Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rethinking exit and entrance strategies 7: crisis as a transition demanding challenge 6

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 20, 2016

This is my seventh installment to a series that offers a general discussion of business transitions, where an organization exits one developmental stage or period of relative strategic and operational stability, to enter a fundamentally different next one (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 559 and loosely following for Parts 1-6.)

I offered what amounts to a laundry list of items and issues to address at the top of Part 6, and repeat it here as a point of orientation and to maintain continuity of discussion in this series.

• I stated that I would discuss the role of timing in single points of failure and in addressing them,
• And then concurrent and sequential causality as these concepts apply here too.
• And I added that I will discuss the differences in practice between event analysis while an event is still actively occurring, and event analysis as a post hoc, after the fact learning exercise.
• And then with all of this discussion of single points of failure and of due diligence analysis of those types of challenge laid out, I added that I will conclude my discussion of crisis as a cause of business transitions.
• Then after that I will return to reconsider growth and scalability, and business transitions in non-crisis contexts – including more intentionally planned for and sought-after transitions.

And I began working my way through that admittedly somewhat lengthy list of topics in Part 6 with an admittedly brief and somewhat sketchy discussion of the first of those points, and of timing as that plays out in the specific context of lean and agile manufacturing systems to take that discussion out of the abstract.

I continue from there in this posting, and my goal here is to address the second bullet point of that list, and causality. And I begin by noting two crucially important points of detail that have to be considered in any such analysis:

• There are two fundamentally distinct types of causality (patterns of causality) that arise and need to be taken into account here: concurrent and sequential.
• Concurrent causality follows a pattern where A directly causes B and it also directly causes C, so B and C are causally connected, even though neither in any way directly causes the other. They are indirectly causally linked.
• And sequential causality is where A directly causes B and B in turn directly causes C so they are all directly causally linked.
• And the second point of fact that I would raise here is that when a traumatic event such as a single point of failure is taking place and has to be addressed, it is not in general immediately going to be known which observable points of operational breakdown are directly causally linked to which as in the sequential causality pattern, which are more indirectly causally linked in accordance with the concurrent causality pattern, and what might simply be simultaneously occurring even though any causal links between them are weak at most. Initially you just see a perhaps large and diverse set of problematical consequences, all taking place at once as functional slow-downs, break-downs and disconnects, that you have to make sense of, prioritize for active response and address, and either by restoring the key breakdown point that started this or by finding a plan B work-around as an at least temporary fix.

To take this out of the abstract, if problems suddenly emerge because a high pressure water pipe bursts at a join – where it runs through the presumably secure server room at the heart of your business’ main intranet and data and file repository system in its home office, you probably know at least the causal starting point for all that suddenly follows. But you do not necessarily know the causal connections map and all of the dependencies for all of the specific problem points that suddenly emerge as following from that, that you will need to know and use as a map for tracking down, prioritizing and addressing all of those emergent problems.

You have to cut off electricity to that room and to any other directly affected by all of this unexpected water to make it safe to go in there without fear of electrocution. And you need to shut off that water flow, and you probably have to do both of these immediately and at essentially the same time. But now you have to start addressing a multitude of suddenly emergent crises, and switching to a hopefully adequately updated off-site server facility for continuity is only going to be part of that. Remember – water and electricity are going to be off in the home office and probably throughout it for at least some period of hours and in the middle of a busy day. Your home office itself is going to be effectively down and without warning.

I just painted that scenario as a worst possible case, and intentionally so. Now let’s add due diligence planning and risk management into that event and its follow-through.

• What are your basic ongoing business processes and what is called for in order to make them work?
• What are their causal dependencies? What has to be completed or at least started and carried through upon and to what completion benchmark points, before what next steps can take place or be done for all of this, with these issues addressed categorically where possible, but also on a more process by process and process instance by process instance basis?
• What work-arounds could be anticipated, and for what predictable types of break-down? This is both a process question and a supporting resource question, where “supporting resource” goes beyond simply developing an inventory of what equipment and other material resources would have to be functionally replaced and on short notice. This is also a question of who would do what and from where. And it is also a question of possible ripple effect consequences where physical resources and personnel and their time and effort might need to be re-tasked, taking them from their initially planned obligations.
• In my unexpected flood example, switching to a distantly located server farm would help in business recovery for the home office, but it would probably be more immediately useful for business continuity in outside business facilities. How could communications be restored to them from the home office to facilitate a more seamless hand-off of critical-needs decision making and carry-through? And who is there in those facilities, outside of the home office headquarters who is prepared to do what to maintain this continuity of function and with a set of plans in place for doing this, and overall with a minimum of gaps and a minimum of perhaps conflictingly duplicated efforts?
• What is in place that would map out and facilitate a smooth transition back as the home office comes back online again too?
• And to round out this side-discussion, what resources are going to be available for capturing the details of this event and according to an accurate timeline so it can be reviewed and learned from as part of ongoing due diligence and risk remediation efforts?

And with that I have at least briefly and selectively delved into the first two issues from the list I offered at the top of this posting. I will continue this in a next series installment with number three:

• A discussion of the differences in practice between event analysis while an event is still actively occurring, and event analysis as a post hoc, after the fact learning exercise.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

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