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The five foundational operating principles for business success in 2024

In today's cutthroat business world, everyone's vying for customer attention, and one bad experience can send people running to the competition faster than you can say "reputation damage."

In fact, research shows 73% of them will switch to your biggest rival after a bad experience. That's why it's absolutely vital for businesses to buckle down and get their operational strategies in order to stay ahead of the game.

Maintaining a 99.9% uptime might sound like a breeze, but it's actually just 43 minutes of leeway each month. That means the folks responsible for keeping the lights on need to be on their toes, making sure everything runs like a well-oiled machine.

Companies that lay down some solid ground rules on how things should run tend to keep their customers happier, which, in turn, keeps the cash flowing. On the flip side, those who don't do this risk losing out to their more buttoned-up competitors. And nobody wants that, right?

So, let's dive into some essential principles every business should embrace:

Define targets and codify guardrails

Establishing operational excellence requires a set of internal objectives (SLOs) that align with your users’ expectations. Simply put, you need to understand what your customers expect and set realistic goals to meet them. It's like setting a course for success and making sure everyone's sailing in the same direction.

Prioritising objectives using error budgets serves as a reliable gauge for maintaining first-class service standards. This approach empowers product teams to push out new features swiftly during periods of smooth service performance. Conversely, it also prompts them to ease off the gas and focus on bolstering operational stability and reliability when the budget is running low and service protection is paramount.

Be prepared for anything

Nobody wants to be blindsided by user complaints about service outages. Staying ahead of the game means keeping a close eye on the health of your systems, so you can spot and squash issues before they spiral out of control.

To build a robust infrastructure, you need to plan for the worst. That means setting up multiple data centres with failover mechanisms and auto-scaling capabilities to handle whatever the world throws at you. And let's not forget about modernising your design with event-driven, serverless, and microservices architectures to ensure flexibility and adaptability.

But having a sturdy setup is only part of the equation. You also need a mature observability platform to keep tabs on everything in real time. This means advanced monitoring tools, custom metrics, and alert systems to flag any anomalies pronto. And when things do go haywire, you need to be able to pinpoint the problem fast by keeping a keen eye on infrastructure metrics and application performance.

Act fast when trouble strikes

When things go south, every minute counts!

Businesses simply can't afford to waste precious minutes fumbling through conference calls and scrambling to get their engineers on board. That's why it's crucial to integrate automation into incident response protocols.

By harnessing the power of cutting-edge observability platforms bolstered by AI technology, organisations can swiftly detect any signs of abnormal system behaviour. This proactive approach to maintaining service reliability hinges on automation's ability to kick into action immediately, implementing advanced corrective measures and even self-healing processes to nip issues in the bud before they escalate.

Cultivate a positive work environment

Despite having all the fancy gadgets, a sleek architectural setup, and top-notch observability platforms, one aspect often overlooked is the importance of cultivating a workplace environment that fosters psychological safety. This means creating a space where employees feel comfortable speaking up, prioritising constant growth, and always striving for operational excellence.

Companies that view failure as a chance to learn create a culture where innovation flourishes. By relentlessly pursuing excellence, they not only enhance service reliability but also instil a "production-first" mindset across their teams. In such an environment, success isn't just a goal — it's a way of life.

Expect the unexpected

Let's face it: things can go wrong. That’s just the way it is.

That’s why it’s crucial to dedicate resources to pinpointing potential single points of failure within your system, crafting comprehensive service risk plans, and gearing up for various failure scenarios. Practices like chaos engineering can be invaluable in this regard, helping to unearth weak spots and address them proactively before they wreak havoc on your services.

Moreover, organisations must gear up for potential disaster scenarios by crafting robust contingency plans. This involves conducting regular tabletop exercises, executing real-world plans, and even hosting impromptu chaos engineering events to simulate and prepare for worst-case scenarios. By staying prepared and proactive, businesses can minimise the impact of disruptions and ensure smoother operations in the face of adversity.

Navigating success

In embracing these five foundational operating principles—setting clear targets, preparing for the unexpected, acting swiftly in times of crisis, fostering a positive work environment, and anticipating disruptions—businesses can not only survive, but thrive, in the ever-evolving landscape of 2024 and beyond.

This article was first featured in Business Age.

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