Resilience: The Muscle We Always Need to Train
Originally published in The New Stack
Last year tested us on many fronts and resilience was a major theme. How well we handle change, unrest and uncertainty have all translated into how well we can deal with major events — such as a global pandemic. Being able to quickly adapt our habits has helped us make the most of the unique year that we had. Teams transformed into effective remote workers, students attended school online, and businesses found creative ways to continue operating through restrictions — all illustrating our resilience and ability to quickly recover from difficulties and changes.
For technology companies, having resilient teams, products and processes is incredibly important — even beyond 2020.
Gone are the days when we could afford to develop a product and run it through endless QA cycles, ensuring that every single permutation was checked off and approved. In today’s environment, the ecosystem is working at incredible speeds. No one waits for a product to be complete before pushing it out to users. Instead, we rely on something that is sufficient and continuously iterate on it. For that reason, we need to learn to be ok with unknown challenges, bugs and timeouts. Quality should not be compromised by any means, but having the resilience to operate when faced with an unknown issue oftentimes can — and will — make or break companies.
We have all experienced disruptions in our favorite digital product providers — be it when Slack had an outage and left us unable to communicate with colleagues during lockdown, or when Google Drive stopped working and for a moment we questioned whether it was okay to rely on remote work tools for everything we do. For many large companies, if something goes wrong, there will be plenty of PR. They might lose money, but eventually, they will move on. It will be an inconvenience, but not a showstopper. For smaller companies, if we have an outage and if we lose one client, it could have devastating effects on the business as a whole. For many smaller to medium-sized companies, we already have resilience ingrained in everything we do — which strengthens our problem-solving. Instead of getting hurt, we make the most of the circumstances we face every day.
So how can we build our resilience muscle?
Building Resilient Processes
Having processes implemented which enable a company to deal with outages, challenges and unplanned events is paramount. Even though each crisis might be different, knowing how to deal with it and which steps to follow takes the guesswork out of a stressful time. Just like we are taught in First Aid: no matter what the injury is, we first need to maintain a patient’s airway, then ensure they are breathing and have a pulse. Similarly, we can build processes that will guide us through any situation, thereby increasing our resilience to dealing with new challenges.
One such example is the habit of running post mortems after dealing with an event. A postmortem brings the team together and gets them to think critically about what went wrong, how things were dealt with, and most importantly, discuss how it should have been dealt with — thus enabling the team to create a prevention plan.
Carrying out post mortems (or retrospectives) is the easiest way for companies to embrace failure and grow stronger. It enables teams to plan ahead for similar events before they enter stressful situations again and ensures that you aren’t bitten by the same snake twice. Within the postmortem process, individuals have a way to share their experiences and learnings with the rest of the team — ultimately building stronger, more cohesive teams. Integrating these processes into your everyday best practices ultimately builds stronger, more cohesive teams and ensures that incident reviews are carried out positively, with the goal of improvement in view.
Recognizing the Essentiality of Ownership for Teams
If your baby cries in the middle of the night, you’ll wake up to see what’s wrong. If your “baby” is not a real baby, but rather a function, a feature or an instance you feel ownership of, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night to resolve the issue because you understand the wider impact it has on your company. Naturally, you’d do anything and everything you can to make sure that any critical issues are resolved.
Giving teams a sense of ownership is crucial. There is no other developer or team that will jump in to rescue our deployment if something goes wrong. The same is true with the business team. There are no “answers at the back of the book” on how to get new leads when conferences for a whole year have been canceled. When our teams know and feel the responsibility they have on the rest of the company, they will step up to the challenge and do what they need to in order to overcome challenges.
Ownership needs to be complemented by a culture of trust and empowerment. It is important to trust that your team members will do what they need to and have the skillset to execute on it successfully. Without trust, people often step back, don’t take initiative and wait for someone to simply give them a list of tasks to complete. Giving folks the freedom to explore new ways of solving problems not only increases their engagement and their sense of ownership but oftentimes creates better results, as the people on the ground are the experts in a given field.
Tools for Visibility
No matter how experienced a driver is, wearing a seatbelt makes for a safer ride. In the same manner, even if a company has developed world-class processes and teams, leveraging the right tools will undoubtedly strengthen its resilience.
Tools can give you visibility into what is happening now, how your clients are using your products, the level of performance, resource use, and (most importantly) visibility into what you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. This visibility is crucial in order to sustain your ability to serve whoever you need to serve, so they have a seamless experience and don’t perceive any outages. An example would be live debugging tools that let teams get to the root of the problem and come up with a solution quickly.
How Resilient Is Your Team?
Your company’s ability to quickly recover and spring back is a direct impact on its success. We have all experienced testing and challenging times over the last year, and it’s important to learn from those challenges and continue toward resilience — so that we can continue to grow and succeed. Actively building and stretching resilience through your teams, processes and tools will make sure that even if something does go wrong, your customers won’t notice it too much and will champion your ongoing success.