “Speed of iteration beats quality of iteration.”  That is called Boyd’s law, or the OODA loop.

…to maintain an accurate or effective grasp of reality one must undergo a continuous cycle of interaction with the environment geared to assessing its constant changes… [Wikipedia]

OODA LoopThis cycle is

  • Observation: the collection of data
  • Orientation: the analysis and synthesis of data
  • Decision: the determination of a course of action
  • Action: the physical playing-out of decisions
  • Repeat

Whoever goes through the cycle fastest, wins, or perhaps even, survives.  The difference I see from PDCA is that with OODA planning is in step three, after data collection and analysis.  Cycle quickly.  Observe and act again.  This is not a business strategy, per se.  It refers to intelligent behavior in general.

Attwood says to put your crappy code out there.  What is better:  three months in development or three months of user feedback?  Feedback is most useful, obviously.  You’ll quickly discover where your product is broken.  Well, in theory this is true.  Unless your product kills someone, or it is the Obamacare web site.

Still, I have often said that “sometimes it is better to do something half-assed rather than not do it at all.”  Meaning that if you have to ration your time, half-assed at least gets the thing rolling.  This is in reaction to the saying I always heard when growing up “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.”  Sure, in that other universe of limitless time and energy and no competing demands.

The Management Maven’s post today resonated with me.  I hear you.

For more information about the OODA loop, a fellow WordPress blogger has an excellent article here.

5 comments on “Speed versus Quality

  1. Bernadine
    January 2, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    You raise a great point. For most of us, feedback from our customers is the whole point. Of course we all want our work to be well thought-out and well-presented, but it’s useless if it never makes it to its intended audience. Thanks for the useful insight.

    • Fiscalshare
      January 2, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback. There definitely needs to be a base level of “acceptable” that has to be achieved before a product is released. Jeff Attwood’s point is that it will never be perfect, so don’t use that as your standard. Hearing that made me go a bit easier on myself.

  2. Release
    January 5, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Interesting! I was not aware that OODA was a generalized concept. I met it in the context of personal security training, where our instructor was telling us that security is all about increasing the speed of our OODA loop by having strategies ready for things that can happen before they happen.

    So if you’re in a crowd at a concert, for instance, you should make a plan for what to do in a stampede (get to the wall, follow the wall to the exit) and in a fire (where’s the nearest exit, get there). Or you should have a general plan for what you would do in a situation where you need to engage a sudden hand-to-hand attack.

    He also said something interesting about having a big repertoire being a hindrance in certain situations. A lot of martial artists train a huge number of complicated techniques and combinations, but really you should only do a couple. Eight or ten techniques which you can do in your sleep means that you don’t have to spend time thinking and planning in a chaotic situation. That way, you respond quicker and you increase your odds of surviving.

    • Fiscalshare
      January 5, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. I was not aware of the concept of the OODA loop until very recently. It appears that it is being used more and more in business settings. It was Jeff Attwood’s presentation on Slideshare that really got me thinking. I also liked your comment about a big repertoire. This reminds me of Gordon Ramsay’s TV show when he tries to save failing restaurants. He says it is better to do 12 dishes brilliantly than 100 dishes less well. In a slightly related way, it has been shown that more sales will be made when a customer is given fewer, not more, choices. Lots to ponder.

      • Release
        January 5, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

        Brian Eno also makes this point. He says that frequently in creative processes, he will make arbitrary restrictions of his own choices. Use synths that only have very few sounds, not allow himself to use x or y. Those restrictions seem to generate creativity by limiting the search space.

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