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.