Do you have four seconds? In the time it takes you to read this sentence you could be done with your incident’s postmortem.
“But my postmortem has 8 sections! I have to construct a critical timeline, restate my followup tasks, show the major milestones, evaluate root cause…”
Stop right there.
First of all, your incident management system should be automatically capturing your timeline, follow-up tasks and major milestones as they happen — so you shouldn’t be worrying about reproducing that content at all.
Second of all, the most critical thing a responder can bring to a postmortem, in the moments right after the incident concludes, is the one-sentence personal context of what actually happened. It’s the same sentence they’d say to a co-worker in the lunch room when asked what went wrong. But to achieve organizational resilience, the knowledge in that sentence has to be captured and distributed. I can’t emphasize this enough – a single sentence can unlock 80% of the value. Writing something, anything, is so much better than writing nothing, and yet, too often, we see companies skip this part of the incident management process.
Modern incident management, as a practice, was born on factory floors. Instead of firing the person who was considered accountable for a major incident, having that person write up their view of what happened was more impactful at preventing future incidents. That’s because only the responder has the complete context to shed light on the contextual, systemic failures that actually caused incidents, as compared to the outside view of management and other employees who will often see problems as human-centered or due to obvious oversights (using 20/20 hindsight).
When asked if he would fire an employee who made a $600,000 mistake at IBM, Thomas J. Watson famously replied, “No! I just spent $600,000 training him – why would I want somebody to hire his experience?”
The reality is that any amount of your unique perspective as a responder is invaluable when compared to nothing, and without it, the chances of your company learning from these mistakes is slim. That’s why we encourage a unique approach: we tell our customers to spend four seconds on their postmortem.
Especially for those new to incident response and management practices, it’s important to develop a practice of doing postmortems right away, as soon as the incident closes. As quickly as possible, open up your postmortem, jump to the ‘What Happened?’ section, and write one useful sentence. That’s it.
Once you do that, we know that one of two things will happen:
1) You’ll have other things to do, so you’ll publish the postmortem, and that one critical piece of knowledge will be shared throughout the company. That is infinitely better than nothing.
2) Or, you’ll realize you have more to say and get it done, right then and there.
Like putting your running shoes on even if you don’t want to go for a run — at the very least, you’re up and active; at most, you’ll get out there and rack up some miles.
Working with companies across industries and seeing thousands of incidents filed; hearing the stories of hundreds of companies’ incident management implementations has taught us that the alternative to a quick postmortem often isn’t often a more in-depth one, it’s no postmortem at all.
So if you’ve just finished an incident– and if you’re about to pick up your coffee and move on to the next task at hand – instead, spend four seconds writing one sentence. It could make all the difference.