Back in the 1960s US fighter pilot John Boyd was known as ’40 second Boyd’ from his standing bet that starting from a position of disadvantage he could get himself into a winning position in 40 seconds or less. It was a bet he usually collected on.

He did this by getting inside his opponent’s OODA loop. This is the cycle of Observe, Orient, Decide Act that connects strategic and tactical decisions. The speed with which one can execute this loop, again and again, is the key to winning on strategy execution.


Professional services companies have their own version of the OODA Loop, the Professional Services Innovation Cycle. Like the OODA Loop, it is based on observing, framing, committing and executing. The faster a company can move through this cycle the better able it will be to win in a chaotic and rapidly changing environment. And we are in an unprecedented period of demographic, technological, economic and political change that is presenting many new opportunities.

The Professional Services Innovation Cycle takes the basic insight of John Boyd and puts it in the context of skill-based organizations. For these companies, everything turns around the skills of their workforce, how these are actually applied, and the future potential.

Market Development – The top firms actively develop and shape new markets. We can see this in today’s focus on Digital Transformation. Once upon a time it was Business Process Transformation. In a few years it may be the Circular Economy. Market development and market shaping help buyers and sellers orient in a complex world.

Account Development – Markets are not customers. Business will only move forward if people will buy what you are selling. As Ted Levitt said, “The purpose of a business is to get and keep a customer.” Professional services companies need to move smoothly from Market Development to Account Development. This needs good market segmentation and customer targeting skills.

Account Management – Once you have accounts, you need to manage them. New service offerings often require new approaches to account management. One thing we are noticing is that many professional services companies are trying to shift part of their portfolio from projects (which have a defined start and end date) to programs (which are ongoing). We see this across many sectors, from Build to Build and Operate, from consulting on a Case, to managing a program to deliver outcomes. As software becomes a part of more and more professional services (part of the overall trend to ‘digital transformation’) this shift to programs is likely to accelerate and with it the role of account management.

Service Delivery – Once you sell a service you have to deliver it. Learning how to deliver new services at a high and consistent quality is critical and where a lot of skill development effort is directed.

Service Development – Most product companies have sustained product innovation programs and manage a portfolio of innovations in a systematic manner. Professional services firms have not been as disciplined here. The positive spin is that they are more ‘fluid.’ The fact is that most are opportunistic and disorganized. Systematic innovation programs for services, leveraging design thinking and service design and blending in best practices from product design and portfolio management.

What skills underlie the Professional Services Innovation Cycle?

This is an active area of research for TeamFit, but we are seeing two important things to take into consideration.

  1. Service innovation requires a strong portfolio of Foundational Skills across multiple roles and people. Foundational skills are the skills on which other skills are built. They include basic things like math, reasoning, emotional intelligence and skills directly correlated with learning, such as active listening and an understanding of ones own and ones team’s learning style.

  2. Blending different skill sets. Much real innovation is based on bringing together two different disciplines to create new offers. The skills being blended will be unique to each company and the new services being developed. Skill blending itself is its own skill! Our research has shown that one of the key things to look for here are Connecting Skills. Connecting skills are what connect two different domains of knowledge. When there are no connecting skills, skill blending is very difficult. You find connecting skills by looking at the skills in two different domains and then finding the intersection set. One also looks for the skill patterns (how skills are connected within a domain) to see how these patterns connect across domains.

TeamFit is now working with a number of companies to help them understand the specific skills needed to implement and accelerate the innovation cycle and to deliver on digital transformation.

We are looking for partners to work with in this. If you are interested in understanding this skills needed to accelerate services innovation let’s start a conversation.