Signed, Sealed, and Delivered

February 13, 2019
A mouthful of a title… but then, I suppose most thesis titles are.

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m happy to finally report, it’s official: my thesis for Lund’s Human Factors and Systems Safety program has been published!

Astute followers may be wondering “Hey, wait a second, I thought you graduated last summer? Twitter has the receipts!”

Well, I did march with my classmates last summer. But, that didn’t mean everything was all signed, sealed, and delivered. It took another six months to finalize all the analyses, cross the I’s, dot the T’s, add Easter egg footnotes, and hand it off to the assessor for final review and approval.

The thesis took a bit of extra time because it was really comprised of two different projects: collection and analysis of an industry survey on “post-incident analysis artifacts” (aka postmortem docs) as well as some of the practices employed in the industry; and then a deep case study of a high performing software development and operations organization, investigating how their development, operations, and security teams each use these artifacts, both internally and within/across the organization.

Some of the highlights?

  • Companies execute their post-incident analysis process differently, and generate different artifacts; some of these differences can be correlated to traits of the company (job role, company size, etc.). This is probably pretty intuitive, but it hadn’t been shown before.
  • There exist different archetypes of post-incident analysis templates; the thesis identifies three: The Record-Keeper, the Facilitator, and the Sign Post.
  • Different teams—say, developers, operations engineers and security engineers—use artifacts in different ways when going about their day-to-day work.
  • From an inter-team and organizational perspective, this particular company uses their post-incident analysis artifacts in a number of fascinating ways, including using them to map the changing terrain of their complex system, share rich context with each other (as opposed to creating static lists of remediation items), and curate organizational culture and transmit tribal knowledge within and among the teams.
  • Plus, a bunch of other fascinating findings about how a high-performing organization uses their postmortem artifacts in actual practice.

If you’re curious about the details, you can grab a copy of the full thesis at https://jpaulreed.com/jpaulreed-lund-thesis-v1_1.pdf

And now that that’s done, all that’s left is finding a paper shredder that can handle all of this...

Raw research leftovers.