October 18

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No one is going to die in product*

From the military, into Product, part 2

In Part 1, wrote about how I learned the difference between servant leadership and sacrificial leadership. Now, I would to share how the perspective gain on the battlefield, has helped me better respond to emergencies and incidents that happen in Product every day.

In several companies I have worked in, I have been responsible for managing the company’s response to emergencies and incidents. My time in the military was exceptional preparation as it provided training and experience, but most of all it provided perspective.

During one of my operational tours in Afghanistan, I was working within the Royal Marines, part of my role was to occasionally cover as a ‘Battle Captain’. It was not like the movies, with TV screens covering all the walls, and clean soldiers with computers and headsets. The UK takes a more ‘MVP’ approach. We worked in a large wooden shed, with a maybe two tv screens, a large physical map board (like you see in WW2 movies) and a lot of radios. The Officers took turns in shifts, and I was the Battle Captain when we conducted some of our biggest operations and insertions. Often there would be casualties and fatalities that needed to be extracted from the battle field, and often often I needed to provide situational updates and support to those on the ground in the fight.

Reflecting on my experience, I was incredibly lucky. The Army and the Royal Marines entrusted me with a huge responsibility, and through training, support and feedback I learnt and grew personally and professionally.

My experience in the military, allow me to put any product or company emergency into perspective. While I have often worked in financial services, and the issues we have and decisions we take have real world implications, I know a decision I make will not result in a direct, substantial loss of life.

The top tips I have learnt about managing emergencies are:

  1. Remaining calm.  Be the level head that calms the situation down, and stop people overreacting or acting without thinking through the implications
  2. Pausing and diagnose before acting.  Buy people time to find out what is really going on
  3. Prioritise
    1. Stop the problem getting worse
    2. Fix the immediate problem
    3. Plan the long term solution
  4. Encourage people to be honest with mistakes, and don’t blame them.  It is ten times easier to solve a problem you know about as soon as it happens, rather than having to analyse and backtrack errors or mistakes across multiple systems over a large period

My final blog, will cover feedback. I hope that in sharing my thoughts, it helps other, especially veterans, make the transition into Product.

* There are of course many areas where errors or failures in product can result in injury and death, for example, software in medical devices, and shown recently, software in aircraft. However, these areas are heavily regulated with multiple controls, checks and balances. While my blog article title is hyperbolic, I do content that there is a very real difference between making decisions on the battle field, and making decisions in the comfort of an office – without denigrating the work that people all over the world do to save and improve lives with software.