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The Secret to Performance Under Fire

catEyes.jpgEvery enterprise has them. They are as inescapable as cats on the internet. Enterprise fire drills on web performance are the norm for any corporate enterprise that has a website critical to their business model (even more so when your executives have laser powered heat vision).

Given that content owners, merchants and ad sales representatives are all trying to stuff 22 pounds of content into pages with a carrying capacity of only 20, business forces turn IT professionals everywhere into part time fire fighters. There is a standard method for minimizing both the frequency and impact of fire drills on your team — the enterprise IT guys refer to it as "monitoring and alerting." Cagey veterans schooled in conversational dynamics refer to it as "getting in front of the question."

How It Feels to Get Grilled

I spoke about this topic at the premier conference for building a faster and stronger web: Velocity held in Santa Clara, California. Along with Robert Tanzola, manager of technical architecture at Autotrader and Abelardo Gonzales, director of product management at Keynote Systems, I laid out the path to get from a fire drill centric culture to an early warning, arson prevention orientation.

No matter what type of experience you work on and contribute to, you know that page or app performance is a critical factor that correlates to user engagement and business objectives. One of the reasons we all know this is because we have all been subject to the seemingly inevitable performance fire drill that happens when an executive or product owner is surprised by a performance issue on a production experience:

Executive — This page takes six seconds to load! Nobody waits beyond 2 seconds! I thought you guys knew something about the internet! Go fix this!

Tech Resource — Performance is a multidimensional problem that is driven by several areas. The primary one being the content on the page. And for the record, the 2 second rule applies to time to interactive (TTI) rather than page complete and the rule doesn't even apply to all page types in all industries anyway. Pages with complex, multi homed content take time to aggregate and render.

Executive — Maybe so. But you can't deny that our time has popped up and our conversions are down! Go figure it out how it happened and fix it!

This is the discussion that kicks of a series of investigations and deep dives. Even if you are lucky enough to live in an enterprise mature enough to stop fire drills before they start (or in the worst case scenario, turn into witch hunts), you still have several days if not weeks of research, analysis and prioritization exercises for how to get your performance numbers back where they need to be. The toughest thing to accept in the complicated dance of running an online business is the idea that your business strategy will likely be designed to make your pages grow heavier every day.

A Whole New Meaning to Being in the Loop

All of the above scenario starts with a context often referred to as "being behind the question." If you've never heard of this phrase, it pretty much ensures that you've experienced its effects. If the first time you hear about a problem in your operation is from outside or above you in the chain of command, you are forced to react to the question, because you are behind it in the information processing cycle known as the OODA loop.

The OODA loop is a term with military origins developed by US Air Force Colonel, John Boyd. Boyd modeled the information processing cycle for fighter pilots in the throes of combat by breaking it down to four interrelated and overlapping processes through which one cycles continuously: 

Observation: the collection of data by means of the senses

Orientation: the analysis and synthesis of data to form one's current mental perspective

Decision: the determination of a course of action based on one's current mental perspective

Action: the physical playing-out of decisions


Since its development, the OODA loop has come to be applied as a decision making cycle for any individual or collective organism and has arisen to significant prominence in combat, business, litigation, social contexts and any interaction between multiple players.The secret to getting "in front of the question" is to increase your own OODA loop speed until it outpaces the speed of other parties, enabling your observations and actions to happen before the reactions of other parties.

When you can move through observation to action faster that the other parties, your answer to the inquiries of other parties goes something like this:


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