Failure Modes

At work, we are winding up a process design engagement. The process we’re working on is called Release Management, and its job is to deploy new things into our environment. It reviews the designs, it tests, it validates and then it builds and deploys.

We did all the thinking and planning and designing very carefully, over four days of workshops and lots of brain steam. It looks very healthy and thorough. Of course, when we do it in real life, we’ll have to tinker here and there to make it fit, but overall, we’re happy asĀ  a team: it is good.

Today, as part of the wrap-up, we’re looking at a section of the process manual called “Failure Modes Analysis”. This is where you have to think about all the ways the process can fail and what might cause those failures. For example, if the tests aren’t like real life, then the technology might break once it hits prime time. Or if the designers and builders take shortcuts on their documentation (the owners manual), then when it’s handed over to the care-and-feeding maintenance folks in operations, they won’t have enough information to take care of the system.

We’re not expecting our beautiful process to fail, but we know processes do that sometime and we’re planning now. We’re thinking about what could happen, where human error, human nature or just plan bad luck could derail our lovely process.

I actually like this attitude towards failing: it’s expected, it’s okay, we’re planning for as much as we can but most importantly, it doesn’t mean the process is a bad process. It’s a good process that has a fixable issue.

Most of the diet programs do something similar – you think about where you are likely to slip up (in my own kitchen, for example) and plan for it. Addiction programs have the same thing and I’ve never been but I bet anger management counseling or CBT to handle anxiety works the same way. Know your weaknesses and plan for them.

And even more important – know that the underlying design is great. Even great designs experience failures sometimes. But…they’re still great designs.

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