Understanding Web Operations Culture (Part 1)

“You don’t choose the moment, the moment chooses you. You only choose how prepared you are when it does.” – Fire Chief Mike Burtch

(Note: I became a Firefighter-1 and EMT in 2000. My experiences in the fire service profoundly influence my efforts in technology. Much of my work over the past few years has been translating and distilling my knowledge from these two worlds, teaching others, and finding ways to apply it in the service of both.)

Last week I came upon a truck vs. scooter accident on my way home. I could hear a woman yelling in pain from underneath the truck (a good sign!) and could see a guy in the cab looking panicked and touching his controls. I stopped my car and “surveyed the scene” looking for things that might kill me (traffic, hazmat, downed power lines) or make the situation worse if undetected (additional victims, deflating tires, fires).

It looked like the driver was about to move his truck, which would have definitely made things worse. I used my ‘command voice’ to yell “Put it in park! Stop your engine! Set your brake! Get out and wait!” as I approached the truck.

A city crew came over, and one of them told me “We’ve called 911 and they are on their way.”

I asked them to handle traffic control as I approached my patient. I then introduced myself and asked her if I could help. (I have to obtain consent before assisting an injured person, and a response means I know they have still have their Airway, Breathing, and Circulation intact.)

Her legs were entangled in her scooter which was trapped underneath the truck. While she probably had broken her leg, it didn’t look all that bad. She was still wearing her helmet and it wasn’t seriously damaged which meant her head was probably okay too. I did a quick check for bleeding and other serious injuries and did a “mental status check” by asking her name, where she was (“on my way to school”), and what had happened (“I was riding and that a**hole RAN OVER ME!”). This meant she was alert and oriented, which was good.

Now that I was sure there weren’t any other life threatening injuries, I prepared to hold her head for c-spine stabilization. (Once you start holding stabilization, you cannot move again until you are ready to put the patient on a backboard.)

As I positioned myself on the ground and took hold of her head, I explained “I’m going to hold your head now to protect your neck and back. Once the fire department gets here, they are going to get your legs unstuck and then we’ll get you on a backboard. Your job is to keep still and keep talking to us. There will be a lot of commotion and noise around you, and that’s okay. Everyone will be watching out for you and so there is no reason to be scared. We’ve got you.”

As the fire department arrived they too surveyed the scene and I gave my quick report to the medics. They freed her legs and we transferred her to a backboard. I was released from the scene just as they started removing her helmet, and never even saw her face.

Why am I telling you this story?

I’m telling this story to illustrate how Operations culture works and to provide a little insight into how it is created.

The city workers showed up, called 911, and made it safe for me to treat the patient by controlling traffic. I stopped the truck driver from further injuring the patient and stabilized her until the fire department and medics arrived. The medics took her to the hospital ER where she was probably treated and released.

This is exactly how things should have gone in this situation. It happened because of people with a common desire or duty to act, training on how to act, and experience actually doing it. This is the essence of effective Operations culture.

What does this have to do with Web Operations?

Organizations that depend on the web will die if their site crashes and they don’t recover. The longer the outage, the worse the damage often is. The same kind of Operations culture is required to effectively respond to, recover from, and prevent outages.

While this seems obvious for many people with years of experience working on the web, it is a significant and often difficult shift for those in the mainstream. This seems particularly true for executives who think of Web Operations as an extension of corporate IT. This gap becomes especially painful when people accustomed to traditional “command-and-control” management styles and models try to apply it to this new type of organization.

The CEO cannot shout or fire the website back up. The CFO cannot account, control, or audit the website back up and the Chief Counsel cannot sue it back to life. The CMO, if there is one, and their entire marketing & PR team will not spin a website back online. The CIO or CTO probably can’t recover the site either, at least not very quickly. The fate of the company frequently and acutely rests in the hands of engineers who do Web Operations.

If you’re interested in Web Operations you should attend Velocity on June 23-24th.

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