By Dick Stark
When I kicked off our Apollo 13 simulation session last Friday, I mentioned that I was just finishing a new book by Andy Weir, The Martian, in which an Astronaut is accidently left behind on Mars to fend for himself, some 120 million miles from earth. (If you think getting back to earth on Apollo 13 was difficult, just wait until you read The Martian.) The book is really about problem solving as the Astronaut confronts predicament after predicament. Lack of food, water, and oxygen are immediate concerns as he struggles to figure out how to return home without a spacecraft.
Of course, Astronauts are skilled problem solvers, and training, combined with good problem solving skills may mean the difference between life and death. While the decisions made on the service desk may not be life threatening, good problem solving skills can make a huge difference in overall service management effectiveness. Here are several ways IT professionals can solve problems like Astronauts.
Visualize Failure. In our first run-through our Apollo 13 simulation, the Astronauts did not survive. Why? Communication break-down, lack of defined service level agreements, uncertainty about priorities, and no clear plan. As Canadian Astronaut Col Chris Hadfield said in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Earth, “there is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.” This applies not only to re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, but also to solving an IT challenge such as performance tuning a Remedy implementation. Anticipate problems and figure out how to solve them.
That’s why simulation exercises such as Apollo 13 are so effective. The collective group: L1, L2, Vendors, Mission Control, Change managers, get to prioritize risks, understand how they interrelate and decide which ones must be dealt with immediately. In Space, decisions must be made quickly given the severity of the situation, which may not be unlike supporting a mission critical server that just failed.
Problem and Knowledge Management. NASA has been capturing missteps, disasters, and lessons learned since the early days of the Mercury program. This compilation of knowledge is the basis for decision trees, rules, and procedures for troubleshooting almost anything in Space or on the ground. Like an analyst remotely fixing a user’s computer virus, Mission Control, can walk Astronauts through problems they experience in orbit.
Training. Astronaut Chris Hadfield spent thousands of days in training after being selected into the Astronaut training program at JSC before his first Space voyage aboard the Shuttle. Astronauts study constantly, practice endlessly, and work every contingency. They sweat the small stuff. While RightStar does not have an endless training budget, it is possible through self-study to train and learn like an Astronaut.
So, what happens to the Astronaut from The Martian? Well, I’m not quite finished with the story, and right now he is figuring out how to deal with a Martian dust storm, but given his training and problem solving skills, my bet is that he makes it back to earth alive.