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System crisis management in three steps:

This focus of this site is on quickly resolving a crisis for a relatively complicated system. Our example system is roughly based on the New York and Erie Railroad circa 1855.

The methods are simple, but use tools that help create maps quickly. These same methods are used at the scale of global search engines and mapping human genes. We are simplifying to match the scale of effort that is reasonable to address a typical crisis, but also to illustrate the core ideas without getting distracted by detail and extensibility.

Coming up with possible solutions to a crisis can be broken up into 3 steps:

The situation presents enough information about the current system to gauge possible resolution to a crisis. For a complicated system, a map of relevant pieces is useful to understand relations. At the most basic level it is an inventory of what is available, as well as a description of the problem. The mapping of the current situation is done with the proposal and target in mind. The assumption is we are facing a crisis in the present and need to create a map to proceed. Our task is easier if we can leverage designs that decomposed a system into something that can be re-used during our mapping process, but the method documented on this web site does not assume any re-usable design. In our example, we will map railroad employees, tracks, engines, freight cars, coal, timber, and kilns to illustrate a crisis brought about by a disruption in the coal supply.

The target describes the desired outcome, and is often simple to describe, but complicated to envison. In our railroad example, the target is to convert all trains so they can burn charcoal instead of coal. This requires modifications to the firebox of all engines and modification of the fuel supply chain.

The proposal lays out in detail how to transform the current situation into the target. In our example, our proposal is to re-task various employees, re-route some lines for timber and charcoal, and perform the fire box conversion on the engines. We use the map from the situation stage in our proposal, which holds us accountable and gives us an easy way to modify, as the map is created using simple facts and automatically generated.

The above steps do not address the decision, which is usually done by a leader, nor does it address implementation of the proposal. Do note, though, that the outcome of this process leads to the ability to both refactor based on knowledge gained during the implementation, but it can also be re-used to refine resilient system designs and for use in addressing future crises.

While it is true that the example used was cherry picked to illustrate these ideas, there is currently much work done by many people that apply these ideas to almost any challenge. Some important people whose works have inspired the ideas on this web site are: Tim Berners-Lee, Barry Smith, Vandana Kabilan, Christophe Debruyne, Henry Story, and Desirée Daniel.