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VMblog Expert Interview: Kintaba Announces New, Free Slack App Called The Decider

interview-kintaba-potrocky 

Over the last year, VMblog has had a few conversations with the team at Kintaba, an incident management platform built by ex-Facebook engineers.  And this group is back at it again, creating some extremely important tools for companies to embrace.  This time, announcing a new free Slack app called The Decider.  To learn more, VMblog spoke with Cole Potrocky, the CTO & Co-Founder of Kintaba, who was previously a founding engineer on the Facebook Workplace team.

VMblog:  For those who haven't heard of Kintaba, can you start by telling us a little about the company and why you started it?

Cole Potrocky:  We originally started Kintaba under the frame that we were solving a knowledge problem.  Large and small companies alike tend to silo information: slack messages lose insights, company wikis are outdated before they're complete, or worst of all, insight is stuck in peoples' heads where companies can't benefit at all.

We wanted to build a knowledge tool that was positioned to capture those creative insights right as they were happening.  We figured that, regardless of a company's size, every company tends to grow and learn through a cycle of failure and growth-from-failure.  Our goal with Kintaba is to not only help companies diagnose problems faster, but to encourage folks to embrace failure states as not something to be squashed, but a natural, healthy part of any thriving, creative business.

VMblog:  Before launching Kintaba you were at Facebook.  What were the main lessons you learned about incident management there that you wanted to bake into your product?

Potrocky:  One thing to know about Facebook: they use very few external SaaS tools.  Everything is homegrown.  I worked for a very long time on the internal Tasks product, and had a lot of visibility into how people use productivity tools that most companies don't.  

We ran into this issue eventually where a huge percentage of tasks created were automated.  We built an awesome API and people were using those APIs to cut tasks for various reasons (alerts, alarms, cleanup tasks, bugs).  We realized that most of those tasks were closed out almost immediately or never acted on.  People not only learned how to filter out automated alerts, but they also stopped paying as much attention to human-created tasks.  

The insight here is: a lot of people want to automate every single part of their process.  This is a crucial mistake.  No system beats just going over and talking with a coworker.  Relationships solve problems, technology doesn't.  A lot of our competitors are trying to solve human problems with technology.  Good technology facilitates good communication, it doesn't replace it.

VMblog:  There seems to be a blurry line between tasks and incidents.  Obviously, something like taking out the trash is a task, and something like the entire website is down is an incident.  But what do you call things somewhere in the middle?

Potrocky:  An incident is something that requires synchronous attention: it is both time-bound and high-priority.  It cannot be delayed without major impact to the underlying business.  It is a group-priority.

Taking out the trash isn't time-bound, but it could be urgent, depending on how long you've waited to take it out, and how bad it smells.   

The way it works in my daily life is something like:

  1. I stop what I'm doing for any incidents and I put all of my attention on them when they occur.
  2. When there aren't any incidents, I work on high priority tasks: this could be working on a new feature we need to get in or something.  We set those priorities as a company.
  3. Often enough, I don't have any incidents or high-priority tasks available. At those points, I'm working in a self-directed style: I decide what to work on based on larger company goals and what's interesting to me at the moment.  This is the good stuff: it's flow, it's in the zone work, it's exciting, and it's where innovation happens.  I try to maximize this time.
  4. I defer low-priority, time-bound work to later.  

The tl;dr; answer here is: companies should be attempting to maximize the time their creative employees have to themselves to work without meetings or incidents.  This time isn't necessarily represented well by concrete tasks.

VMblog:  I hear Kintaba has launched a free Slack app that actually addresses this middle ground between tasks and incidents called The Decider.  From what I understand, it's a solution for when things are important enough that they need real-time collaboration to arrive at a quick decision, but perhaps not urgent enough to kick off the incident response process where people are paged and postmortems are written.  Can you tell us more about the decider?

Potrocky:  The Decider is really a distillation of what Kintaba is: a tool to help people make time-bound decisions quickly so that employees can get back more of their protected creative time.  

It's fairly simple: when you initiate a new "decision," The Decider cuts a temporary Slack channel for discussion, and allows you to surface decisions made.  It respects peoples' time working offline by only inviting folks currently online in Slack.  It doesn't pollute main channels with discursive discussions.  

VMblog:  How would you recommend teams use the decider?  For what kind of situations?

Potrocky:  The synchronous decision is the perfect situation for The Decider: think: which copy are we going to finalize for our Facebook ad campaign?  What board game are we going to play for game day?  

The synchronous decision requires people to come together for a time, remain online, and come to a conclusion on something.  I can't tell you how many times I've watched people take an hour on Slack to reach a conclusion on a decision they would've spent 5 minutes on deciding in person.  If you're participating in a decider decision, you're saying: I'm focusing my attention just on this to make a decision so I can get back to my protected creative time as soon as possible.

Everyone nowadays wants to multitask, but multitasking leads to poorer results.  With The Decider, we're encouraging people to give their full-attention to something for a short time versus their half-attention to something for a long time.

VMblog:  Where can our readers get their hands on The Decider and how can they start using it?

Potrocky:  The Decider is a totally free Slack tool.  People can install it and get going at https://thedecider.io

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Published Wednesday, August 25, 2021 10:01 AM by David Marshall
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