The Howie Guide: How to get started with incident investigations

Until now, if you wanted to improve your organization’s ability to learn from incidents, there wasn’t a lot of how-to style material you could draw from. Sure, there were research papers you could read (oh, so many research papers!). But academic papers aren’t a great source of advice for someone who is starting on an effort to improve how they do incident analysis.

There simply weren’t any publications about how to get started with doing incident investigations which were targeted at the infotech industry. Your best bet was the Etsy Debrief Facilitation Guide. It was practical, but it focused on only a single aspect of the incident investigation process: the group incident retrospective meeting. And there’s so much more to incident investigation than that meeting.

The folks at Jeli have stepped up to the challenge. They just released Howie: The Post-Incident Guide.

Readers of this blog will know that this is a topic near and dear to my heart. The name “Howie” is short for “How we got here“, which is what we call our incident writeups at Netflix. (This isn’t a coincidence: we came up with this name at Netflix when Nora Jones of Jeli and I were on the CORE team).

Writing a guide like this is challenging, because so much of incident investigation is contextual: what you look at it, what questions you ask, will depend on what you’ve learned so far. But there are also commonalities across all investigations; the central activities (constructing timelines, doing one-on-one interviews, building narratives) happen each time. The Howie guide gently walks the newcomer through these. It’s accessible.

When somebody says, “OK, I believe there’s value in learning more from incidents, and we want to go beyond doing a traditional root-cause-analysis. But what should I actually do?”, we now have a canonical answer: go read Howie.

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