This is an excerpt from the Stella Report, which is the result of the first project “Coping With Complexity” performed by the Resilience Engineering In Business-Critical Software Consortium (“SNAFUcatchers”). A video introduction to the report and the consortium is here.

4.5 “Strange loop” dependencies

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Strange loop phenomena: when you need to use a thing to help you understand how that thing is broken.

As systems become more complex, strange loops emerge, where some part that provides a function, also depends on the function it provides (Hofstadter 2007, p. 101). This can remain unproblematic when systems function normally. Strange loops produce difficulties when surprises occur and anomalies arise. Managing, monitoring, modifying digital services depend on digital services in the same network (cardiovascular system and nuclear power plants also contain strange loops). All three cases (Section 3.1–3.3) …

This is an excerpt from the Stella Report, which is the result of the first project “Coping With Complexity” performed by the Resilience Engineering In Business-Critical Software Consortium (“SNAFUcatchers”). A video introduction to the report and the consortium is here.

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Dark debt was named that to draw a parallel with dark matter. Dark matter has detectable effects on the world but cannot be seen or detected directly. Matter that can be seen and measured directly accounts for only about 15% of the mass of the universe; the remaining 85% is dark matter.

Contrasted with technical debt, the dark debt metaphor:

  • arises from unforeseen…

This is an excerpt from the Stella Report, which is the result of the first project “Coping With Complexity” performed by the Resilience Engineering In Business-Critical Software Consortium (“SNAFUcatchers”). A video introduction to the report and the consortium is here.

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4.1.2. Social issues in postmortems

Because they involve detailed examination of events, the circumstances that produced them, and the responses to them, postmortems may bring sensitive, contentious, and organizationally dangerous issues out in the open. Postmortems can reveal dysfunctions, poor performance, mixed messages, conflicts between stated intentions and incentives, etc.

Although apparently technically focused, postmortems are inherently social events. Especially for events with significant consequences, there are incentives to direct attention towards some issues and away from others. When large losses incur attention of senior management the tenor and content of the postmortem may shift away from freewheeling discourse to a more closed ended, narrowly technical discussion. Postmortems may become “stage plays” intended to assert organizational control, ratify management decisions, or localize and truncate the inquiry into circumstances and contributors. In most cases, these shifts are obvious to the more technically sophisticated staff. Repeated experience with these manipulations can generate secondary learning from events, i.e. learning that the organizational imperative is to maintain face, to stave off inquiry into sensitive topics, and to avoid entanglement with powerful outside entities. …

This is an excerpt from the Stella Report, which is the result of the first project “Coping With Complexity” performed by the Resilience Engineering In Business-Critical Software Consortium (“SNAFUcatchers”). A video introduction to the report and the consortium is here.

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Figure from the Stella Report on cognitive processes as a critical part of “the system”

(page 24)

4.1 Capturing the value of anomalies through postmortems

Anomalies are unambiguous but highly encoded messages about how systems really work. Postmortems represent an attempt to decode the messages and share them. Patterns in the message content, in the frequency and timing of the messages, and in the general themes that the messages touch upon are information about the system that cannot be obtained by other methods. Complexity and change — the two are closely linked — make it impossible to maintain a complete and accurate understanding of the system. Anomalies are indications of the places where the understanding is both weak and important. Anomalies are a class of untyped pointers to deficiencies in our understanding that matter. We can, if we choose to do so, if we have sufficient skill in decoding, use those pointers to identify regions worthy of study. Doing this is not simple nor is it always obviously rewarding. …

About

John Allspaw

Currently building Adaptive Capacity Labs with @ri_cook & @ddwoods2 Former CTO, Dad. Author. Guitarist. Cognitive Systems Engineer.

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