Agile. Everyone’s doing it, trying it, or talking about it. No longer just the preserve of software development teams, ‘Agile’ is becoming more pervasive in all parts, and at all levels of many organizations. So where and when is agility most important in an organization, and which tool to use? During a Major Incident, the importance and urgency of effective decision making rapidly increases. You may quickly enter uncharted territory; have to interpret incoming data from many sources; work across functions in hastily assembled teams and quickly make decisions that will save your organization from impending disaster. I think it’s during a Major Incident, when your organization faces the greatest immediate danger, that it needs to be able to demonstrate the greatest levels of agility.
A Major Incident may start off as a single ticket being raised, and investigated by one or two people in your immediate team. Small, contained, it is easily managed. As the impact of the issue becomes more apparent, the complexity can quickly rise. You may need to arrange internal and external comms, to a range of stakeholders, via multiple channels such as email, social media, corporate web sites, customer contact centers, and helpdesks to name a few. Then you need to get on and actually fix the problem and return the service to normal as soon as possible. Pulling in expertise from different parts of the business to try to identify the root cause, put a work around in place and start working on a fix, and deal with any potential impact of the original incident. As the team swells with members drafted in from across the business it becomes harder to keep everyone on the same page, interpret all the different incoming sources of information, agree a plan, make effective decisions and provide consistent messaging to all those stakeholders. As your rapidly growing team assembles there is little time for the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing cycle to play itself out. You need to perform now!
In this situation, the Kanban Board is my agile tool of choice. A Kanban board can easily be created on the nearest white board or on a wall with the help of a few Post-It Notes (other sticky notes available). In its most simple form, you pull tasks from left to right through three stages, from ‘To Do’, into ‘In Progress’, into ‘Done’. You can then add horizontal ‘Swim Lanes’ that map to different parallel streams of activity. The board quickly fills up with a back log of tasks, showing what has been prioritized and what has been accomplished across the different streams of activity. One benefit of Kanban is that it allows you to add and ‘pull through’ a new task at any time. This allows you to inject new work and re-prioritize tasks as the situation evolves. By creating your Kanban board in a newly requisitioned war room it quickly becomes a center of focus, something for team members to gather round to share updates with the rest of the team working on the Major Incident. It’s also great for showing nervous stakeholders outside of the team what is being worked on, and what has already been achieved.
The Kanban board can provide a structure for update meetings, allowing the newly formed team to quickly establish a rhythm, saving valuable time. You may have input from technology, infosec, external comms, customer contact centers and content teams. With all these people in the room, it helps to maintain the focus of the meeting. By allowing each stream lead a turn to talk through their cards on the board, giving updates on items that were ‘In Progress’, moving them to ‘Done’ if complete, calling out the items that have moved from ‘ToDo’ to ‘In Progress’ and capturing additional tasks and adding them to the board as the other teams provide their updates. Based on the updates provided and the tasks to be worked on you can then agree when it makes sense to meet again as a group for the next status update. In between status updates, team members can pop into the war room and update their part of the board or look at the progress of the other streams tickets as they move across the board. You may continue to have status updates for a few hours, a day or a week. It just depends on how serious the incident was but if you’re carrying out the role of Major Incident Manager at the first sign of trouble, get a war room, assemble your team, throw up a Kanban board, clear your diary, start collaborating and go agile.