I personally don’t like the term “War Room” when describing a firefighting situation that many software companies have to deal with when systems go down or have problems. The way these war rooms typically play out is that key personnel (engineers, operations, business) are summoned into a room until the problem is solved. This was the case back with the Apollo 13 mission and still is now when we look at the famous Facebook war room from Dec 2012.

What’s the problem with these pictures? There are a lot of people in the room that have no clue whether the problem on hand is actually something they can fix or are responsible for. All of these people are summoned without first figuring out which people should look at the problem. Why is that? Because the collected “evidence” in the form of infrastructure monitoring data, log files, user complaints, etc., just shows symptoms but doesn’t tell us anything about the actual impact and root cause of issues.

Looking at the this image, it is hard to tell which people need to get in a room. Do we just need an Ops guy to restart the process that consumes all of the CPU? Or do we need an application expert that sifts through log files? Do we need to contact our mobile solution provider because it is an actual problem in the 3rd party mobile native app? The typical MO is to simply call-in everybody to figure out the root cause of the problem and with that pulling critical resources from other important projects without even knowing if these folks can actually help solving these problems. How can we change this? By asking the right questions first!

The 10 Real Questions to ask

You don’t need nice and shiny dashboards that show you an aggregated overview of twitter statuses, infrastructure health or insight into slow application transactions. You need data to answer the following questions – whether it is presented in nice dashboards or log files doesn’t really matter:

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