The Practice of Practice: Teamwork in Complexity


The Practice of Practice

These are stories of teams working together to find and support resilience in the complex system at hand. Building intuition that emphasizes diversity and continuous learning in teams running reliable complex software systems is a proven approach to the real problems we face on the sharp end.

The concepts that thread themselves through collaboration in improvisational music are present in the ways we work in technology teams. We are already practicing resilience all around us, and music can help us recognize and bolster it, maybe even engineer for its emergence.

I want to display these similarities for not only those who play music but also those who listen, and move beyond simple analogies to understand that our brains are wired this way. The connection I make with my own SRE work is something I associate very strongly with my musicianship and connection to the practice of improvisational music.

Because systems become more complex as they grow, shrinking the capacity of any one person to comprehend the whole thing, we depend heavily on shared and discovered knowledge. When joint activities in complexity fail due to assumptions that participants share the same knowledge, Fundamental Common Ground Breakdown rears its dragon-like head, making it difficult to move the activity forward. Whether it be during an incident or improvising jazz, part of the game is learning how to harmonize these separate threads of experience, with the emphasis that what goes right in a complex system is just as valuable as what goes wrong.

Improvising musicians develop a deep intuition built around internalizing the materials and form of their genre – like scales, chord changes, or rhythmic structures. It can be directly compared to the mental map that engineers develop when writing software and understanding complexities. Each member of an ensemble has their subjective view on relevant (but overlapping) parts of the system and are challenged when relating each other’s substrate to theirs. Musicians are prime examples that the more we come together and share our perspectives to further understand a complex system, the better we know how to bolster its resilience to uncertainty.

Session Highlights...

- Take a closer look at intuition through the eyes of performing in a music ensemble.
- Introduce the concept of Fundamental Common Ground Breakdown and how it interrupts our efforts to collaborate and respond to events and incidents.
- Provide a down-to-earth example of how the Elemental, the Complicated, and the Complex differ.
- Walk through the elements of a real Chaos Engineering Game Day practice.
- Introduce the concepts important to SRE around Cognitive Systems and Resilience in an approachable way.

Take-Aways include:

- Chaos Engineering Game Day practice methods
- Strategies for avoiding Fundamental Common Ground Breakdown in their own organizations
- Starting points for exploring Chaos Engineering and Resilience
- A mnemonic for remembering the difference between Elemental, Complicated, and Complex
- Guidance to study how a system is successful to help understand how it fails
- The knowledge that individual mental models are insufficient in complex sociotechnical systems
- Some cool music to go listen to. :)

Ballroom A
Saturday, March 7, 2020 - 18:00 to 19:00