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Code For America Summit 2018

John Allspaw
May 30, 2018

Code For America Summit 2018

John is an inspiring leader among engineers, but you don’t need to be technical to benefit from his message. Too often in government, we’re told to minimize risk and avoid mistakes at all costs. The reality is that mistakes and accidents happen when working with complex systems; how we respond to them makes all the difference in whether learning from them will happen or not. Systems and the cultures responsible for their operation can become more brittle and locked down, or we can learn from mistakes and become more resilient. The latter path starts with blameless post-incident reviews, part of management principles known as forward-looking accountability and just culture, which come from research in domains like aviation, medicine, and manufacturing. Evolving how we learn from incidents in these ways is critical to turning accidents into real investments in the future.

John Allspaw

May 30, 2018


  1. How does our software work, really? How does our software

    break, really? What do we do to keep it all working?
  2. • Teams of experts coping with complexity • Under competitive/political/production

    pressures • High tempo, high consequence scenarios • Elements of uncertainty and/or ambiguity
  3. Aviation Air Traffic Control Maritime Power Grid & Distribution Surgery

    Anesthesia Firefighting Rail Mining Explosives Space
  4. Safety comes from people (not tech) continually adapting their work

    to the situations they find themselves in. the “messy” details
  5. what actions they took at the time what effects they

    observed what expectations they had what assumptions they made their understanding of the timeline of events as they occurred the “messy” details
  6. ”If people are punished for being honest about what transpired,

    employees will soon learn that the personal costs to speaking up far outweigh the personal benefits. Improving the safety of a system is rooted in information. Anything that makes information more available is desirable and anything that blocks information should be avoided. It is for this reason that the Learning Review seeks to identify influences and never blame.” United States Forest Service Learning Review Guide

    safety information shall be used for safety purposes only; specifically, preventing mishaps and reducing injury and property damage resulting from mishaps. b. Privileged safety information shall not be: 1) Used, shared, or released except as provided in this Instruction. 2) Used to support disciplinary or adverse administrative action, to determine the misconduct or line-of-duty status of any personnel, or as evidence before any evaluation board. 3) Used to determine liability in administrative claims or litigation, whether for or against the Government. 4) Released in response to requests for information pursuant to section 552 of title 5, U.S.C. (also known and hereinafter referred to as “FOIA”) (Reference (ab)). Requests are submitted in accordance with Reference (w) or in response to discovery requests, subpoenas, court orders, or other legal process except as provided in section 10 of this enclosure. 5) Privileged safety information may only be released as provided elsewhere in this Instruction or upon specific authorization by the Secretary of Defense. DOD Instruction 6055.7
  8. Want to know more about how to do this? Come

    to the breakout session on this topic later today.