OODA Loop at the Gemba:

Boyd

In today’s post, I am looking at OODA Loop, the brainchild of Col. John Boyd, a highly influential American military strategist. OODA is an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Boyd did not write any book detailing his ideas. However, he did write several papers and also gave lectures detailing his ideas. Boyd was a fighter pilot with the US Air Force. He was famously dubbed as the “40-second Boyd.” Legend goes that he could defeat any pilot who took him on in less than 40 seconds.

Francis Osinga, in his excellent book “Science, Strategy and War”, explained the OODA loop as:

OODA stands for observation, orientation, decision, action. Explained in brief, observation is sensing yourself and the world around you. The second element, orientation, is the complex set of filters of genetic heritage, cultural predispositions, personal experience, and knowledge. The third is decision, a review of alternative courses of action and the selection of the preferred course as a hypothesis to be tested. The final element is action, the testing of the decision selected by implementation.  The notion of the loop, the constant repetition of the OODA cycle, is the essential connection that is repeated again and again.  Put simply, Boyd advances the idea that success in war, conflict, competition even survival hinges upon the quality and tempo of the cognitive processes of leaders and their organizations.

The OODA loop is generally shown as the schematic below:

Simple OODA

John Boyd’s final version of the OODA loop is given below:

1920px-OODA.Boyd.svg

From Osinga:

(Boyd) was the first to observe that the common underlying mechanism involved tactics that distort the enemy’s perception of time. He identified a general category of activities to achieve this distortion, the ability to change the situation faster than the opponent could comprehend, which he called “operating inside the Observation– Orientation–Decision–Action (OODA) loop.”

Boyd wonderfully explains the idea of getting inside the opponent’s OODA loop in his paper, “Destruction and Creation.”

Destruction and Creation:

Boyd starts with explaining that we have conceptual models of the external world, the reality. We interact with reality, and we update this model based on our continuous interaction. He stated:

To comprehend and cope with our environment we develop mental patterns or concepts of meaning. The purpose of this paper is to sketch out how we destroy and create these patterns to permit us to both shape and be shaped by a changing environment. In this sense, the discussion also literally shows why we cannot avoid this kind of activity if we intend to survive on our own terms. The activity is dialectic in nature generating both disorder and order that emerges as a changing and expanding universe of mental concepts matched to a changing and expanding universe of observed reality.

Boyd said that we are in a continuous struggle to remove or overcome physical and social environmental obstacles. This means that we have to take actions and decisions on an ongoing basis for our survival. We have to keep modifying our internal representation of reality based on new data. He called this destruction and creation, which he further detailed as analysis and synthesis. We have to use a reductive process of taking things apart, and assembling things together to gather meaning.

There are two ways in which we can develop and manipulate mental concepts to represent observed reality: We can start from a comprehensive whole and break it down to its particulars or we can start with the particulars and build towards a comprehensive whole.

Readers of this blog might see that the ideas of analysis and synthesis are very important in Systems Thinking. Boyd was an avid reader and he was able to see similar ideas in various fields and bring them all together. His sources of inspiration varied from Sun Tzu, Toyota to Kurt Godel.

Boyd continued that the acts of analysis and synthesis require verification to ensure that the newly created mental representation is appropriate.

Recalling that we use concepts or mental patterns to represent reality, it follows that the unstructuring and restructuring just shown reveals a way of changing our perception of reality. Naturally, such a notion implies that the emerging pattern of ideas and interactions must be internally consistent and match-up with reality… Over and over again this cycle of Destruction and Creation is repeated until we demonstrate internal consistency and match-up with reality.

Boyd brilliantly brings in the ideas of the great logician, mathematician, and analytic philosopher Kurt Godel. Godel in 1931 shook the world of mathematics and logic with his two phenomenal theorems – the Incompleteness Theorems. He proved that in any formal systems there will always be statements that cannot be proven within the logical structures of the system, and that any formal system cannot demonstrate its own consistency. Godel’s ideas were so powerful that the great polymath von Neumann is said to have remarked, “it’s all over!”

Boyd used ideas from Godel, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and entropy to further explain his OODA loop. Boyd explained Godel’s ideas as:

“You cannot use a system’s own workings to determine if a system is consistent or not…One cannot determine the character and nature of a system within itself. Moreover, attempts to do will lead to confusion and disorder.”

This was the great insight that Boyd had. One has to continuously stay in touch with his environment to have a consistent internal representation of reality. If the link to the environment is cut off, then the internal representation gets faulty, and the continuous destruction and creation of the internal representation is then based on faulty references.

“If I have an adversary out there, what I want to do is have the adversary fold back inside of himself where he cannot really consult the external environment he has to deal with, if I can do this then I can drive him to confusion and disorder, and bring him into paralysis.”

Boyd stated:

According to Gödel we cannot— in general—determine the consistency, hence the character or nature, of an abstract system within itself. According to Heisenberg and the Second Law of Thermodynamics any attempt to do so in the real world will expose uncertainty and generate disorder. Taken together, these three notions support the idea that any inward-oriented and continued effort to improve the match-up of concept with observed reality will only increase the degree of mismatch. Naturally, in this environment, uncertainty and disorder will increase as previously indicated by the Heisenberg Indeterminacy Principle and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, respectively. Put another way, we can expect unexplained and disturbing ambiguities, uncertainties, anomalies, or apparent inconsistencies to emerge more and more often. Furthermore, unless some kind of relief is available, we can expect confusion to increase until disorder approaches chaos— death.

Orient – the Most Important Step:

Orient

In the OODA loop, the most important step in OODA is the second O – Orient. This is the step about our mental models and internal representation of the external world. This is where all the schema reside.

Boyd wrote:

The second O, orientation—as the repository of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition, and previous experiences—is the most important part of the O-O-D-A loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.

From Osinga:

Orientation is the schwerpunkt (center of gravity). It shapes the way we interact with the environment.

In this sense, Orientation shapes the character of present observations-orientation- decision-action loops – while these present loops shape the character of future orientation.

Chet Richards, friend of Boyd, writes about orientation:

Orientation, whether we want it to or not, exerts a strong control over what we observe. To a great extent, a person hears, as Paul Simon wrote in “The Boxer,” what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. This tendency to confirm what we already believe is not just sloppy thinking but is built into our brains (Molenberghs, Halász, Mattingley, Vanman. and Cunnington, 2012) … Strategists call the tendency to observe data that confirm our current orientations “incestuous amplification”.

Final Words:

OODA loop is a versatile framework to learn and understand. We already use the concept unconsciously. The knowledge about the OODA loop helps us prepare to face uncertainty in the everchanging environment. You can also see in today’s world that intentional misinformation can heavily disorient people and distort reality.

We should always stay close to the source, the gemba, to gather our data. We should keep updating our mental models, and not rely on old mental models. We should not try to find only data that corroborates our hypotheses. We should continuously update/improve our orientation. We should start learning from varying fields.

We should allow local autonomy in our organization. This allows for better adaptation since they are close to the source. The idea of not being able to adapt with a fast changing environment can also be explained by Murray Gell-Mann’s maladaptive schemata. From Osinga:

One of the most common reasons for the existence of maladaptive schemata is that they were once adaptive, but under conditions that no longer prevail. The environment has changed at a faster rate than the evolutionary process can accommodate.

In case you missed it, my last post was AQL/RQL/LTPD/OC Curve/Reliability and Confidence:

AQL/RQL/LTPD/OC Curve/Reliability and Confidence:

Binomial2

It has been a while since I have posted about statistics. In today’s post, I am sharing a spreadsheet that generates an OC Curve based on your sample size and the number of rejects. I get asked a lot about a way to calculate sample sizes based on reliability and confidence levels. I have written several posts before. Check this post and this post for additional details.

The spreadsheet is hopefully straightforward to use. The user has to enter data in the required yellow cells.

Binomial1

A good rule of thumb is to use 95% confidence level, which also corresponds to 0.05 alpha. The spreadsheet will plot two curves. One is the standard OC curve, and the other is an inverse OC curve. The inverse OC curve has the probability of rejection on the Y-axis and % Conforming on the X-axis. These corresponds to Confidence level and Reliability respectively.

Binomial2

I will discuss the OC curve and how we can get a statement that corresponds to a Reliability/Confidence level from the OC curve.

The OC Curve is a plot between % Nonconforming, and Probability of Acceptance. Lower the % Nonconforming, the higher the Probability of Acceptance. The probability can be calculated using Binomial, Hypergeometric or Poisson distributions. The OC Curve shown is for n = 59 with 0 rejects calculated using Binomial Distribution.

Binomial3

The Producer’s risk is the risk of good product getting rejected. The Acceptance Quality Limit (AQL) is generally defined as the percent defectives that the plan will accept 95% of the time (in the long run). Lots that are at or better than the AQL will be accepted 95% of the time (in the long run). If the lot fails, we can say with 95% confidence that the lot quality level is worse than the AQL. Likewise, we can say that a lot at the AQL that is acceptable has a 5% chance of being rejected. In the example, the AQL is 0.09%.

Binomial4

The Consumer’s risk, on the other hand, is the risk of accepting bad product. The Lot Tolerance Percent Defective (LTPD) is generally defined as percent defective that the plan will reject 90% of the time (in the long run). We can say that a lot at or worse than the LTPD will be rejected 90% of the time (in the long run). If the lot passes, we can say with 90% confidence that the lot quality is better than the LTPD (% nonconforming is less than the LTPD value). We could also say that a lot at the LTPD that is defective has a 10% chance of being accepted.

The vertical axis (Y-axis) of the OC Curve goes from 0% to 100% Probability of Acceptance. Alternatively, we can say that the Y-axis corresponds to 100% to 0% Probability of Rejection. Let’s call this Confidence.

The horizontal axis (X-axis) of the OC Curve goes from 0% to 100% for % Nonconforming. Alternatively, we can say that the X-axis corresponds to 100% to 0% for % Conforming. Let’s call this Reliability.

Binomial5

We can easily invert the Y-axis so that it aligns with a 0 to 100% confidence level. In addition, we can also invert the X-axis so that it aligns with a 0 to 100% reliability level. This is shown below.

Binomial6

What we can see is that, for a given sample size and defects, the more reliability we try to claim, the less confidence we can assume. For example, in the extreme case, 100% reliability lines up with 0% confidence.

I welcome the reader to play around with the spreadsheet. I am very much interested in your feedback and questions. The spreadsheet is available here.

In case you missed it, my last post was Nature of Order for Conceptual Models:

My Recent Tweets (10/17/2019):

tweets

My recent tweets ranging from Cybernetics to John Boyd/OODA Loop to Kaizen.

 

Nature of Order for Conceptual Models:

251

I have recently been reading upon the renowned British-American architect and design theorist, Christopher Alexander.

Alexander is known for the idea of pattern languages. A pattern is a collection of a known problem discussed with a solution for the problem. As Alexander explains it:

Now, a pattern is an old idea. The new idea in the book was to organize implicit knowledge about how people solve recurring problems when they go about building things.

For example, if you are building a house you need to go from outside to inside and there are centuries of experiments on how to do this in a “just so” way. Sometimes the transition is marked not by just a door but by a change in elevation (steps, large, small, straight, or curved), or a shaded path, or through a court yard.

We wrote up this knowledge in the form of a pattern about entrance transitions.

I was very much inspired by what Alexander was pointing at. Alexander’s view is that a construction should always promote social interactions and thus life. He would ask the question, which building has more life? In a city or a village or even in your house, where do you see life? Is there a particular room that you really love in your house? Why do you like that room? Alexander was after this question. He and his team came up with 253 patterns that they observed by studying the world around them. They noticed that certain buildings and locations had more “life” than others. People were engaged in more interactions and they were enjoying being with one another. These buildings and locations add to the wholeness of the surrounding and also to the people themselves. They promote the nature of order.

For example, one of the patterns Alexander’s team came up with was “SMALL PUBLIC SQUARES” (Alexander’s team used capital letters to denote a pattern.) This pattern provides guidelines for the width of the public squares to less than 70 feet.

A town needs public squares; they are the largest, most public rooms, that the town has. But when they are too large, they look and feel deserted.

It is natural that every public street will swell out at those important nodes where there is the most activity. And it is only these widened, swollen, public squares which can accommodate the public gatherings, small crowds, festivities, bonfires, carnivals, speeches, dancing, shouting, mourning, which must have their place in the life of the town.

But for some reason there is a temptation to make these public squares too large. Time and again in modern cities, architects and planners build plazas that are too large. They look good on drawings; but in real life they end up desolate and dead.

Our observations suggest strongly that open places intended as public squares should be very small. As a general rule, we have found that they work best when they have a diameter of about 6o feet – -at this diameter people often go to them, they become favorite places, and people feel comfortable there. When the diameter gets above 70 feet, the squares begin to seem deserted and unpleasant.

They reasoned that a person’s face is still recognizable at 70 feet, and the voice can also be heard at this distance. In other words, any distance further than 70 feet reduces interactions, and thus does not promote “life”.

Conceptual Models:

I am not an architect by trade or by passion. However, I noticed that the ideas that Alexander was talking about has much wider use. His ideas were behind the wiki movement.

We generally construct conceptual models to explain how things work in our mind. For example, when we look at a car, we may construct a conceptual model in our mind to explain how the car works. It could be as simple as – put gasoline, and the engine runs making the car move. When we talk about problem solving and problem structuring, we are in many regards constructing a conceptual model in our mind.

Alexander stated:

One of the things we looked for was a profound impact on human life. We were able to judge patterns, and tried to judge them, according to the extent that when present in the environment we were confident that they really do make people more whole in themselves.

The allegory of “constructing a model” works well with Alexander’s ideas. Alexander would propose that one should not construct a building that does not add to the existing surroundings. Furthermore, it should add to the wholeness, and it should promote life via social interactions. I am sometimes guilty of coming to a problem with a preconceived bias and notion. When I am informed of a problem, I may construct the problem statement immediately. I come to the source with the problem model already constructed.  This hinders “life” and promotes “unwholeness”, as Alexander would say.

Similar to Marie Kondo’s question of “Does it spark joy?”, Alexander asks the question, “Does it promote life?” and “Does it add to the wholeness?”

Alexander defines wholeness as “the source of coherence in any part of the world.”

When you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent and more whole; and the thing which you make take its place in the web of nature as you make it.

When we are constructing a problem model, we should not come with the box already prepared. Instead, we should construct the box around the problem as we find it at the source, the gemba. We often talk about lean problems and six sigma problems. This is not the correct approach. We should construct the box around the problem making sure to match the conceptual surroundings. The model should add to the wholeness. This in my mind is regarding correspondence and coherence. The problem model should correspond to the reality, and should promote coherence to other ideas and models that we have in our epistemological toolbox. In other words, the problem model should make sense.

Each pattern is connected to certain larger patterns which come above it in the language; and to certain smaller patterns which come below it in the language.

No pattern is an island… Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns.

A thing is whole according to how free it is of inner contradictions. When it is at war with itself, and gives rise to forces which act to tear it down, it is unwhole.

In this post, we will look at one additional pattern that Alexander’s team came up with called “DIFFERENT CHAIRS” to discuss this further. This patterns adds further clarity to the multidimensional and multireality nature of complex problems.

People are different sizes; they sit in different ways. And yet there is a tendency in modern times to make all chairs alike. Never furnish any place with chairs that are identically the same. Choose a variety of different chairs, some big, some small, some softer than others, some rockers, some very old, some new, with arms, without arms, some wicker, some wood, some cloth.

In my mind, this alludes to the multiple perspectives that we should consider. Problem structuring is extremely difficult (and sometimes not possible) for complex problems mainly because of the numerous connected parts, numerous perspectives and due to the fact that there are portions of a complex phenomenon that we are not able to completely grasp. We should always welcome multiple perspectives. The great American Systems Thinker, Russell Ackoff said:

Effective research is not disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or multidisciplinary; it is transdisciplinary.

In our case, we can paraphrase this and say that effective construction of a conceptual model is transdisciplinary.

The same idea of conceptual model is applicable in Systems Thinking. A “system” is also a conceptual model. This is very well articulated by Weber Ulrich:

‘Systems’ are essentially conceptual constructs rather than real-world entities. Systems concepts and other constructs help us describe and understand the complex realities of realworld situations, including natural, technical, social, psychological or any other aspects that might potentially or actually be relevant at any one time. 

Alexander proposed an 8-step approach for promoting “wholeness”. As we look at the steps, we can see that it requires deep questioning and thinking. How can we use this approach to promote constructing better conceptual models?

  1. At every step of the process—whether conceiving, designing, making, maintaining, or repairing—we must always be concerned with the whole within which we are making anything. We look at this wholeness, absorb it, try to feel its deep structure.
  2. We ask which kind of thing we can do next that will do the most to give this wholeness the most positive increase of life.
  3. As we ask this question, we necessarily direct ourselves to centers, the units of energy within the whole, and ask which one center could be created (or extended or intensified or even pruned) that will most increase the life of the whole.
  4. As we work to enhance this new living center, we do it in such a way as also to create or intensify (by the same action) the life of some larger center.
  5. Simultaneously we also make at least one center of the same size (next to the one we are concentrating on), and one or more smaller centers— increasing their life too.
  6. We check to see if what we have done has truly increased the life and feeling of the whole. If the feeling of the whole has not been deepened by the step we have just taken, we wipe it out. Otherwise we go on.
  7. We then repeat the entire process, starting at step 1 again, with the newly modified whole.
  8. We stop altogether when there is no further step we can take that intensifies the feeling of the whole.

Final Words:

The title of this post is adopted from the title of a Christopher Alexander book, “The Nature of Order”. I welcome the readers to take upon reading and learning his wonderful works. I will finish with the complete description of pattern 252, DIFFERENT CHAIRS:

251 - Diff Chairs

People are different sizes; they sit in different ways. And yet there is a tendency in modern times to make all chairs alike.

Of course, this tendency to make all chairs alike is fueled by the demands of prefabrication and the supposed economies of scale. Designers have for years been creating “perfect chairs” – chairs that can be manufactured cheaply in mass. These chairs are made to be comfortable for the average person. And the institutions that buy chairs have been persuaded that buying these chairs in bulk meets all their needs.

But what it means is that some people are chronically uncomfortable; and the variety of moods among people sitting gets entirely stifled.

Obviously, the “average chair” is good for some, but not for everyone. Short and tall people are likely to be uncomfortable. And although situations are roughly uniform – in a restaurant everyone is eating, in an office everyone is working at a table – even so, there are important distinctions: people sitting for different lengths of time; people sitting back and musing; people sitting aggressively forward in a hot discussion; people sitting formally, waiting for a few minutes. If the chairs are all the same, these differences are repressed, and some people are uncomfortable.

What is less obvious, and yet perhaps most important of all, is this: we project our moods and personalities into the chairs we sit in. In one mood a big fat chair is just right; in another mood, a rocking chair; for another, a stiff upright; and yet again, a stool or sofa. And, of course, it isn’t only that we like to switch according to our mood; one of them is our favorite chair, the one that makes us most secure and comfortable; and that again is different for each person. A setting that is full of chairs, all slightly different, immediately creates an atmosphere which supports rich experience; a setting which contains chairs that are all alike puts a subtle straight jacket on experience.

Therefore:

Never furnish any place with chairs that are identically the same. Choose a variety of different chairs, some big, some small, some softer than others, some rockers, some very old, some new, with arms, without arms, some wicker, some wood, some cloth.

In case you missed it, my last post was UX at the Gemba:

UX at the Gemba:

joy

In today’s post I am looking at UX (User Experience) at the gemba. Generally, usability (how the end user can effectively and efficiently complete the tasks needed) and UX (the meaningful and relevant experience the user has from effectively and efficiently completing the tasks needed) are two terms that are associated with product design. I would like to see how this applies at the gemba.

ISO 9241 (Ergonomics of human-system interaction) defines Usability as – a measure of the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users can achieve specified goals in a particular environment.

While UX is defined by ISO 9241 as – a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service.

We should use the same ideas at the gemba for the operators. How easy is the operation in making a product? How is the work station laid out? How is the process flow? At the gemba we can view Usability as – the operator making a good product with ease, and UX can be viewed as – the operator enjoying making the good product.

Some of the terms that are associated with usability are:

  • Task oriented – objective values
  • Functional – works as intended
  • Reliable – always works as intended
  • Usable – can be used with without difficulty

Similarly, some of the terms associated with UX are:

  • Experience oriented – subjective values
  • Convenient – easy to work with and does not give grief
  • Pleasurable – an enjoyable experience
  • Meaningful – adds to personal value and significance

At the Gemba:

Marie Kondo, the great Japanese organizing consultant is famous for her question – “does it spark joy?” To me, this is a great UX question. Does your operation/process spark joy?

When you are at the gemba, observe an operation. Take a note of how many times the operator takes a tool and put it down, only to take it again for another step. Take a note of how many times the operator has to look around and reach for a tool. Take a note on whether the operator is in his or her ‘zone’. Or is he or she getting frustrated with the steps?

As Lean leaders/engineers, we owe it to our team to design a good process. This was the theme of Industrial Engineering pioneered by Taylor, Gilbreth et al. At best, this approach falls right under usability. My challenge to my readers is to consider UX for the operators. We should minimize the cognitive load on the operators. The complexity of an operation is generally a constant. A good operation absorbs this complexity through easy to manufacture design, good fixtures, poke yoke, well laid out work stations etc. This way, the operator does not have to absorb the complexity, leading to a good UX model. This idea is explained here.

One of the ideas in UX is visibility. This aligns very well with Lean. This idea is about being able to know the state of a system just by looking. Is it working properly? Does it say what is going on? Are the signals easy to interpret? Are the correct parts visible and are they conveying the correct message? By seeing that something is wrong, we can stop to correct the problem.

We should design the process for the operator and not for the product. This means that we should work with the involved operators from the start, making improvements as we go along. We should be open to their input and ideas. The UX approach requires empathy. The UX view is a big picture holistic view. Making an operation consistent, intuitive and easy for an entry level person can actually make the operation easier for the most experienced person.

Some of the UX based questions you can ask yourself (along with the ones already posed in this post) are:

  • How do people learn to assemble our products?
  • What makes a step easy or hard to remember?
  • Why do people make errors?
  • Are our products easy to manufacture, again and again?
  • Are problems easy to see?
  • Do we have the right tools? Do the tools fit what they are used for?
  • Are they more likely to assemble the product the wrong way? Is it more easier to assemble the right way?
  • Is our product easy to inspect? Do we rely on 100% visual inspection to catch problems?
  • Would you do the operation? What would make it easy for you?
  • Above all, Does it spark joy?

Final Words:

I will finish with the great Don Norman’s words on UX from his wonderful book, “The Design of Everyday Things.” Don Norman is a pioneer of UX.

It is relatively easy to design things that work smoothly and harmoniously as long as things go right. But as soon as there is a problem or a misunderstanding, the problems arise. This is where good design is essential. Designers need to focus their attention on the cases where things go wrong, not just on when things work as planned. Actually, this is where the most satisfaction can arise: when something goes wrong but the machine highlights the problems, then the person understands the issue, takes the proper actions, and the problem is solved. When this happens smoothly, the collaboration of person and device feels wonderful.

The above passage has underpinnings of Jidoka where the idea is to stop the line or the machine when a problem occurs. The same idea is important in UX as well. Norman continues:

Human-centered design is a design philosophy. It means starting with a good understanding of people and the needs that the design is intended to meet. This understanding comes about primarily through observation, for people themselves are often unaware of their true needs, even unaware of the difficulties they are encountering.

My take on this passage again is Lean-oriented. Toyota teaches us to go to gemba to grasp the facts. Going to gemba and observing, identifying waste and solving problems is an excellent way to develop oneself.

Great designers produce pleasurable experiences. Experience: note the word. Engineers tend not to like it; it is too subjective. But when I ask them about their favorite automobile or test equipment, they will smile delightedly as they discuss the fit and finish, the sensation of power during acceleration, their ease of control while shifting or steering, or the wonderful feel of the knobs and switches on the instrument. Those are experiences.

Experience is critical, for it determines how fondly people remember their interactions. Was the overall experience positive, or was it frustrating and confusing? When our home technology behaves in an uninterpretable fashion we can become confused, frustrated, and even angry—all strong negative emotions. When there is understanding it can lead to a feeling of control, of mastery, and of satisfaction or even pride—all strong positive emotions. Cognition and emotion are tightly intertwined, which means that the designers must design with both in mind.

Norman’s above passage to me captures the essence of UX at the gemba. Our processes must be user friendly, and should always yield positive experiences for the operators.

My post has barely covered the basics of UX. I encourage the reader to research further on this topic. Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Wittgenstein’s Ladder at the Gemba:

Nurikabe strikes again…

Haven’t written for a while. Now having writer’s block. Reminds me of Nurikabe yokai. Yōkai are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore. Per Wiki – Nurikabe is said to manifest as an invisible wall impeding travelers; quite tall to prevent people from climbing over it, and wide enough to dampen any attempts to go around it.

I have several posts pending. Just need to write. 😐

Wittgenstein’s Ladder at the Gemba:

ladder

In today’s post, I am looking at Wittgenstein’s ladder at the gemba. Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the most profound philosophers of the 20th century. His first book was Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in which he came up with the picture theory of language. He defined how language and reality relate to each other, and how limits of language corresponded to limits of knowledge to some extent.

Loosely put, the Tractatus explained how language can be used to directly depict reality. Language should mirror exactly the arrangement of objects, and their relationships to each other in the real world. Wittgenstein proposed that what can be said about the world makes sense only if there is a correspondence to the real world out there. Everything else is nonsense. This idea puts limits to how we use language. The real use of language is to describe reality. Anthony Quinton, the late British philosopher, explained the main concepts of Tractatus as:

Tractatus is a theory of declarative sentences, a theory of what can be put in a proposition and what cannot. Anything that can be said can be said clearly or not at all.

The world is all that is the case. The state of affairs around us, the simple facts, are the world for us. Wittgenstein is talking about what we can and cannot sensibly  talk about.

The world consists of facts. Facts are arrangement of objects. Objects must be simple. These ideas appear as dogmatic assertions. Language has to have a definite sense and it can have a definite sense only if it is of a certain structure. And therefore the world must be of that certain structure in order to be capable of being represented in the language.

One of the metaphors, Wittgenstein used in the Tractatus is the idea of a ladder. This has come to be known as “Wittgenstein’s Ladder.”

Wittgenstein said:

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.   

This is a fascinating idea because Wittgenstein is cautioning against doctrines as the eternal rules to abide by. If the concepts that Wittgenstein explained in the Tractatus are true, then the assertion of his ideas being true would contradict the ideas themselves. Wittgenstein uses the metaphor of a ladder to have the reader climb to a higher level of understanding and then asks the reader to kick the ladder away.

Let’s see how Wittgenstein’s ladder relates to Lean/Toyota Production System. Taiichi Ohno developed TPS as a production system through decades of trial and error methods. The solutions Ohno came up with were specific to the problems Toyota had at that time. We should learn about these different tools and understand the problems they are trying to solve. We should not exactly copy the tools that Toyota uses just because Toyota is using them. Even within Toyota, each plant is unique and doesn’t use a specific set of tools. As one Toyota veteran put it, Toyota Production System and Toyota’s Production System are different. What each plant does is unique and based on the complexity of problems it has.

There are several doctrines that are set forth by the experts. Let’s look at two examples – zero inventories and one-piece flow. Taiichi Ohno himself tried to correct these two misrepresentations/misunderstandings.

Ohno called the Zero Inventory idea nonsense:

To be sure, if we completely eliminate inventories, we will have shortages of goods and other problems. In fact, reducing inventories to zero is nonsense.

The goal of Toyota Production System is to level the flows of production and goods… In every plant and retail outlet, we strive to have the needed goods arrive in the needed quantities in the needed time. In no way is the Toyota Production System a zero-inventory system.

Similarly, Ohno also cautioned about implementing one-piece flow without thinking and looking at your production system.

The essence of Toyota Production System is found in the saying, “Can we realistically reduce one more?” and then after that “one more?”

The removal of parts or operators is about identifying waste and ways to improve human capital through problem solving. The idea is to develop people and not think only about developing parts. Kaizen is a philosophy of personal improvement (improving oneself) through process improvements. Kaizen begets more kaizen.

Final Words:

The problem with doctrines is that we build a religion out of them. 

Ask yourself – What is the problem that I am trying to solve? Toyota’s solutions work for Toyota’s problems. We should climb the TPS/Lean ladder (understand the ideas) and then throw away the ladder of doctrines. We should solve our problems using solutions that match our problems.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Drawing at the Gemba:

Drawing at the Gemba:

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In today’s post, I am writing about Genchi Genbutsu and drawing. “Genchi Genbutsu” is an important concept in Lean/Toyota Production System. It can be translated as going to the actual place (gemba) to see, and grasp the situation. There are different translations to this such as “Boots on the ground” and “Go and See”.

I have been recently researching on how artists “see” things. When an arts teacher trains students, the most important lesson the teacher can teach is to not think of the object when you draw. For example, if you are not a natural artist, when you draw a face, you will draw what “you” think an eye looks like in your mind. The same for the nose, lips etc. You are not drawing what you are seeing, instead you are drawing what you think they look like in your mind, even though the subject is right in front of you. Your brain acts as a blinder and blocks what you see and instead points you towards your preconceived notion of the different features of the face. Thus, the final product looks like a bunch of circles, slanted lines and curves, which does not resemble a real face at all.

I think there is an important lesson for a lean leader in this. When we go to the gemba, if we come with preconceived notions, we will miss what is right in front of us. If we go to gemba already armed with the wrong answer, we will not ask the right questions. We should go to the gemba with a fresh mind, and with limited preconceived notions. West Churchman, the great American philosopher and Systems Thinker said, “A systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another.

When we talk about truth and reality in philosophy, there is an important principle called the Correspondence principle. Loosely put, the Correspondence principle indicates that what we construct in our mind should correspond to what is outside in the real world. We cannot do this effectively, if we hinder the process of construction and fill it with our preconceived notions. This is like an amateur artist drawing a face with his version of eyes, nose, lips etc., and not the actual face.

In TPS, we learn that making things is about making (developing) people. I have seen developing people described as “human capital development.” In order to develop people, Toyota created a production system where problems are forced to surface so that the operators get a chance to learn how to solve problems. A good tool that explains this well is Jidoka or autonomation. Jidoka requires the operation to stop when problems occur. Additionally, Jidoka also requires the operator to stop when the work is done. Nampachi Hayashi, a Toyota veteran, describes this as:

What are the necessary conditions for good products?

Stop when problems occur – build good quality in each process, and stop when the work is done – increase operator’s added-value and productivity.

Kaizen does not progress when there is no need for kaizen.

To add to this, Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, said, “When we study the way we work, there is an endless cycle of improvement. We cannot do this, if we do not go to gemba with a fresh mind and eyes. We should train our brain to not interfere with this process. As Churchman said, we should try to see the operation through the eyes of the operator.

Toyota views problem solving as the most important skill for human capital. Then, our job as the lean leaders is to create conditions for identifying problems as they occur, and develop the operators to see them and solve them on their own. In this regard Hayashi says that managers should go and see gemba, and for each emerging problem, they should give specific challenge and make sure to follow up.

Final words:

Inetrestingly, there is another closely sounding phrase in Japanese for “Genchi Genbutsu”. It is “Genchi Kenbutsu”. Genchi Kenbutsu means “Go and Sightsee.”

I will finish with an interesting anecdote from Betty Edwards wonderful book, “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” In the book she talked about getting frustrated with her students. She had given her students the assignment to copy a Pablo Picasso work. The outcomes were not as good as she expected. So, in a flash of genius, she hung the painting upside down, and asked the students to copy. The results were very surprising. The copies of the upside-down painting were far better than the copies of the right-side-up painting. She was quite puzzled by this. She later realized that keeping the painting upside down, changed how the students “saw.” Their brains stopped interfering with how they saw the subject, and they were able to draw much better. Edwards writes:

What prevents a person from seeing things clearly enough to draw them?

The left hemisphere has no patience with this detailed perception and says, in effect, “It’s a chair, I tell you. That’s enough to know. In fact, don’t bother to look at it, because I’ve got a ready-made symbol for you. Here it is; add a few details if you want, but don’t bother me with this looking business.”

And where do the symbols come from? From the years of childhood drawing during which every person develops a system of symbols. The symbol system becomes embedded in the memory, and the symbols are ready to be called out, just as you called them out to draw your childhood landscape.

The symbols are also ready to be called out when you draw a face, for example. The efficient left brain says, “Oh yes, eyes. Here’s a symbol for eyes, the one you’ve always used. And a nose? Yes, here’s the way to do it.” Mouth? Hair? Eyelashes? There’s a symbol for each. There are also symbols for chairs, tables, and hands.

To sum up, adult students beginning in art generally do not really see what is in front of their eyes—that is, they do not perceive in the special way required for drawing. They take note of what’s there, and quickly translate the perception into words and symbols mainly based on the symbol system developed throughout childhood and on what they know about the perceived object.

What is the solution to this dilemma? Psychologist Robert Ornstein suggests that in order to draw, the artist must “mirror” things or perceive them exactly as they are. Thus, you must set aside your usual verbal categorizing and turn your full visual attention to what you are perceiving—to all of its details and how each detail fits into the whole configuration. In short, you must see the way an artist sees.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Cybernetics and Design – Poka Yoke, Two Hypotheses and More:

Cybernetics and Design – Poka Yoke, Two Hypotheses and More:

sonic screwdriver

In today’s post I am looking at “Design” from a cybernetics viewpoint. My inspirations for today’s post are Ross Ashby, Stafford Beer, Klaus Krippendorff, Paul Pangaro and Ranulph Glanville. The concept I was originally playing around was how the interface of a device conveys the message to the user on how to interact with the device. For example, if you see a button, you are invited to press on it. In a similar vein, if you see a dial, you know to twist the dial up or down. By looking at the ideas of cybernetics, I feel that we can expand upon this further.

Ross Ashby, one of the pioneers of Cybernetics defined variety as the number of possible elements(states) of a system. A stoplight, for example, generally has three states (Red, Green and Yellow). Additional states are possible, such as (blinking red, no light, simultaneous combinations of two or three lights). Of all the possible states identified, the stoplight is constrained to have only three states. If the stoplight is not able to regulate the traffic in combination with similar stoplights, acting in tandem, the traffic gets heavy resulting in a standstill. Thus, we can say that the stoplight was lacking the requisite variety. Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety states that only variety can destroy (absorb) variety. This means that the regulator should have enough variety to absorb any perturbations in order to truly manage a system. Unfortunately, the external variety is always larger than the internal variety. In other words, the regulator has to have the means to filter out unwanted external variety and it should amplify the internal variety to stay viable. An important concept to grasp with this idea is that the number of distinguishable states (and thus variety) depends upon the ability of the observer. In this regard, the variety of a system may be dependent on the observer.

With these concepts in mind, I will introduce two ideas (hypotheses) that I have been playing with:

1) Purpose hypothesis: The user determines the purpose/use of a device.

2) Counteraction hypothesis: When presented with a complex situation, the user generally seeks simplicity. When presented with a simple situation, the user generally seeks complexity.

Harish’s Purpose Hypothesis: The user determines the purpose/use of a device.

The user is external to the design of a device. The user at any given point has more variety than the simple device. Thus, the user ultimately determines the purpose of a device. How many times have you used a simple screwdriver for other purposes than screwing/unscrewing a screw?

Harish’s Counteraction hypothesis: When presented with a complex situation, the user generally seeks simplicity. When presented with a simple situation, the user generally seeks complexity.

The user has a tendency to move away from the perceived complexity of a device. If it is viewed as simple, the user will come up with complex ways to use it. If it is viewed as complex, the user will try to come up with simple ways to use the device. Complexity is in the eyes of the beholder. This can be also explained asUpon realizing that something is not working, a rational being, instead of continuing on the same path, will try to do the opposite. A good example is a spreadsheet – in the hands of an expert, the spreadsheet can be used for highly complicated mathematical simulations with numerous macros, and alternately, in the hands of a novice, the spreadsheet is just a table with some data points. In a similar way, if something is perceived as complex, the user will find a way to simplify the work to get the bare minimum output.

The Cybernetic Dance between the Designer and the User:

There is a dance between the designer and the user, and the medium of the dance is the interface of the device. The designer has to anticipate the different ways the user can interface with the device, and make the positive mannerisms attractive and the negative mannerisms unattractive. In the cybernetics terms, the designer has to amplify the desirable variety of the device so that the user is more likely to choose the correct way the device should be used. The designer also has to attenuate the undesirable variety so that the user will not choose the incorrect ways of use. If the design interface is providing a consistent message each time, then the entropy of the message is said to be zero. There is no change in the “message” conveyed by the design. One of the concepts in Lean is poka yoke or error proofing a device. From what we have seen so far, we can say that a successful poka yoke device has the requisite variety. The message conveyed by the device is consistent and the user always chooses the correct sequence of operation.

Krippendorff explains this nicely in terms of affordances of a device: [1]

When an interface works as expected, one can say with James Gibson (1979) that the artifact in question affords the construction that a user has of it; and when it does not work as expected, one can say that the artifact objects to being treated the way it is, without revealing why this is so.

Krippendorff also explains that the interface does not carry a message from the designer to the user. This is an interesting concept. Krippendorff further explains that the user assigns the meaning from how the user interacts with the device. The challenge then to the designer is to understand the problem, and determine the easiest way to solve it.

Different people may interface rather differently with the same artifact. What is a screwdriver for one person, may be an ice pick, a lever to pry a can of paint open, and a way to bolt a door for another. Human-centered designers must realize that they interface with their artifacts in anticipation that the result of their interactions affords others to meaningfully interface with their design—without being able to tell them how.

An interface consists of sequences of ideally meaningful interactions—actions followed by reactions followed by responses to these reactions and so on—leading to a desirable state. This circularity evidently is the same circularity that cybernetics theorizes, including what it converges to, what it brings forth. In human terms, the key to such interactions, such circularities, is their meaningfulness, the understanding of what one does in it, and towards which ends. Probably most important to human-centeredness is the axiom:

Humans do not respond to the physical qualities of things but act on what they mean to them (Krippendorff, 2006a).

Variety Costs Money:

Another concept from the cybernetics viewpoint is that adding variety costs money. In theory, a perfect device could be designed, but this would not be practical from a cost standpoint. Afterall, a low price is one of the ways the designer can amplify variety. A good story to reflect this is the design of the simple USB. A USB cord is often cited as an example for poka yoke. There is only way to insert it into the port. When you think about it, a USB pin has two states for insertion, of which only one is correct. There is no immediate standard way that the user can tell how it can be inserted. Thus, the USB lacks the requisite variety and it can lead to dissatisfaction of the user. Now the obvious question is why this is not an issue on a different connector such as Apple’s lightning cord, which can be inserted either way. It turns out that the lack of variety for the USB was on purpose. It was an effort to save money.[2]

A USB that could plug in correctly both ways would have required double the wires and circuits, which would have then doubled the cost. The Intel team led by Bhatt anticipated the user frustration and opted for a rectangular design and a 50-50 chance to plug it in correctly, versus a round connector with less room for error.

Feedback must be Instantaneous:

Paul Pangaro defines Cybernetics as:

Cybernetics is about having a goal and taking action to achieve that goal. Knowing whether you have reached your goal (or at least are getting closer to it) requires “feedback”, a concept that was made rigorous by cybernetics.

Thus, we can see that the device should be designed so that any error must be made visible to the user immediately and the user can correct the error to proceed. Any delay in this can only further add to the confusion of the user. The designer has to take extreme care to reduce the user’s cognitive load, when the user is interfacing with the device. Paraphrasing Michael Jackson (not the singer), from the cybernetics standpoint, the organization of the device should have the best possible model of the environment relevant to its purposes. The organization’s structure and information flows should reflect the nature of that environment so that the organization is responsive to it.

Final Words:

I will finish with wise words from Krippendorff regarding how the user perceives meaning by interfacing with a device.

Unlike what semiotics conceptualizes, from a cybernetic perspective, artifacts do not “carry” meanings from designers to their users. They do not “contain” messages or “represent” meanings…

For example, the meaning of a button is what pressing it sets in motion: ringing an alarm, saving a file or starting a car. The meaning of a soccer ball is the role it plays in a game of soccer and especially what its players can do with it. The meaning of an architectural space is what it encourages its inhabitants to do in it, including how comfortable they feel. The meaning of a chair is the perceived ability to sit on it for a while, stand on it to reach something high up, keep books on it handy, for children to play house by covering it with a blanket, and staple several of them for storage. For its manufacturer, a chair is a product; for its distributor, a problem of getting it to a retailer; for a merchant it means profit; for its user, it may also be a conversation piece, an investment, a way to complete a furniture arrangement, an identity marker, and more.

Typically, artifacts afford many meanings for different people, in different situations, at different times, and in the context of other artifacts. Although someone may consider one meaning more important than another, even by settling on a definition—like a chair in terms of affording sitting on it—it would be odd if an artifact could not afford its associated uses. One can define the meaning of any artifact as the set of anticipated uses as recognized by a particular individual or community of users. One can list these uses and empirically study whether this set is afforded by particular artifacts and how well. Taking the premise of second-order cybernetics seriously and applying the axioms of human-centeredness to designers and users alike calls on designers to conceive of their job not as designing particular products, but to design affordances for users to engage in the interfaces that are meaningful to them, the very interfaces that constitute these users’ conceptions of an artifact, for example, of a chair, a building or a place of work.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was A Study of “Organizational Closure” and Autopoiesis:

[1] The Cybernetics of Design and the Design of Cybernetics – Klaus Krippendorff

[2] Ever Plugged A USB In Wrong? Of Course You Have. Here’s Why

My Recent Tweets (7/28/2019):

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I will be posting soon. Meanwhile, here are selected tweets (cybernetics, purpose of a system, complexity etc.):

 

Always keep on learning…