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Leaders Leveraging the OODA Loop in a Scrum@Scale Environment

In the dynamic application of Scrum, where impediments emerge as significant roadblocks to a team's progress, the integration of the OODA Loop provides a strategic advantage, and the same strategic advantage applies in Scrum@Scale.  "OODA," standing for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act, originated as a decision-making model in military strategy but finds a compelling application in the Agile context. This blog post explores the synergy between the OODA Loop and Scrum, delving into how this powerful decision-making tool can be leveraged for effective impediment removal.

The term "impediment" holds significant weight.   Impediments—obstacles or hindrances that can slow down or even halt a team's progress—are inevitable in almost every project.  As we navigate through each phase of the OODA Loop, we'll uncover practical insights and actionable steps to integrate this approach into the Scrum practices of an organization.  


The OODA Loop: An Agile Decision-Making Tool

Developed by military strategist John Boyd, the OODA Loop is designed to provide a structured yet flexible way to make decisions in fast-paced, rapidly changing environments. Here’s a brief rundown:

  • Observe: Gather data to understand the current situation. In business, this could mean looking at performance metrics, team feedback, or market conditions.
  • Orient: View the data in context. Attempt to understand the "why" behind what you're seeing. For example, are the metrics changing due to a seasonal trend or is there a deeper issue at hand?
  • Decide:  Make an informed decision from the context you’ve gathered quickly. When weighing options, remember that decision delay can lessen the opportunities and outcome. 
  • Act: Once decided, execute the decision with minimum delay.  Then, as you observe the results of the decision, remember that the "Act" phase is followed by another "Observe" phase, making the OODA Loop a continuous cycle of improvement.


Utilizing the OODA Loop to remove impediments and maximize your Scrum application
In Scrum or Scrum@Scale frameworks, impediments are anything that keeps the teams from doing their work or coordinating with other teams effectively. A well-functioning Scrum team or group of teams identifies impediments via several channels.

1. Observation is the starting point to identify impediments

  • The Daily Scrum: In Scrum, the process of impediment identification begins with observation.  At a Daily Scrum, team members voice concerns or roadblocks they are facing and make visible any risks to the work being completed. 
  • The Sprint Retrospective: This is the event where the teams reflect on the past Sprint and discuss ways to improve or impediments they experienced.  In an agile organization, teams take the initiative to continuously improve their processes, resolve impediments whenever possible, and escalate issues they cannot solve themselves.  A team of teams might identify larger issues that slow the teams’ coordination and execution at a Scaled Retrospective. 
  • Metrics and Monitoring: Sprint metrics like burndown charts or velocity trends are a way to observe. A slowing velocity could indicate an impediment in the team's way. Similarly, an irregular burndown chart can often be the smoke that indicates the fire of a larger problem.  Leading metrics, like team happiness and lead or cycle times, could point to an impediment you can resolve before it gets out of hand.
  • The Scrum Master's Role:  As a leader who serves the teams and organization, the Scrum Master of a team (or the Scrum Master of a team of teams), is accountable for ensuring that impediments are proactively identified and removed.  They do this by acting themselves, by helping the team find the right way to remove them, or by escalating them to the personnel/team that can remove them. The Scrum Master plays a crucial role in this observation phase, not only during events but also during everyday conversations. Proactive observation is key to proactive impediment removal. Tools such as an ‘Impediment Backlog’ can be used to keep track of potential or ongoing roadblocks and make them visible to the team.


2. Orient to Contextualize the Impediments 

  • Process Mapping and Backlogs: The next step in the OODA loop is to 'Orient,' which means putting your observations into context. Scrum offers artifacts for this, such as the Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog, which can be cross-referenced to determine if impediments are causing delays in crucial value delivery. Techniques like value stream mapping or process mapping can also be useful here.
  • Retrospectives, Again: Sprint Retrospectives are a space where orientation can happen. Historical data and past Retrospectives can provide context for current impediments. For example, is the current impediment a one-off, or is it a recurring issue that has plagued the team for multiple Sprints. At the end of the retrospective, one idea for improvement is implemented in the following Sprint.
  • Systems Thinking and the Scrum Master: Orienting also involves looking at the issue from a systems perspective. Systems thinking emphasizes understanding the broader context where an impediment exists, focusing on root causes and the interdependencies within the system. The Scrum Master, whether supporting a team, or a group of teams,  is always looking at the system to understand how it impacts the team and the organization. By recognizing the interconnectedness of components, feedback loops, and leverage points, Scrum Masters can identify and address impediments more holistically.  They foster collaboration, apply lean techniques to help identify symptoms of larger systemic issues and ensure solutions target the core of the issue rather than just the observable problem. This approach ensures that impediment removal is sustainable, beneficial to the entire organizational system, and promotes a culture of shared responsibility.  


 3. Decision with Information and Choosing a Course of Action

  • Empowered Teams: One of Scrum's strengths is its emphasis on self-organizing teams. The key is to use available data to make informed decisions and to empower those with the best view of the problem to make those decisions. In the 'Decide' phase, the team collaboratively determines the best course of action for removing the impediment, often during a Daily or Retrospective.
  • Prioritization and Decision Frameworks: Impediments can range from simple, easily resolved issues, like needing additional information, to complex challenges that might require organizational changes. In some cases, an impediment might require more than one Sprint to fully resolve.  Agile frameworks often use prioritization techniques like MoSCoW (Must-haves, Should-haves, Could-haves, and Won't-haves), WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First), or a value-to-effort ratio to decide which impediments to tackle and in which order.


 4. Act: Execute and Reflect

  • Scrum Events and Acting: Once the decision is made, the 'Act' part of the loop comes into play. Immediate actions can be taken within the same Sprint if they are small enough, while larger, more systemic issues might be planned for future Sprints. Tasks for impediment removal often make their way into the Sprint Backlog, making them a formal part of the team’s commitment.
  • Documentation and Knowledge Bases: Documentation is crucial here. Whether it's updating the Sprint Retrospective with the steps taken or maintaining a knowledge base for future reference, documenting the action taken is vital. This ensures that the team can consistently learn from past experiences and that similar impediments can be addressed more swiftly in the future. Additionally, clear documentation fosters transparency and accountability, reinforcing the team's commitment to continuous improvement.
  • Inspect and Adapt: Finally, as the team acts, it goes back to 'Observing' the results of those actions in subsequent Sprints, entering another iteration of the OODA loop, embodying the Scrum principle of "Inspect and Adapt."



By providing a structured yet adaptable framework that aligns well with Scrum’s iterative model, the OODA Loop proves itself to be a valuable addition to any Agile team’s toolbox. From observation to informed decision-making to agile execution, it can enhance your team's ability to tackle impediments head-on, ensuring a continuous cycle of improvement in the fast-paced world of Scrum.