By Dick Stark
I took a few days off last week to visit family and started Dan Heath’s latest book, Upstream,I’m a Chip and Dan Heath fan, having previously read Switch (how to change things when change is hard) and Made to Stick (about the idea of stickiness). Upstream in our ITIL vernacular is about problem management. It takes its name from a parable about two friends saving drowning children constantly being swept downstream. Suddenly one of the friends wades out of the water. The other asks, “Where are you going? The friend answers, “I’m going upstream to tackle the guy who’s throwing all these kids in the water.”
The book was released in early 2020 before the pandemic hit, and is a study in problem prevention, with heath care examples cited frequently. For example, in the US we spend little time and money on health education, fitness, and nutrition (upstream) and great sums of money on the cure (downstream): Why are upstream solutions so difficult and how does this apply to what RightStar does, i.e., ITSM or Lean Agile?
We are a nation of fixers and problem solvers. Question: what do astronauts and RightStar consultants/salespeople have in common? Answer: problem-solving skills. Astronauts practice endlessly, work every contingency, and visualize failure. They work the “problem” like it really happened. Several years ago, I blogged about astronaut Chris Hadfield, who likes to say, “There is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.”
Part of the challenge with upstream problem management is that it’s not sexy or exciting. Remember we celebrate the healthcare heroes on the front-lines, not the factory workers that make the masks. Likewise, we praise the technicians that restore the computer system back to normal after a ransomware attack rather than cybersecurity engineers that could have prevented the outage in the first place.
Rapid development is all about the ability to maintain an environment that minimizes downtime and proactively prevents smaller outages from escalating into larger ones, As a BMC partner, we know that infrastructure management is an important component of any IT organization. For example, the DevOps Handbook calls out a study citing those organizations that rebooted their servers twenty times less frequently (upstream focus), on average had five times fewer server outages. So, problem solving/prevention always trumps, “when in doubt, reboot.”
At RightStar we have had success with the BMC TrueSight offering which proactively monitors and collects data in the form of events, logs, and data. (Other systems like Splunk, Solarwinds, and Data Dog also do this). This type of problem solving results in faster MTTR, and a win/win between Dev and Ops, especially when speed of development matters.
All organizations solve problems constantly and ITIL and DevOps provides an excellent incident and problem management framework. The end result—fewer outages, heightened quality of services, and reduced operational costs should make upstream problem management an important part of any ITSM or Lean Agile upgrade or roll-out.