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Embracing failure

Thu | 12 Nov 2020 | News

Embracing failure

Every SaaS company trying to change the world has had it happen; things fall over. This sometimes impacts customers and almost always puts a dent in a few egos. At Simacan we’re no different. We try our absolute best every single day to make transportation and logistics become more sustainable and more efficient. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong. What sets us apart from other companies is how we approach failures. Here’s a few  key principles we apply at Simacan when it comes to handling incidents and subsequent retrospectives.

By Lester de Meer, projectmanager Customer Service

The Inevitable

First of all, we never mean to break things. I know that sounds like something a five year old would say after fumbling an expensive vase, but it is the honest truth. Obviously we are well aware of the fact that any issues with our platform could potentially impact our customers and make their lives more difficult, which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve, but there’s no denying it; despite all precautions and good intentions, things will go wrong from time to time. We accept this fact. After all, we’re only human. People will make mistakes, plain and simple. It’s what comes next, after the inevitable has been subdued, that makes all the difference.

At Simacan we try to make the world a better place, however humble our initial impact may be, but we also try to improve ourselves. What better way to learn than to examine one’s failures? This means that after an incident is resolved we carry out an Incident Retrospective (IR). 

Prime Directive

When it comes to incident management there are a couple of principles we try to live by. The main one being the Prime Directive. It was coined by Norm Kerth and we’ve pretty much adopted it as our mantra when it comes to incident management; “Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.” (Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review, 2001). 

To us this means that we want to create a non-blaming environment where everyone should feel safe enough to share thoughts and ideas without any form of backlash. Obviously this is something to strive for in general, but it is even more relevant during incident resolution and the work that follows. This mantra should instill our Support Heroes with confidence, so that any natural apprehension toward failure is eliminated. It allows them to take action and work with confidence toward incident resolution, without being hindered by doubts and second guesses. 

It also serves as the basis for a productive and respectful IR. The IR becomes a forum where everyone can share observations and insights which will in turn contribute to improving ourselves and the incident management process. It signifies that, at Simacan, we do not want to focus on what an individual did not do, but rather focus on what they did do and how we can help them do more. Remember, we’re all in this together. 

Flip-Thinking

This phrase was coined by Berthold Gunster back in 2009 (OMdenken - Huh?!, 2009) and essentially means that there’s always an alternative way of looking at an issue or situation, usually from a more positive perspective. With incident management it is the same. As I have pointed out previously, failure will happen and we should accept it. However, that does not mean that’s the end of it. Failure can be a catalyst for change and change is good. The important thing is to adopt a mindset that allows you to see the opportunities failure offers and take advantage of if.
 
The IR is the means to extract the positive from a failure-situation. It will allow us to define areas where we can improve, whether they be small changes or game changing initiatives. In any case, it will benefit us at Simacan as well as our customers. We should be thankful things sometimes fall over and break.

Hugging Trees

So far it’s mostly been about safe environments, mindset, non-blaming etc. This is all well and good, but let me assure you, people at Simacan do not hug trees or spend their days watching Bob Ross clips (although the latter has been known to happen on occasion). Applying the aforementioned principles is hard work. We need to continuously remind ourselves of them. They still need to become part of the fabric that makes up Simacan. It is a process that takes time and requires constant attention. That’s why we try to incorporate it as much as we can in day-to-day life. 

Applying change is the next big thing. Change doesn't happen overnight (as we all know). It too requires a lot of work. Whatever improvements we identify, they all need to be scrutinized and become part of the regular process for applying changes. That takes dedication and determination as it may be competing with other efforts. However, at Simacan we truly believe that it is worth spending time on making changes and continuously improving the way we do things. It is part of our inherent drive forward.

Lastly

I know there’s a thousand things to say about incident management and there’s even more things to say about how to handle it. Every SaaS company has their own way of looking at it. The intent here was to offer some insight into the Simacan-way of looking at it. We’re not just a tech company, aspiring to make the world a better place from the niche we’ve carved out for ourselves, but we’re also a group of people who truly feel there’s a distinct human component to what we do. It is something we define in our Humanifest, but also something we try to apply in other aspects of our business, incident management being one of them.