Friday, July 15, 2011

After the Crisis - preventing the next one

Once a crisis has happens, you usually want to have a post mortem meeting to see how to prevent, or at least be better prepared, for a similar event.

I use the term similar event, for 2 reasons:
  • It's rare that the same identical crisis happens twice
  • You may as well learn as much as possible from the crisis, and use it as a precious learning event
    • Similar to the old saying: "Learn from other people's mistakes, you don't have time to make all of them yourself".  
For example, in the sample crisis we discussed - of somebody fainting - you may want to find out who has done first aid courses, and disseminate this information, so that next time somebody faints (or injures themselves) you will know who to shout for.

Analyzing what happens consists of the following steps:
  • Writing up an accurate report of what happened and how it was solved.
    • This can be done by a series of emails exchanges, meetings and/or informal discussions
  • Disseminating this report and getting feedback
  • Have a meeting to discuss how to prevent a similar crisis from happening in the future
    • In a future post we will discuss how to run a Post Mortem meeting.
At no point in time is any specific individual to be blamed or punished for causing the crisis; this will destroy the team spirit and put people on the defensive, instead of working as a team to solve the crisis and prevent the next one.

While you cannot plan for a crisis, you can minimize its impact with some elementary planing:
  • Define how to report a serious problem.
    • Writing and email or opening a case in the bug tracking system, is not an appropriate way to report a [potential] crisis
    • When possible, the person in charge - typically the Project Manager - should be spoken to in person.
  • Define who needs to be informed when something goes wrong:
    • Your customer
    • Your superiors
    • Those who will be impacted, either directly by the crisis or by the fact that a team is now trying to solve the crisis
  • Create a central location for all contact information.
    • If possible, multiple ways to contact every single person and company you deal with. Even somebody as "irrelevant" as the cleaning staff could cause a crisis (e.g. by locking the wrong door), or help solve one (e.g. by unlocking a door; they usually have a master key)
  • Have a list of which skills each person on the team has.
    • While you surely know what everybody does on a daily basis, it's useful to know who can be called on in an emergency.
    • E.g.: You never know when you will need a paramedic, or somebody who speaks other languages - and you probably have employees who are experts at this but never speak about it.
Carefully planning for the unexpected will greatly reduce the impact of a crisis when it happens - and it will usually happen at the worst possible moment. Why this is will be discussed in a future post.

- Danny


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