Living in California, I have seen my fair share of disruptions. In the summer months, it is the fire season, and citizens need to be prepared to evacuate at any time. Year-round, there is always the threat of earthquakes, and of course, we also have times of extreme heat and drought. These environmental challenges and the responses from civilian, state, and government agencies can teach operations pros how to build an effective response to digital disruption.

When disaster strikes and organizations are faced with the disruption of services to customers, the loss of data, or blocked access to systems, how we respond and how we prepare to respond are incredibly important to minimize the impact of those events. Complexity, increased velocity, and globalization make it even more challenging to prepare for inevitable disruptions and defend against threat actors.

Identify An Incident Commander

When an environment becomes chaotic, it is important to have clear leadership identified who will help ensure that the appropriate teams are involved and that the response is as disciplined as possible. The incident commander will ensure that the teams are using the most appropriate communication channels and that there is a record of actions performed. Additionally, having one person leading the efforts ensures that all problem-solving activities are agreed upon and coordinated across teams and geographies.

Without the assignment of an incident commander, the crisis response will be chaotic. Different teams and team members will perform actions with little or no guidance, and those actions may introduce new variables to already complex and damaging service disruptions. Can you imagine fighting a fire in treacherous terrain without a plan? Without someone who knows where all the teams are and who formulates a coordinated effort? The incident commander ensures that the right resources are working together on the right corrective actions.

Swarming Into Action

It is common in formalized incident management processes for organizations to follow predefined incident management and escalation procedures. Often, this introduces delays in an effective response, and in many cases, the longer the response, the greater the potential damage. Instead, it is often more effective to develop a support model that allows the product teams to respond to major incidents in a more dynamic and responsive way.

Intelligent swarming focuses on forming a dynamic team of resources aligned with a particular outage, helping them to quickly identify the issues and take action more quickly. According to the Consortium for Service Innovation, “[Swarming] is about getting work to the right resources as fast as possible and, when people need help solving problems, making it easy for them to collaborate.”

No-Blame Retrospective

Once the smoke has cleared and the service has been restored, it is important for the organization to perform a postmortem exercise or retrospective. In the past, organizations have used after-action reviews to identify fault and place blame on a team or individual. But these efforts are counterproductive. In today’s working environment, it is highly unlikely that a major outage can be traced back to a single individual.

A learning organization seeks not to place blame at the feet of its support staff or developers but instead seeks to understand how effective the response to the outage was and what measures can drive improvements. It is easy at this point to introduce new change management controls and new control gates in an attempt to prevent something from happening again. Such measures, however, often lead to slower release cycles and impede the development of needed product enhancements. Improving your organization’s crisis management response doesn’t need to stifle innovation.

Repairing Relations With Customers

When a digital disruption impacts external customers, it is necessary to rebuild customer trust after such damaging outages. Providing a technical breakdown of what went wrong is only the first step in the response. Organizations must also alleviate customers’ concerns. To repair a customer relationship and improve perception requires not just transparency on what happened but may also require some form of customer compensation.

No one wants to experience a major digital disruption, and working through a critical response is exhausting and time-consuming. But with preplanning and a focus on frictionless collaboration, your organization can better manage the disruption while improving crisis management responses. We are going to continue to see disasters coming from all different directions. Building a better response is the only way to effectively manage digital disruptions moving forward.

To better understand how to improve your organization’s response to digital disruption, read our latest report: The Forrester Guide To Incident And Crisis Management.

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