Gunnebo Business Solutions, Operations, Tactical Meetings

Efficient Technical Support Tactical Meetings

Gunnebo Business Solutions AB is working on establishing an international, dynamic and enthusiastic software development team who will build sophisticated security and business applications. Within the new organization, customer support and operations plays a vital role.

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To be able to effectively help our customers, we are implementing and improving our routines around the support process. We have started our journey with ITIL version 4 and DevOps, but lately an article from Holocracy regarding “Tactical Meetings” caught my eye. Tactical meetings are held regularly, on a weekly basis, with the intention of removing any obstacles that may arise preventing the team from achieving their goals for that cycle (the duration between 2 meetings), or to update the rest of the team as to what is going on with the task assigned to a team member.

Tactical Meeting Procedure and Expectations

Tactical meetings are usually kept short and on point. These meetings usually can be divided into five main parts, they are namely “Check-in”, “Checklist, Metrics, Project Updates”, “Agenda Building”, “Triaging Issues” and finally the “Closing Round”.

  • Check-in Phase: This phase is basically sort of a get to know your team member phase, here team members are given a little time to talk about how they are doing or feel free to express how they are feeling at that moment (maybe they were feeling little blue at that moment or rejoicing about something special, or maybe they were just not themselves), just so that the other members would know where that member was coming from.
  • Checklist, Metrics, Project Updates Phase: Here the team members are given the opportunity to provide the rest of the team with some context about the issues they are facing with regards to the task they were assigned. The other team members are also encouraged to either ask the member questions or may save them for a later time in the meeting.
  • Agenda Building Phase: At this point, the facilitator (the person chairing the meeting, who is usually the team leader or a supervisor or someone from the management) would go ask the members to let him/her know of the problems they are facing. These problems are known as “Tensions”. Here the team member would either give a short phrase describing the tension or if they do not have any tensions, they could just say pass.
  • Triaging Issues Phase: This is the point where the team is allowed to discuss the issues they are facing in detail and try and come up with solutions to the tensions, keeping in mind any limitation that may arise in completing the task from the side of the team member who is facing the tension. The facilitator also plays a larger role here in keeping the topic on point and not letting the discussions to get derailed at any point. He / She can also add possible tensions that may arise from implementing the solutions into the agenda. But, once tension is crossed off the list, it cannot be revisited for that meeting.
  • Closing Round Phase: This is very similar to that of the check-in phase, but here the team members would deliberate on how they feel about the solutions that they have come up with, and whether or not they are happy with it.

The process of an Efficient Tactical Meeting

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The efficiency of a tactical meeting depends largely on the shoulders of the facilitator. An efficient facilitator would use a few tricks to keep the meetings short and on point. Here are some key tricks that a facilitator would need to use in order to achieve high levels of efficiency.

Recap from the previous cycle

Here the facilitator would go around the table, asking each member to present any updates from the solution(s) to the tension(s) they faced at the previous meeting. At this point, a good facilitator would have a checklist of the tensions and their solutions from the previous cycle and cross them off after they are resolved. Here the team members are also allowed to request to add items to the checklist as long as it is in keeping with the solution to the tension as well as accepted as a valid point for the solution by the other team members.

Keeping up with the time

This is when the facilitator allocates a certain amount of time for each task. For example, while building the agenda, the facilitator would ask the members to keep their tensions short and sweet, and sometimes even ask them to use one or two words to describe their tension, as these tensions can be elaborated in the triaging phase, it is not particularly necessary for everyone to understand the tension at this point. However, when it comes to the triaging phase, it is important that the facilitator finds a balance between allocating enough time for each tension in the agenda as well as being able to keep the meeting moving forward. Here it is considered good practice to not discuss minor issues (especially when considering technical support issues) in depth, but to find quick solutions and move to the next tension.

Processing the Tensions

This is the most important part of the role of a facilitator. Here the facilitator would ask the team member what their tension is, and then ask them what they need. The team member would then give a quick description of their tension and then give the team the solution to his/her tension or engage the other members of the team to come up with a fruitful solution. These tensions would be captured by the secretary and also the solution for the tension that was accepted by the team member. This would help the facilitator in the next cycle meeting when they recap the previous cycle. Finally, the facilitator would ask the member if they are happy with the solution, and if they are, move on to the next tension.

Tasks of a Facilitator

  • While most of the tensions in a technical support framework are quite straightforward, there are instances where the solution would require multiple steps to achieve the solution. Since these tactical meetings are set frequently, there may not always be time to complete all the steps required to achieve the solution. Hence, the facilitator would ask the team member for a “Next Action”, this is quite literally, what the team member wants to do next to achieve the solution to his/her tension. This could also be helpful to the facilitator to keep track of the checklist for the next cycles recap phase.
  • In cases where there is only one step, or is at the final step, the facilitator could also ask for the outcome of the project. A “Project” is a solution with a definite endpoint.
  • The facilitator can also ask team members to share information on tensions where there may not be an immediate solution.
  • In the case of where a member does not know how to express their tension(s), the facilitator could also either ask the team members to address the tension or even offer a possible pathway for the team member to address it by him/her self.
  • Another important task for the facilitator would be to make sure that only one tension is being discussed at one point. There may be instances where another team member would want to discuss a related or similar tension to that of which is being discussed. At this point the facilitator is required to refocus the team’s attention to the tension and hand, to ensure the meeting is efficient.
  • In cases where the teams come up with multiple solutions to the same tension, it is the job of the facilitator to urge the team to come up with a consensus as to what is the better solution. If the team member with the tension is not sure whether he/she would be able to achieve the solution, they can also request the help of other team members to reach their goal.
  • If the situation arises where the solution that the team has come up with, is not in keeping with the organization’s policies or is not a service provided by the organization, the facilitator has the job of taking this matter to the management and try to come up with a solution at that level.

In summary, the main objectives of a technical support tactical meeting are to spend more time talking about the important things and find a solution to help the customer more efficiently and satisfactorily. The purpose of these meetings is not to talk about things that are beyond the control of the team, or talk strategies or even politics, the purpose is to spend less time complaining and working together as a team to help each and every member of the team to perform their work efficiently and effectively. Hence, that is why we have not only implemented weekly tactical meetings at our organization, we also abide by the guidelines put forward in this article.

If you want to talk more about software support and operations, feel free to contact me at bjorn.nostdahl@gunnebo.com

DevOps, Gunnebo Business Solutions, Microservices, Operations, Technical

Microsoft LEAP: Accelerating Business Value

This is my third article from Microsoft LEAP and todays’ focus is the use of microservices and Kubernetes.

Containers Are Crucial For the More Essential Microservices

A very important topic that was discussed throughout the agenda of the conference was the use of Microservices and how essential they are for most applications for the business sectors. With different approaches and angles to this topic, Brendand Buns, one of Kubernetes co-founder, gave a session which focused on the use of containers for microservices. He focused on his product, Kubernetes, which is one of the best and most recommended open-source services for the use containers with the use of policies. Microservices are important due to their ability of being agile and their sophisticated architecture which helps in a faster digital offering.

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However, currently found microservices are used on physical services which leads to many problems. This is why the use of containers is a breakthrough which gives the user a light runtime environment. It can also be used on physical or virtual servers which is a huge development compare to older technologies.

The use of containers will also help in providing better isolation, due to the use of many executions on only one operating system. Such an opportunity will aid developers in minimizing the use of many different VMs. Brendand discussed the use of Domain driven developments against using test driven developments; in terms the more relatable for businesses and how to pick the right method. Overall, the final conclusion was to reflect the scaling levels that could be reached through using Kubernetes as a service to provide containers while using microservices for your business.

The Use of Service Fabric Mesh

One popular session in the program was by Mark Fussell and Vaclav Turecek. This talk discussed the introduction of the anticipated future product called Service Fabric Mesh, with a full comparison with the currently used cloud service. Many different points have been discussed to describe the service fabric fully. However, the audience got more excited when they heard the different benefits that are met while using this new service.

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Mark spoke about the time taken to create instances of VMs and the hassle in the whole process. This is where service fabric shines as it creates the VMs only once, allowing it to be used through the platform. More packages can be added to the cluster further on without any time consumptions. The second point tackled by Vaclav was the hosting opportunities with service fabric which is described as high-density. Which explains why the cost is lower for service fabrics, as the applications are not connected to the VMs in particular, giving a space to connect more than one application to a single VM.

Last but not least, they both discussed the flexibility of the service fabric mesh to be used with different servers or any different environments, disregarding the current existing infrastructure. They added the fact that service fabric helps in controlling the machine lifecycle. Developers were more educated on the differences between cloud technologies and whether to transfer or not.

The Touch Point: ACI and AKS

When it comes to the use of Azure Container Instances(ACI), Justin Luk, the product manager for Azure and Kuberentes, was the best pick for such content. Developers were glad to know that containers by AKS can be used with their ACIs. The containers can be quickly used when needed without any preps, saving time and effort. Instances will also be easily deleted directly after the needed work is done. AKS is used in these on-demand moments to monitor the work and control the creation and deletion process. This can help developers provide new severs instantly when needed without any hassle. When a certain problem or demand is asked for, AKS are used to reach the needed output without any extra services or products.

An Environment of AKS: Best Practices

Another session that stood out from all the Kubernetes sessions was the one conducted by Saurya Das, another product manager in Azure. This session was to reflect the success stories by some of the developers out there that used AKS in their platforms. Developers were happy to know about the multi-tenancy when using the cluster isolation. In addition, was the different network designs that could be used with their new service. These networks can also be implemented using policies, that help make the development easier and more secure. Overall, everyone in the session was satisfied to know about the scaling opportunities to expect and the strong control for monitoring and handling it possesses.

Monitoring Your Procedures Using Azure Monitoring

On the other hand, Ralph Squillace, gave a wider image and a better understanding on multi-tenancy and their use with AKS. He discussed how it is commonly mistakenly used through the AKS products itself, whereas it is actually recommended to be used in the application directly. Ralph emphasized on such points, by relating to some best practices which were mainly of SaaS products. He gave a few tips and tricks on how your service should be in terms of security, designs, policies and much more in order to be able to integrate and handle the multi-tenancy directly and easily through the application.

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Kubernetes: Guide for its Tools

The end of this section of containers being used was bent towards introducing the different operating tools that will assess developers while using kubernetes services. Bridget Kromhout was able to introduce the developers to new tools as Terraform, Helm, Draft, Brigade, Kashti and many others. These different tools were discussed thoroughly on how to use them in terms of configurations and app development. They were also helpful in scripting for event-driven operations and to manage the app fully. Developers were happy to learn how to efficiently use Kubernetes and containers for their currently existing architectures and structures.

All in all, a very on-topic and interesting day at Micrososft LEAP 2019. I look forward to the next sessions. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at bjorn.nostdahl@nostdahl.com