The air-traffic controller analogy

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
Alan Watts.

A colleague and friend suggested the following as a topic to write about – “…describing OSS projects would be the constant ongoing change to the business environment supported and technology base enabling that.”

Frank has a great point. When it comes to operating an Operational Support System, especially that of a large CSP, the amount of change can be overwhelming at times and that’s coming from someone who loves change.

Invariably there are multiple projects going on at the exact same time, which has the potential to wreak havoc because of the inter-dependencies described in the chess-board analogy. Meanwhile the operations teams pray for periods of stability – just a short break outside the whirlwind to regain their bearings.

Unfortunately this comes about because of change in the business environment, which could be business model change, customer change, service offering change, organisation structure change, marketing plan change, technology change, network change, process change… The list of changes that impacts the OSS is almost endless.

Just for Frank, I’ve used an aviation analogy for describing how to manage OSS project change. Keeping control of OSS project change requires talented air-traffic controllers, whereby:

  • All planes (projects) start with a destination in mind – their flight path is planned before leaving the ground
  • The industry never stops so there can be many planes in the air at once and more taxiing on the ground
  • Air traffic controllers (ATCs) are aware of all planes in the air at any one time and their job is to keep them from impacting one another
  • As each plane nears its destination, ATCs focus their attention on landing one plane at a time (in a pre-defined sequence) before moving on to the next
  • Planes can be prioritised in the landing sequence where necessary (eg when running low on fuel, possibly due to sleepy pilots)

The key to this approach is in getting the whole team focussed on landing one plane at a time.

Frank’s topic also had the intent of discussing transformational change, which we’ll cover in tomorrow’s blog.

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