Your Situation Room

After the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 — attributed to a lack of up-to-date information — President Kennedy ordered the creation of the Situation Room in the basement of the White House. Its sole purpose was to bring together the right people and information at the right time, mostly during a crisis, to make the most right decision available.

It has been the backdrop to some of the most consequential and historic moments since. Kennedy’s own assassination, The Vietnam War, President Reagan’s assassination attempt, 9/11 and we’ve all seen the photo of President Obama watching the raid on Abbottabad to subdue Bin Laden. All things actioned and monitored from the Situation Room.

Today, this “room” is in continual use — not just in a time of war or crisis but to hopefully avoid both.

Most companies convene a “war room” during times of crisis or major initiatives. We did it at Lyft during major holidays or social events like New Year’s Eve. We would pull together our key teams leading into the day, execute on the day and then disband — only to fire it up again when needed.

This concept always made me feel uneasy. I was of the mind that we should diffuse these “festivals” by doing our jobs every other day. This would make those huge days less risky and flow easier instead of putting so much emphasis on them.

This is where your company Situation Room could help.

If you are running a tight ship, nothing happening inside or outside your company should be a surprise. The data is all there. The people running everything are accessible. Your customers have more ways to be vocal about your offering than ever before. Market information is public. Most companies are building in the open.

Your obligation is to take all that information and balance it against what you are — and should be — building while at the same time monitoring for any threats.

These threats come in different forms:

Industry Threats
At Trexity we noticed an alarming trend that our competitors, once fierce and full of investor cash, started wilting and dying. This perception that the industry was stagnating or in decline was the threat. Those competitors took all that money and invested in warehouses and robots and not in their core product so we took a different approach. We went assetless and, while they were all selling for parts, we accelerated our growth.

External Threats
When I was running a company called Rove (remote IT administration from smartphones), our high-value customers were international banks. It just happened to be 2009 and the world was about to be hit with a global banking crisis that would hobble the economy. This had nothing to do with our product offering and everything to do with an external threat that was out of our hands. Seeing this in the horizon helped us make key decisions that allowed us to shift course and avoid (most of) the carnage that followed.

Internal Threats
This is much more day-to-day and involves true product/market fit (are your customers staying or churning), product scope creep (are you building the right features/services) and processes (are your people doing the right things consistently).

That pulse is your Situation Room — a continuous flow of information that helps you make key decisions, avoid surprises and normalizes the heartbeat of the company.

*This post was inspired by The Situation Room: The Inside Story of Presidents in Crisis by George Stephanopoulos. A great read.