Can you ever get credit for averting a disaster?

avoiding disasterYou never get credit for averting a disaster, only for mounting a rescue operation once it’s in motion. At least that’s my experience from decades working in and around software development.

I’ve seen the debate play out time and time again: How much time and effort do you invest upfront in planning, analysis, quality assurance, risk mitigation? How much is enough? How much is too much? What’s the cost of averting a problem versus fixing the problem after implementation? We all know it costs more to fix it after Go Live, but was it worth the cost of avoiding, if the problem never materializes?

This is similar to the debate we are having across the world today. What is the cost of averting a catastrophic surge on our medical resources? How much of our wealth are we willing to give up to save lives? Does it depend on the number of lives? We’re investing up front in “flattening the curve”, but will we believe that the costs were worth it when it’s all over?

If a software Go Live is a success, no alarms are raised, no high impact problem reports are sent up the chain of command, no emergency meetings are called, or ‘business continuity plans’ activated. There’s a celebration cake, some nice words of thanks to the dedicated team, some photos taken and everyone moves on to the next project. It obviously wasn’t that complex or that challenging — there were no outside witnesses to the heroic work that went on behind the scenes.  The impact of the quality checks and testing on the final smooth implementation can get lost in the final assessment. Remember Y2K twenty years ago?

The projected COVID-19 deaths in the US are gradually dropping as we wrap up several weeks of Stay At Home orders across most of the nation. This is fantastic news! We achieved the objectives set forth by #flattenthecurve initiatives. This is the result of bold public officials making tough decisions — these are the unsung heroes.  And, I can already hear rumblings and second-guessings as to whether this was needed, precisely because the projections have dropped. Wait, don’t forget, that was the whole point. Questions are being asked as to whether the cost to the economy was worth it. This is sounding familiar.

If a software Go Live is a disaster, a hotshot SWAT team swoops in to the rescue. These saviors are treated like royalty — their heroic work is on display for all to see. Heroes are born that become legends of department lore. The unheard voices that had asked for more time to check, review, and test get buried or take the blame. Lessons learned are captured, After Action Reviews are conducted, and improvement task forces formed. We don’t want to repeat this ever again … until we do.

We’ve witnessed COVID-19 disasters in many places across the globe. There were many unheard voices trying to issue warnings and caution. Some were buried and some may be looked to for blame before it’s all over. New heroes have been born. We’re doing military style flyovers to honor our doctors, nurses and medical professionals. Infectious disease experts, scrounging for research funds, mostly hidden in their labs until this point, have found themselves on the international stage. They are getting fan mail … and some hate mail too, I”m sure. I hope they have their grants written so they can strike while the iron’s hot. We want to be better prepared next time … until we forget.

Reading about the 1918 Spanish flu has fascinated me the past few weeks. As with software projects, it would seem that we do repeat mistakes and we do forget. The German philosopher Friedrich Hegel seems to have got it right when he said  “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”

What will the future say about the decisions made and the resulting consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic? I’m sure we’ll already know a lot more in a year from now. However, wouldn’t you love to come back in 100 years to find out what history will write about the year 2020?


Waiting for the Storm Surge

Hurrican harveyWe know about waiting around for a storm surge on the Texas Gulf Coast. When a named storm comes into the Gulf of Mexico, the media goes into hyper-overdrive. The weather becomes the headline news, the mid-point news and the wrap-up news – and then the special edition extension to the news. Public Service Announcements drop into our conscientiousness like pollen off the oak trees in March. We add water, batteries, extra canned soup, alcohol, chips and salsa to our grocery lists — never toilet paper before, but this could be a new thing after COVID-19.

Then we sit and wait … and watch the news. As the colored storm trajectories and probabilities snake their way across the map, we make second level decisions about boarding up windows, tying down flying objects, and moving cars to higher ground. Some people gather for storm parties – admit it, you know you do! Life is up-ended. It feels exciting, a bit dangerous and there’s a thrill of a disruption to the daily grind.

Today we’re sitting around watching for another potential surge to hit our city. Houston is awaiting a surge in Coronavirus cases. We are warned to “expect lots of deaths” on the news. Is that for us too, or just New York? We’re not familiar with these new “flatten the curve” charts being flashed up on the screen. We don’t know how to assess the likelihood of damage.

We’ve done lots of the basic supplies prep, and are now making additional decisions around masks, gloves, and ordering groceries online. Our natural inclination to have a storm party is thwarted by the “Stay At Home” orders. What’s the point of all the chips and beer if you can’t share it with anyone?

When storms hit the coast, reporters stand ridiculously close to the waves on various piers and hotels near the ocean front. We watch and analyze and pour another drink. We post more on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and try to eventually get to sleep, but with one ear open for rising wind and flying objects. It’s a short-lived happening. Within a day, or two your fate is sealed and the storm has fizzled out, and the reporters can get some sleep. And us too.

This Corona surge however, is stretching beyond our attention span on the Gulf Coast. We’ve been switching on the evening news for the latest “Breaking News” for over three weeks now. The front-line reporters are in hospitals, deserted streets, and interviewing distressed medical personnel via Facetime across the country. I notice that they don’t get as close to the COVID patients as they do to those storm waves. 

Our social media feeds are getting clogged up with all manner of sharing challenges and chains on alternative topics. We’re not sleeping as well and starting to get cranky about people getting too close to us on walks.

How long is this going to take? First it was early April, then mid-April, now it’s April 30th. How will we know when it’s over and safe to step outside again? Is this “peak” they speak of rather like being in the eye of the storm? We keep tuning in to hopefully get answers.

I’m worried about our stamina for this. This is not your average storm surge. We can’t see the dropping pressure isobars over the Gulf. Do we have the endurance needed for such a long, drawn-out watch event? Especially each household going it alone. We’re not in training for this. We don’t have a frame of reference for this pending disaster.

There’s an expectation that the storm needs to either hit, or move on elsewhere. How long can we keep everyone penned in when they become immune to the media warnings? Something needs to happen soon, or I fear people are going to bust out. 

Waiting and patience are not our strong suits. Do we have what it takes to ride out this storm?

There is a mounting restlessness “to saddle up and move ’em on out.”