Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/11/22

After action analysis: lost iPhone

One of the things that separates the business analyst mindset from a lot of other folks is how committed we are to understanding exactly how something works, exactly why something doesn’t work, and how to make things work better. I don’t mean that business analysts are smarter or harder working than anyone else , just that we really ask a lot more “whys?” than most others. No where is this more obvious than after something goes wrong. Human nature is to move past mistakes as quickly as possible. Business analyst nature, on the other hand, is to find the nearest whiteboard and start listing causes and solutions and controls. We really try to make the most of opportunities to pick apart projects, especially if they bombed. The Project Management Institute goes so far as to include a period of reflecting on one’s project as a formal part of closing out a project, in their guidelines. This process is called an After Action Analysis (or After Action Review or even “Postmortem” review).

I had an opportunity to apply this principle to my own life recently. Last Saturday my wife and I went to breakfast at a diner by our house. From there we ran a few errands and returned home. As we pulled up to the house I reached for my phone. It was not in my pocket, plugged into the car-charger or in the center console. My wife attempted to call my phone several times to no avail. We called the diner and they confirmed my worst fear: the phone had not been turned in. I now faced the prospect–not only of needing to purchase a replacement device–but also of having to figure out which accounts my iPhone allowed access, so that I could prevent privacy intrusions. Off the top of my head I thought of my Gmail account, Evernote account, Facebook account and personal calendar. The idea of strangers poking around and accessing this information did not warm my heart.  In fairness, I am usually pretty conscientious about security. I do use strong passwords for these account, each different from the next; however, and like with any system, the human is always the weakest link. I thought of many contingencies but I had foolishly never considered my own negligence. Because I had gone over 1,000 days without losing my phone I pretended it couldn’t happen to me. Happily, not long after we returned home I found my phone by my bed, left there from the night before. Apparently, in an act as unusual as me losing my phone, I had not even checked my email the entire 2 hours we were on out and about.

I took a few minutes and thought through what went wrong. Here are my three big mistakes:

  1. Failure to plan: I had no lock on the phone that prevented someone from picking up my lost phone and having full access to all of my applications
  2. Failure to follow procedures: I had not followed my pat-check before leaving the house
  3. Failure to perform due diligence: I didn’t immediately know which services had been compromised

It’s just a misplaced phone. Right? Some might feel that my analysis was an over-reaction but I don’t think so. To quote Anonymous, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” As a business analyst, I need to stay sharp and I try to learn from every situation I can. While the experience was very frustrating; it gave me great insight into the systems I have created to run my personal life. I got lucky this time–but I’d rather be smart. The one thing I have learned over the years is this: if you want better results; ask better questions.

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