Postmortems

Postmortems can be emotionally difficult.

Postmortems can be emotionally difficult. One way to tackle emotionally difficult tasks is to do them more often. How frequently could you do post-mortem activities? Is daily too frequent?

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If you’re doing a postmortem a day, something is very, very wrong…

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Well, the primary purpose is to habituate oneself to self-criticism, and build a personal culture of relentless self-improvement - not to indicate that the world falls down around one’s ears on a daily basis.

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Instead of that, run exercises, in RPG style. One dungeonmaster, presents a problem. One hero, tries to solve it. Rest of the team tags along for the ride, acting as support.

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Interesting. Continual improvement with my +56 barbarian warrior. Roll one D6 to select which issue to tackle, and another to select the weapon … heh.

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FWIW, this worked really well for us - even if only at level of “oh dear god, noone knows where documentation for this thing is…”. Main problem with those exercises is that you need the dungeonmaster to spend nontrivial amount of time on coming up with realistic and interesting scenario. And ideally, break things on a test machine to have the test be practical, instead of purely theoretical…

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I suspect lack of time will torpedo it, but it is a nice idea. I wonder if AD&D decorations can be applied to other aspects of the business… (Shades of Neal Stephenson’s REAMDE coming through here…) Hmmm… Perhaps my colleagues are not quite geeky enough.

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I’ve found that aiming for 15-20 minute RPG-style sessions consistently once a week or every two weeks is very helpful. If you have an archive of old incidents (either with postmortems or just a log of alerts and resolutions), it’s easy to go through it and pick out something that happened a few months ago and use it as the scenario.

The first couple sessions will be a bit of a pain as you figure out how to make it work, but after that it’ll gel.

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If you read any Seneca or any other of the ancient Stoic philosophers, they recommend a daily review before bed, in which you think about the days activities, seeing what you did that was both good and bad, and thinking about how to improve.

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I had heard of Stoicism, but had never explored it in depth. It looks like it is worth reading more about. Thank you!

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I assume that would be a review on a personal level.

I’ve never heard of a personal postmortem.

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@Philip_Durbin Yes, it would have to be done on a personal level to be done on a daily basis, although I actually had the corporate culture of Bridgewater Associates in my mind when I posed the initial question (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridgewater_Associates#Corporate_culture), as I was thinking about how to encourage a culture of critical introspection.

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@Andrew_Hyatt - Are there any books that you particularly recommend?

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@William_Payne Yeah, the Stoic stuff is just purely personal. I’d recommend reading Seneca’s writing, notably “On the Shortness of Life” and his “Letters from a Stoic”. One notable passage that is about this practice of daily reflection can be found here: http://books.google.com/books?id=bMBDAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA109&lpg=PA109

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@Adrian_Cockcroft - I have just started reading Antifragile, and he has mentioned them a couple of times already.

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I had a review part of our change control process for noting things that weren’t anticipated or broke during a change (and how they were fixed), or noting that a change went as planned. That made it easier to debug the process itself as well as to prevent recurrence of errors. It was also a part of incident reports as a “could we have handled this incident better, is there something we should change to prevent it” step. Making it habitual is key, IMO.

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I am still trying to build those habits. The first steps are always the hardest, alas.

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@William_Payne Make a change control template that includes a review section. Do the same for your incident report template. Like a vacuum, nature abhors an empty field.