Blame. Language. Sharing: Three Tips for Learning from Incidents in Your Organisation

Friday, June 08, 2018 - 1:20 pm2:15 pm

Lindsay Holmwood, Envato


“Fail fast, fail often” is a refrain heard throughout the tech industry. We’ve seen organisations who embrace this mantra succeed. When things go wrong in the workplace, we know it’s important to not just tolerate, but accept and embrace failure.

But what’s the point of embracing failure if we’re not learning anything from it? It’s not that we’re not learning because we’re not trying. Embracing and learning from failure is far more complicated than people are aware of.

Have you held a blameless postmortem, but the outcome was the same as the blameful postmortems you held before – “root cause: human error”? Were your blameless postmortem's findings interpreted and twisted elsewhere in your organisation?

Does this sound familiar?

The language we use when talking about failure shapes the outcome of that discussion. It shapes how we treat people involved in incidents. It shapes how capable the organisation is of learning from incidents in the future.

In this talk we’ll cover some common pitfalls when constructing a narrative for What Went Wrong. We’ll learn which cognitive biases taint our perception of events. We’ll discover how to hack our language to minimise blame.

Lindsay Holmwood, Envato

Lindsay Holmwood is an engineering leader based in Australia. He served as the Head of Technology at the Australian federal government's Digital Transformation Agency, where he was responsible for technology strategy, advice, and delivery. He currently works at Envato leading engineering on Envato Elements. Since bringing DevOps to Australia by running the second ever DevOpsDays conference in 2010, he runs the the longest running DevOps meetup in the world in Sydney. He regularly speaks on technology culture, DevOps, digital transformation, and building high performing teams. He also won third place at the 1996 Sydney Royal Easter Show LEGO building competition.

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@conference {214919,
author = {Lindsay Holmwood},
title = {Blame. Language. Sharing: Three Tips for Learning from Incidents in Your Organisation},
year = {2018},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jun,

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