Building a culture of incident response is not just about solving problems; it is about creating stronger teams, empowering individuals, and fostering a more resilient and thriving workplace.
How do you achieve this culture and improve your incident management processes?
Let’s dive in;
Cultivating a Blameless Culture
Creating a blameless culture goes beyond simply saying, "Don't blame people for incidents." It involves building a mindset where individuals actively report incidents, not out of fear, but because they understand the value of a resilient system. In this environment, transparency thrives. Team members are not hesitant to admit their mistakes, as they know it contributes to the collective wisdom of the group. This transparency forms the foundation for continuous improvement, enabling teams to identify recurring issues and patterns, implement preventive measures, and refine processes.
Furthermore, a blameless culture sends a clear message that the focus is not on finding a scapegoat when things go wrong, but on preventing future incidents. It encourages a sense of shared responsibility where every team member actively contributes to resolving issues.
💡 Fostering a blameless culture is not just a goal, but a strategy for creating a resilient, adaptable, and continuously improving systems & team.
How to build an incident response culture?
Creating a culture of incident response is the foundation for effective management and resolution of unexpected challenges. Here are some steps to nurture the incident response;
1. Start with onboarding proactive team members
Proactive team members are individuals who deeply care about their work and consistently go above and beyond to contribute to the success of the team and the organization.
Selecting proactive team members offers several benefits to your organization. These individuals are not only quick responders, but they also have a proactive mindset that can drive continuous improvement in incident management.
When dealing with a multi-team organization, it is essential to select at least 2 proactive members from each team. These individuals not only excel in their roles but are also aware of potential issues and take quick action when they arise. Their proactive behavior sets the tone for the entire team and influences their collective incident response.
Once you have identified these proactive team members who consistently contribute to issue resolution, it is important to leverage their experiences and foster a sense of shared responsibility across all teams.
Encourage key players to share their insights with their teammates by documenting incidents and resolution processes. This will help other members gain a better understanding of incident resolutions, facilitating knowledge transfer and enabling the development of universally applicable best practices. Ultimately, this will create a more cohesive and informed incident management framework.
2. Distributing responsibilities with On-call
At this stage, you probably have a small team in place, and they are receiving alerts for every incident around the clock. However, this approach won't be sustainable as it can quickly lead to frustration among team members. To address this challenge, the solution is to establish an on-call rotation system. This system can be set up on a daily or weekly basis, with a preference for the latter.
The choice between daily or weekly rotations should depend on your incident frequency. More incidents may require daily rotations. It is important to note that this process is not set in stone. The rotation schedules and handoff times can be adjusted as needed since we are still fine-tuning the incident management process and workflow among our small team.
With the on-call rotation in place, alerts will primarily be directed to the designated on-call team member. If that person doesn't respond or take action, you can easily escalate the alert to the secondary team member. Going on-call places a significant responsibility on the primary on-call team members, as they need to stay alert and attentive.
If team members start feeling overwhelmed due to the increasing number of alerts during the on-call rotation instead of discontinuing integration (which we don’t recommend).
Spike suggests: Involve more team members to distribute the workload in order to share the workload.
As you continue reading this blog, we will explore incident selection, distinguish critical and non-critical incidents, and cover related aspects.
3. Balancing Critical and Non-Critical Incidents
When it comes to incident management, it is clear that critical incidents must be quickly resolved, but what about non-critical incidents?
Non-critical incidents can accumulate over time, potentially becoming a source of unnecessary noise. Depending on your specific needs and context, you have the flexibility to either automate the resolution of non-critical incidents or, in some cases, even ignore them.
A practical approach is to use collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams to route these incidents to dedicated incident channels. This creates an opportunity to involve team members who may be slightly less proactive, allowing them to gradually familiarize themselves with the incident response process.
It is important to remember that not every team member will be equally proactive or have undergone the initial onboarding process. Management is crucial in engaging less proactive members. We will discuss this further in the blog.
To improve incident management, standardize resolution processes. For instance, designate a war room for every critical incident, automatically setting up a video conference and inviting key team members responsible for resolving these incidents. Additionally, establishing a practice of documenting how incidents were resolved and who played a part becomes invaluable, especially as your team expands and more members come on board.
4. Ensuring a clean dashboard with no open incidents
When it comes to managing incidents, the ideal scenario is to log all of them. At this point, you should have established a clear process for distinguishing between critical and non-critical incidents. The goal here is proactive incident management, where your dashboard remains virtually incident-free. A clean dashboard signifies that your system is operating smoothly without any incidents.
Over time, this practice fosters an obsession with maintaining a spotless record. Every incident, whether critical or non-critical, is met with an urgency to resolve it instantly.
Taking inspiration from the manufacturing industry, leaders like Toyota, consider implementing a display board in your workspace. This board can show the number of days since the last incident, such as "60 days without an incident."
Continuously tracking this board will create a unique team bonding experience, driving a collective obsession to ensure that incidents remain a rare occurrence. On the other hand, you can use incident.sh as an alternative. The mindset here is to consistently log incidents. In this approach, it is expected that there will rarely be a span longer than three days without an incident.
Find the right balance that works for your team and stick with it.
5. Involve other team members slowly and gradually
By this time, non-critical and medium-level incidents should be flowing into your Slack or Microsoft Teams channels. As more people become aware of these incidents, it is a great opportunity to involve them in incident management.
With well-established incident management processes and experienced team members, it is time to onboard new members. Develop an onboarding process that includes demo calls and educates them about the procedures in place. Share experiences from critical incidents and anecdotes to provide them with a context.
Remember, incident management doesn't have to be a stressful and difficult process. It can often be engaging and even enjoyable. Maintain a light atmosphere and promote a blameless culture.
By doing this, you can foster a more inclusive and effective incident management framework within your organization.
Involve stakeholders to your incident management
We chose a bottom-up approach by onboarding more team members instead of seniors. However, it is important to consider your company and culture when deciding whether to reverse this disorder.
As we continue to bring more individuals into the fold, it is time to consider the inclusion of senior stakeholders and management.
Bringing senior management into the fold serves multiple purposes. It signifies our commitment to taking incidents seriously, underlining the importance we place on addressing and resolving issues. This step also adds transparency, ensuring that senior management is well-informed about the intricacies of the system and any particular issues at hand.
This move is even more critical when dealing with a major incident that has the potential to impact users or customers. Onboarding senior members or other team members may present challenges, but it is a necessary step that should be anticipated and prepared for in advance.
Staying proactive and ready for these moments ensures a more robust and responsive incident management system.
Prepare an incident committee
For larger or even medium-sized organizations, we highly recommend establishing an incident committee. This committee should consist of senior stakeholders and proactive members who can effectively lead the charge.
Spike Suggests: The committee should meet on the first Thursday of each month to review all incidents from the previous month.
During these meetings, it is important to invite all responders who were involved in addressing these incidents. This gathering serves as a crucial forum to analyze;
- the recurrence of incidents,
- identify any incidents were suppressed,
- collaborate with other team members to gain insights into their resolution methods.
These discussions often provide valuable insights, highlighting areas where individuals may be facing challenges or excelling in implementing solutions.
Ultimately, the goal is to improve visibility into the dynamic relationship between your employees and the systems they work with. This will help foster a culture of continuous improvement and shared responsibility.
Promote Work-Life Balance
Achieving a harmonious work-life balance is of utmost importance for the overall well-being and productivity of your team members. By creating an environment that supports work-life balance, you can foster a happier and more motivated workforce.
Incidents can occur unexpectedly, without much warning, at any time. To effectively manage incidents, responsibility can be divided based on time, such as office hours, after-hours, and weekends, taking inspiration from emergency room doctors providing 24/7 coverage.
To minimize alerts during non-office hours and avoid unnecessary disruptions, establish multiple on-call rotations. Each responder should have the flexibility to choose their preferred alerting channel based on the time of day and day of the week.
Encourage the use of the "Cooldown" feature, allowing people to take personal time without being alerted for non-critical incidents. With more team members, use the "out of office" mode for a smooth handoff of on-call and incident responsibilities.
Similarly, there are occasions when individuals require uninterrupted concentration, dedicating their focus solely to critical incidents. This thoughtful approach to incident management assists in establishing a well-rounded and efficient system for addressing incidents as they trigger.
At Spike.sh , we have taken care of all of these because we understand how important it is for everyone's well-being to maintain a proper work-life balance. such as:
- Deep Work Mode: Activate deep work mode to temporarily silence unnecessary notifications. You will only be alerted for critical or high-priority incidents during this time.
- Cool Mode: Having a tough day? Relax with Cooldown mode. You can delegate your duties, including on-call responsibilities, to a colleague.
- Vacation Mode: If you are on vacation, you can schedule or instantly delegate your duties, including on-call responsibilities, to a colleague.
Try the strategies, slowly and steadily implement your incident management processes, and keep experimenting. Continuously make changes and see what works for you, your team, and your company culture. This approach provides a solid foundation, so you no longer have to search blindly for information on how and when to get started.
Stay connected to our blog for more valuable insights and strategies for building a strong incident management framework.