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How to Improve Incident Management: Trust the Process

Dan Holloran August 24, 2018

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End-to-end incident management is only achieved through the continuous improvement of your people, processes, and technology. There’s no one-size-fits-all system that achieves every team’s desired results. There will be budget and tooling differences, infrastructure differences, and culture differences from organization to organization. That being said, an intelligent process for resolving incidents throughout the incident management life cycle will better prepare your team when something does go wrong.

Establishing a process that works for you–enhancing both people operations and technology–is the first step to a truly holistic incident management solution.

Understanding The Modern Incident Life Cycle

The incident life cycle refers to the process of detecting, responding, remediating, analyzing, and preparing to do it all over again. It’s naive to assume you can simply avoid downtime with the current state of software. The speed at which organizations build, associated with the sheer amount of dependence on integrated third party services, you simply don’t have enough control to guarantee uptime 100% of the time.

Breaking down the incident management process into five sections makes it less overwhelming. When forming your overall on-call and incident management processes, you’re really forming five smaller processes. Identify what the ideal incident workflow looks like for your team(s), then back into the tools and structure that works best for each step.

The easiest way to identify the best process for your team is by talking about it. A culture of collaboration naturally adds value, reliability, and speed to the software development process. Baking deep collaboration into each step of the incident management life cycle helps you create more robust architecture and gain a holistic understanding of your system.

Developing a Plan

By acknowledging the human behavior flows of incident management in your organization, you’ll be able to identify pain points and start working on a plan. Where can alerts be better prioritized or organized? Could monitoring be improved for certain areas of the system? Why did incident response or detection take so long for certain incidents? Ask probing questions to get to the bottom of how you’re acknowledging and remediating incidents, but also how people are responding to the issues.

Identifying the pain points in your incident response and remediation workflow shows you the areas needing improvement and allows you to establish processes that affect change. Can alert routing and escalation be optimized or prioritized differently? Can any part of your incident workflow be automated to improve visibility or collaboration? Take your insights and develop a general incident plan and build your incident management process around it.

How Are People Actually Working?

Once you have a plan and an established incident response process, you can start to see how people are actually working within the process. You can identify the way that engineers are put on-call, how their schedules are structured, how incidents are escalated, and how people are communicating about incident details.

Incident management processes need to adhere to the way people are actually working. Humans operate quite differently from one another, especially when put into different cultures and systems. Tools and processes can always be adapted, but they must always be people-centric. Then you can iterate on the process, implement technology and tools, and help people navigate the incident life cycle more effectively.

DevOps & The Incident Lifecycle

Measuring Success

When it comes to incident management, the job is never done. Don’t plan on avoiding incidents, but plan on being prepared for incidents. Soft measurements for success would simply be a preparedness for outages and errors when they strike. You can also measure incident response success through metrics such as mean time to acknowledge and mean time to resolve.

Then, after-the-fact, your team should conduct a post-incident review to determine everything about the incident that went well, as well as what didn’t go well. Were on-call schedules set up to effectively handle the issue or was there a lag in getting the proper person or team notified? Determine the context that made incident resolution easier and identify the alert context that simply created noise. Understanding this can help you avoid alert fatigue and start responding to incidents that actually matter.

Reports about incident frequency, severity, and on-call response can show you more of how your system is truly working and how your team is reacting to problems. Improve reliability and overall incident collaboration by bolstering team knowledge of your system and the incident management life cycle.

Collaborative Incident Response

The building of a collaborative incident management plan and process will result in speedier incident remediation and a deeper understanding of your system. Cross-functional communication throughout each step of the incident life cycle surfaces weaknesses in your process and ideas for making the process better.

As a whole team, collaborate to come up with an incident management plan, implement the process, then adjust it to make it better. Trust the incident management life cycle as a framework for developing incident response workflow processes that help you build more resilient systems.

Over the course of a 14-day free trial, you’ll see how managing the entire incident life cycle in one centralized location speeds up incident response, benefits collaboration, and makes on-call suck less.

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