X-Check and Prepare for Take-off

X-Check and Prepare for Take-off

X-Check and Prepare for Take-off

It’s a phrase that you’ve probably heard a pilot announce just before takeoff. It means the flight attendant should check their designated door is closed and the emergency slide is armed before crossing over and double checking their colleagues work on the other side. In aviation it’s common that once you complete a simple but potentially life-saving task (for the millionth time in a career!) you get a colleague to check it. It must save countless lives.

We’ve adopted the same simple process at Options. Not that we’re the first to do so, plenty of tech firms I’ve worked in do xchecks on key changes.

But our xchecks are part of the culture.

Procedurally, we build it into our JIRA work flow so changes can’t be implemented until they’ve been xchecked. Servers are built, but not released until the xcheck is complete. I can’t get any spend approved unless I’ve had a senior colleague check my sums. The same goes for a price proposal or a design that goes out to clients. If I have an important email, I’ll shoot it over to a team mate with a note to xcheck. There’s no blame involved – it’s there to make sure the “doors are closed”.

It’s so ingrained in what we do that we’ve turned it into a verb, noun and adjective.

“Who’s doing the xcheck on this one?”

“I’m the xchecker, I’ll spend the next hour xchecking it.”

What’s interesting is that this simple process has dramatically improved teamwork and trust (making it easy to ask for help will do that) and the quality of our delivery to clients without getting in the way.

Given that our internal DNA has a heavy tech focus (we are 80% engineers) it’s not surprising that the most pressing question soon became “how do we automate x-checks?”

In 2018 we went all-in on Splunk to completely automate the x-check of server builds. This had massive implications for us and our clients. Last year, we built and delivered over 4,000 servers, that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes (different hardware, RAM, OS, BiOS settings, OS settings, tuning, etc, etc.). Every server has a very detailed specification for its build that we capture and record in JIRA.

We’ve already spent a lot of time streamlining how we automatically build these servers from its specification. Suddenly, the biggest bottleneck became the manual process of x-checking 100’s of settings on each server after we had built it. So the team had Splunk ask JIRA how the server should be setup and then ask the server how it actually is setup.

Splunk is exceptionally good at these machine-to-machine conversations and displaying a lot of information in a nice easy to-read format. So what we get is an instant automated xhceck with a simple report flagging any incorrect or missing settings in red.

This has had the net result of forcing better information into the process and getting better results out of it.

Stephen Morrow, SVP Head of Account Management

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