What we can learn from Garmin’s downtime

Garmin is a sportswear company who specialise in sports watches. Their watches are used by many athletes across the globe to record their activity. When there is any downtime, it’s noticed very quickly by the athletic community.

On 23rd July 2020, Garmin went down for what was initially described as “planned maintenance”, but it quickly became aware that this was a much larger issue than was initially foreseen. This blog is based on the information available as of 24. July.

When maintenance on the platform occurs, it is normally pre-planned and listed on the website ahead of time. This time did not happen like that and instead it was a generic ‘maintenance’ message. It was not until the US came online nearly 8hours after the first reports were announced on social media, that there was an official notice from Garmin on their Twitter account (above). This notice and information would normally be sufficient BUT this duration and outage is extremely unusual and this one single piece of information does not give any other update.

Within hours, there were reports of malware/ ransomware attacks as well as other unsubstantiated rumours that I will not mention here. For runners, the software is used as a platform for third party applications such as strava to share their runs and achievements, so it’s an important part of runners day.

Why does this even matter?

This isnt just interesting for me from a runners perspective as I can always upload my runs manually, but I am astounded at the incident and PR response from the Garmin communication team on the status of this blackout and what impact it could have for the company as a whole.

Communication in a crisis

One thing that any Project Manager or Escalation Manager will tell you, is the importance of communication with your key stakeholders when an incident occurs and it’s your ability to communicate successfully that will make the difference between success and failure once the crisis is over.

During a crisis such as this, there is normally a Business Continuity Plan available if something like this happens and there are strict protocols with local law enforcement as well as company guidelines for what the position of the company should be as well as how to protect and communicate with employees, clients and stakeholders.

How do you respond to a crisis in projects?

Just like the outage at Garmin, it’s important to first identify the issue at hand and work on understanding what is going on. Once you understand this, you are then able to work with your SMEs (and when necessary official external experts) to investigate a resolution and implement a solution. Throughout this period, there should be an official line of communication both internally and externally at regular intervals and informing in a SMART way the latest status, when the next update will be coming and any further important information. The duration of the updates will always be incident specific but there should never be more than 24hours between updates.

In Garmin’s case, at the time of writing this blog, we are now at 36hours post outage and there has only been two updates from Garmin officially. Runners are taking it in their stride, but from an assessment perspective, it’s worrying that Garmin continue to have radio silence towards their millions of users. The latest update was a simple FAQ which is relatively unhelpful.

What happens next?

We will hopefully soon see the outcome of the Garmin outage and the resolution but if an incident occurs within your project it should be actioned immediately. Once the incident has been resolved, there should be a full retrospective to understand how the incident happened, how they resolved it and what can be done to ensure that it never happens again. I am certain that we will never hear the outcome of this specific retrospective but for your projects, you can make this a positive outcome of a negative situation.

How do you manage issues within your projects? What would be your top tips? Let’s share knowledge!

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