Enhancing Business Resilience: The Vital Role of Incident Management for Startups and Scaleups

In the realm of high-performing companies, an incident management process plays a pivotal role in their day-to-day operations. This process empowers them to swiftly react and resolve any challenges that impact the business, all the while learning valuable insights and implementing strategic actions to avoid or greatly reduce future issues.

The implementation of a robust incident management strategy is a cornerstone for the success of companies. This approach not only improves reliability and trustworthiness but also equips businesses to operate with greater speed and efficiency, delivering results with less effort.

Within this post, we delve into the incident management process, especially for startups and scaleups.

Definition of an incident

An incident, in essence, means an unexpected disruption within either the internal or external systems that causes negative impact on customers or regular business operations. It’s important to note that an incident encompasses the entirety of the business, other than just the customer-facing boundaries.

Crucially, incidents are devoid of blame. Throughout the entire process, it’s imperative not to fixate on assigning responsibility but rather on:

  • identifying the root cause that triggered the incident
  • collect insights about how we responded during the incident to enhance our reaction time
  • formulating short, medium, and long-term strategies to improve resilience and avert similar occurrences in the future

Clearly, incidents are more than mere reactive problem-solving activities; they serve as proactive opportunities for enhancing business resilience.

Incident Process Within the Company

A company’s incident process gains effectiveness during its early stages of company’s growth, especially when it’s expanding rapidly and steadily. This phase often struggles with constrained resources while at the same time aiming to elevate delivery speed and quality. This specific environment provides is ideal for the incident process to surface hidden issues and quality gaps within the system. These issues might be a drag for growth and increasing the costs associated with development and maintenance.

The initial step is to establish the criteria for triggering an incident. Simplicity is important here to eliminate ambiguity. A simple guideline like “An incident refers to any issue that directly or indirectly affects our customers” could serves as a solid starting point. This guideline can subsequently be refined to match specific business needs, of for example restricted to critical user journeys.

The next phase involves defining the incident process, covering some crucial aspects:

  • Involvement and Roles: The involvement of relevant key people, such as Tech Leads of the affected domain, or Product Managers, is important. Start with a compact group of responders and expanding it as required. Designation of an Incident Lead is crucial for process coordination.
  • Severity Assessment: Always initiate with a higher severity level based on preliminary information, downgrading if necessary. This approach accelerates incident resolution and guarantees pertinent stakeholders’ engagement from the start.
  • Clear Action Steps: The sequence of actions for mitigation, investigation, resolution, and monitoring should be crystal clear for all the responders. Starting with mitigation is mandatory, as the full scope of the issue remains uncertain at this stage. The extent of impact, time required for resolution, and the issue’s actual criticality are yet to be determined.
  • Post-Mortem Template: The use of a standardised post-mortem template functions as a repository of incident-related information, subsequently used as a feedback loop to improve future performance and avoid regressions.

Post mortem

The post-mortem serves as a comprehensive document that collects the incident’s summary and timeline. But most important of all, it sheds light on the gaps within your system and incident management process, with a focus on enhancing system resilience.

For this reasons, the post-mortem should adopt a structured template featuring mandatory sections to ensure all critical aspects are documented:

  • Summary: Offers an overview of the issue that triggered the incident. Focus for brevity while maintaining clarity, ensuring that the issue and negative business impact is comprehensible and quantifiable for everyone in the company.
  • Chronology: Craft a timeline detailing the incident’s progression. This timeline should encompass pivotal events, spanning from the first occurrence of the issue through detection and all subsequent actions leading to its resolution. This facilitates an assessment of alert responsiveness and problem-solving agility.
  • Contributors: Identify all contributing elements that caused the incident. This can encompass overlooked monitoring or alarms, missing tests in certain system components, or unhandled unhappy paths within critical user journeys. This category can include more than one contributor.
  • Mitigators: Highlight anything that prevented a higher incident’s severity. As described in the Contributors section, these mitigating factors can encompass multiple topics, including timely alerts, swift code reversion, or adherence to predefined protocols or playbooks.
  • Learnings: Arguably the most important section, this part described in details the incident’s root cause and enumerate the insights collected during the incident management and resolution phases. These insights serve to prevent or mitigate identical or similar incidents in the future. The severity and complexity of the incident dictate the length of this section, often resulting in medium to long-term initiatives aimed at enhancing the company’s resilience and efficiency.
  • Follow up actions: A list of actionable steps to improve system resilience and mitigate the likelihood of same or similar incident in the future.

In instances where the incident’s severity is high or critical, it’s mandatory to book a meeting with the stakeholders and incident responders to have thorough review of the post-mortem, traversing each section of the post-mortem comprehensively, ending with a comprehensive and impactful list of items within the Learnings and Follow-up Action sections.

Enhancing the Process

During an incident, those involved often have limited time to adhere strictly to a predefined process. Their primary focus is on mitigating and resolving the issue at hand. This is precisely why designating an Incident Lead as part of the process becomes essential.

The Incident Lead takes on several responsibilities to ensure a smooth execution of the process:

  • Customer Communication: when necessary, handles customer communication
  • Real-Time Updates: keeps the business’s status page up to date, offering transparency about the affected systems
  • Coordinating Actions: orchestrating actions for mitigation, investigation, and resolution
  • Stakeholder Updates: providing regular status updates to stakeholders bridges the gap between the team managing the incident and those awaiting its resolution
  • Preparing for Review: lays the groundwork for post-incident analysis

Moreover, modern tools like incident.io or FireHydrant can automate these tasks and integrate with internal communication platforms and status pages to further enhance the process and reducing the overhead.

Analysing incident data

As previously mentioned while introducing an incident process, we establish straightforward rules to identify when an incident is triggered and determine its severity level. Initially, these rules are simple and clear, capturing a broad spectrum of issues, often with a higher severity than necessary.

Implementing an incident process empowers you to gather data from past incidents, including severity levels, response times, resolution times, and affected business areas. This data allows you to perform a process review, leading to streamlined operations, enhanced reactivity, and accelerated issue resolution.


Incidents are an inevitable part of any company, and expecting to avoid them entirely would be unrealistic. Instead, we should embrace failures and convert them into opportunities for collective learning and improvement.

Incident management isn’t exclusive to established businesses; even small-scale companies like startups or scaleups have only to gain from implementing an incident management process. Even if the process isn’t perfect the benefits will become evident within a remarkably short time. This acceleration in development and delivery speed will be a good return on investment.

Furthermore, a streamlined, and potentially automated, process is very important. It ensures that incident responders can focus their full attention on swiftly resolving the situation, thus minimising disruptions and optimising for incident resolution.