A pragmatic podcast about leadership, product dev, and tech decisions between two recovering Chief Technology Officers.

Communicating on a roller coaster of uptime and downtime


Show Details

Episode:  12
Published:  Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Featuring:  Randy Burgess, Don VanDemark
Duration:  00:59:00
File Size:  61 MB

Randy and Don found themselves stranded, mid-ride on the Expedition Everest roller coaster at Disney World's Animal Kingdom. Following their rescue, and during an in-person recording from Orlando, they talk about how a tech manager should handle technical downtime, service interruptions, and critical alerts for users, executives, and investors that depend on services.


  • Randy and Don were stranded on the Expedition Everest roller coaster mid-ride due to mechanical failure.
  • For the first 10 to 15 minutes, there was no indication that there was a problem at all.
  • What is the best way to communicate to users, to managers, to employees when things are not going well?
  • When it breaks down, you give the first message of "Something is wrong. You're perfectly safe."
  • Usually your upstream provider is the source of most uptime issues.
  • For outages, you tend to set a routine amount of time between messages to the stakeholders.
  • Sometimes upstream providers will contact your clients before you have a chance to respond to the issue.
  • If you send too many notices, stakeholders may tune you out.
  • Defining the level of urgency of communications is important, but don't leave things above normal too long.
  • Having an SOP standard operating procedure is important for folks that are new to a role at the wrong time.
  • Disaster recovery plans are different, because they tend to cover scenarios where a major problem has caused damage.
  • A paper copy is necessary due to the fact that online access might be blocked during downtime.
  • Breach protocol is another type of process necessary for handling technical issues.
  • How much information should you give people about what caused the situation?
  • Don't try to walk Disney's Animal Kingdom Expedition Everest ride. The roller coaster is more fun.
  • Don experienced a communications issue with the Orlando City MLS team during opening night.
  • Setting expectations for users is by far the most important goal early in the downtime communication process.
  • Canned messages are typical, because they don't deviate from the message you need to convey.
  • Content of messages is also important and consideration of internationalization and multiple languages may be necessary.
  • Don't make your users ask, "what the heck are they talking about?" during crisis communications.
  • Don't bore your users with repetitive, non-informative content.
  • Consider various stakeholders that need to know about the situation. Owners, investors, users, and managers all need different type of info regarding the problems and solutions.
  • What channels do you use to distribute communications: email, slack, message boards, ios notifications, android notifications, SMS, push and pull, status page.
  • Make sure your status page provider isn't using the same upstream providers that your service is using.
  • Know your stakeholders well enough for who needs to know what or who doesn't care.
  • Trying to control the entire narrative of the problem can be problematic or even impossible.
  • A good post mortem (hindsight report about the outcome) is helpful to explain the problems and the steps you're taking to prevent them in the future.



Thanks for listening to the CTO Think Podcast.

Shownotes and previous episodes can be found on our website at www.ctothink.com

Reviews on Apple iTunes are always appreciated and help promote the show.

Patreon contributions help us to produce transcripts, which allow people that are deaf or hard-of-hearing to access the show.

For questions, comments, or things you'd like to hear on future shows, please email us at hello@ctothink.com

Show music is Dumpster Dive by Marc Walloch, licensed by PremiumBeat.com

Voiceover work by MeganVoices.com

You'll hear from us next week!