Partner

The illusion of multiple bugs

Every night I go running. I live in a pretty rural area so there are not a lot of streetlights, which allows me to see the starts and moon when the weather is clear. It is a beautiful scene. The stars shining, the moon reflecting off Utah lake, and the crisp cold air flowing into my lungs and throughout my veins. As I run I listen to audiobooks through my airpods. As my body gets stronger my mind gets sharper, and both get more resilient.

Barking cuts through the words of my audio book and I look around. So many of my neighbors have dogs - it comes with living in an area like this. Sometimes they are fenced, other times they are leashed, and still it is not uncommon that they are running freely at me. In my experience the best thing to do when a dog is barking and running at you is to square up to it and make sure it knows you are not intimidated. The only time I have been bitten by a dog was when I turned my back on it, so I make sure not to do that when I encounter them and I try to avoid being caught off guard by them.

On a run recently I saw a sudden movement that startled me. Assuming it was a dog I took out an airpod and looked around. Nothing was there. I kept running and it happened again. Still no dog. So I started paying closer attention to what was going on. I finally figured out what was happening in my peripheral vision. This section of the street had bright house lights on that were creating fleeting shadows of my own body that were duplicate and triplicate of my regular shadow. I thought I knew where my shadow was, and so these other shadows flashing in my peripheral were alarming.

As I thought about the experience, I though of how often this can happen in companies I have worked with. A bug or problem arises in the system and it causes critical failures in multiple areas. Quickly cases get created, calls and texts start occurring, and it can feel to a single admin like everything is in chaos, and that there are many problems when in fact there is just one. In addition, people might report an issue that has already been resolved but that they failed to report in a timely fashion. These types of situations can create many shadows that feel alarming, when really there is just a single person with many inputs that are creating the illusion.

The best way to quiet these voices and the sense of panic is through structured communication. Ensure users are all logging the issues in a uniform way so that you can gather the various inputs without getting overwhelmed. When users start calling or texting, you can use auto-responses to tell them you are working on a critical issue and their concern should be logged via a case or your standard process. That way you can ignore most of the noise coming in and get to the root cause quicker. You still need to quickly read those messages as they might have important clues as to the root cause of an issue, but an auto-response saves you the hassle of needing to explain what they should do, while also alleviating concern that you aren't addressing the problem. That buys you some airspace to tackle the most critical issue and get all the way to it's root cause. Once that is resolved, you should go through all the cases that have come in and look to see if they were also resolved by your fix. Likely, you can close out many of these and put people back at ease. This method helps you deescalate an issue quickly, and builds trust with your users that you have them covered.

While there are many techniques that can be used, I have seen that auto responses are a great tactic for saving time and quieting noise in a release hot-fix situation. Have your auto-responses ready to go in case an issue comes up, so that you can easily turn them on and quiet the noise that might otherwise slow you down and exacerbate the issue.