Incidents happen, so how do you handle them? We explain incident management, how to prioritize incidents, and the process involved to resolve the incident.
What is incident management?
Incident management is the process software teams use to identify, analyze, and resolve incidents to resume normal operations as soon as possible. An incident refers to an unexpected disruption to a service that affects the end user. A wide range of incidents can occur, including server crashes, network issues, and authentication errors, but ultimately, an incident will affect the end user somehow.
With that in mind, incident management has two overarching goals: respond and resolve. Therefore, incident management will include procedures and actions that must be taken to respond to the incident and fix it to minimize end-user disruption as much as possible.
Why does incident management matter?
Incidents are inevitable, but having a straightforward process to manage them when they occur has significant benefits not just for the team but also for the business and customers. For teams following a DevOps model, an SRE team and a dedicated incident management process can be designed to implement your DevOps goals. With incident management processes, teams feel empowered with tools and resources in place, and responsibilities are clearly distributed. Incident resolution is stressful for the team, and a clear process reduces scrambling and panic.
Ultimately, once teams hone their incident management process, it enables them to work faster and better. That means software metrics such as mean time to resolution and downtime reduction see improvement. As a result, customers aren’t impacted for as long. And all of that combined leads to better business outcomes since the customer experience improves, and the solution becomes more efficient overall.
Incident management is a critical function for businesses of all sizes, ensuring that vulnerabilities and issues are addressed – especially when it comes to meeting service level agreements (SLAs).
What is the incident management process?
It’s unrealistic to go for a strategy where incidents never occur. So instead, the incident management process focuses more on how the incident is prioritized and assigning responsibility.
The incident management process broadly addresses each part of the incident response life cycle:
- Incident monitoring and detection: Incidents are identified through various methods, including continuous monitoring tools, user reports, and more. After identification, the incident needs to be logged and categorized based on severity and impact on the end customer.
- Communication to relevant team members when an incident is detected: Once an incident is detected, notifications to the incident response team members are crucial. Depending on how the incident is categorized, this could be official red alerts to team members. Or, just notifications can be sent without urgency if it's a minor issue.
- Assigning responsibility to team members to resolve the incident: How the incident is communicated will largely depend on the classification system. This part of the process needs to ensure that all team members are involved in deciding how team members will take ownership and responsibility.
- Steps needed to resolve the incident: This part of the process will include investigation, diagnosis, and potential resolution. Then, as responsibilities are assigned, teams can start to put together remediation steps as needed to resolve the incident while keeping customers and stakeholders in the loop. This tends to be the variable part of the process since it could mean intensive work to eliminate threats or resolve root issues if it’s a severe incident.
- Learnings or retrospectives and documentation of incident resolution afterward: After the incident is resolved, it’s essential to ensure the knowledge is shared so that team members can follow standard procedures and protocols as part of continuous improvement. Post-incident resolution steps could include retrospectives or automating runbooks based on how the incident was resolved to reduce the impact if the incident reoccurs.
How to optimize incident management processes
Once a workflow is established for how incidents will be managed, teams can start to consider ways to improve the workflow where possible. Some ways to improve the incident management process include:
- Tools: In each part of the process, teams must decide what tools are used to monitor, detect and resolve incidents. Tools should include clear responsibilities, assignments, alerts and notifications, and dedicated tools for automating parts of the process.
- Accessibility: Identifying multiple channels for communication to report incidents can help with monitoring. Think about opening up channels such as web, email, video conferencing, and phone so that users have the methods available to them to report problems.
- Effective communication: There must be procedures in place to notify users of incidents, such as email alerts and provide real-time updates on incident resolution
- Automation: Teams can come together to look at processes in place and where Teams can automate intensive manual work. Automation helps free up team resources while keeping standard procedures in place.
- Don’t overload alerts: Alerts are integral to incident resolution, but alert fatigue is also a real issue. Instead, consider what categories of incidents need alerts and what types, and try to keep the system as easy to understand as possible.
How Blameless can help
Blameless is a dedicated incident management tool that empowers engineering and DevOps teams through incidents and retrospectives through data. With Blameless, teams can remove manual work across the incident management process, resolve incidents significantly faster and free up team resources. Teams can set up service level objectives (SLOs), and service level agreements (SLAs) and operate with the customer journey in mind. With detailed retrospectives after incidents, teams can take action to optimize incident management through automation and a centralized resource for data and steps taken. Request a demo today to see how Blameless enables teams to improve incident management workflows and accelerate development velocity.