A Design with Humans in Mind: Adding Automation and Color Coding to the IT Workflow

By |Published On: October 27th, 2020|

Workflow is an essential part of a daily routine, from brushing your teeth at home to performing a complex operational procedure at work. Recently, I had the exciting opportunity to address a routine-related challenge at work, one that involved realizing one of our processes was in dire need of some improvements as well as coming up with unique solutions and exploring how these solutions would impact workflow and, eventually, morale.   

This blog post covers automation, including the usefulness of color-coding–with a little mindfulness mixed in too. I’m sharing this with the hope you will take away some of the strategies I found were useful and use them to improve your own work environment. 

Discovering the need for automation

Over the past several years, I’ve performed a lot of maintenance planning at Hurricane Labs, checking all supported hosts for app updates–whether they had a web interface or not. Needless to say, my days were consumed by the monotonous journey through the lengthy task of checking out all the apps for any necessary updating.  

For those of you who work with a distributed environment, you know this isn’t always as easy as going to the apps page in your Splunk instance. 

Eventually, I realized this daunting daily task was in need of some sort of automation. So decided to see if there was a better way–there had to be, right? 

I ended up tearing apart the way the update-checking process works with Splunkbase, and I found a very easy pattern for formatting URLs that redirect you to the proper destination on their site. From there, I kludged together scripts and one-liners to make a workflow–one which would extract information about every installed app without depending on anything past basic BASH tools. Ultimately, my approach required no additional tools or permission from management to make changes, and I was able to show my work so others can use it, too. 

As we started to see places for improvement, one of our supervisors–Steve McMaster–redid the idea with Python and his own vision on completing the task. Note that it is more intuitive now, and the results of the new version printed were more accurate and polished aesthetically. Ultimately, it was easy to read, effective at returning accurate results, and it left an overall good feel about planning the maintenance procedure. 

P.S. Mine was a series of bash scripts that were initially one. I then made one script to run all the other scripts I eventually made. Doitforme.sh was a masterpiece of a BASH scriptery, just so you all know! Enough about my work though; it is obsolete. We are a Python family now. 

Enter: the internal wiki problem-solution situation

As McMaster’s work was evolving, it was clear some other parts of our process needed to change. I was not doing maintenance for a couple months while all this was getting sorted out, so I got to work with customers a lot more–which meant I was working more with our internal wiki.

It occurred to me that the data about the Splunk servers were pretty hard to read–the tables were lengthy and harsh on the eyes, being in just black and white. It was difficult and time consuming to read these tables, whether you were doing maintenance or working a ticket.

Quick side note about synesthesia

This year, I started doing a little research on a condition called synesthesia–this not only relates to my personal experiences with it but it also connects to the color-coding section I’m about to get into in the upcoming section. 

I’m not going to go into much detail about that in this blog post, but according to an article in Psychology Today, synesthesia can be associative–so senses are connected and associated in a person’s mind. Interestingly, the article says this can make connections between concepts easier to forge, and so can enhance creativity and memory.

Here’s the article if you want to do a little more investigating about it on your own: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/synesthesia  

I plan on doing more research into human behavior and psychology and finding ways to apply it to both my professional and personal lives. It’s truly fascinating once you start diving into the mind–the rabbit hole never seems to end! 

Splunk and color coding

The cool thing about color coding, similar to what the above article on synesthesia suggests, is that it can help the mind identify items quickly. If I change the Splunk server roles in a color uniformly across all customer pages, it will become instilled into the engineers’ minds once they learn the system.

The roles are still listed in the wiki table, but they are color-coded. Colors help engineers identify Splunk roles, which breaks these complex lists down into simpler sets of tables. The servers are easily identifiable by role.

After discussing this idea with our technical writer to establish a plan of attack, we decided on using light or pastel colors because finding information in a wiki can sometimes be frustrating. Those colors tend to calm the mind and subconsciously manifest as positive thoughts. We originally had light red in there, but I removed red completely since red is generally associated with anger. I made some other minor adjustments as well, and we had the scheme as mentioned above. The color scheme was remarkably in line with the color association concepts explained here.

Results and feedback

We tried this color scheme in one place, and I gathered feedback from others. The feedback was something along the lines of “I can find things in seconds or less now!” and “Those colors look really nice, too!” I was pretty happy to hear this because it indicated the changes were making a positive impact. Everyone I spoke to said to run with it, so over the next two mornings, I was up early and began to colorize the rest of the information in our wiki.

Since deployment, there were a few questions about how the colors worked, but a quick wiki entry sharing the color coding guide cleared that up. 

I think knowing the underlying intentions and seeing a positive response when trying to understand human behavior at a subconscious level can be a very insightful approach to not only improving workflow but employee morale overall hopefully. I feel like I improved on both from just the ease of finding data, but I think the colors definitely play a part in it all. I know that since I have deployed this, I have been more productive myself, and I seemed to generally have a much easier time working and thinking through any task. 

Conclusion

I hope this idea of deploying human-related concepts to processes related to workflow continues to be one that is more widely adopted and encouraged. As we’ve witnessed at Hurricane Labs, even applying something as simple–and mindful–as a color-coding scheme in our wiki can make big improvements in both workflow and morale. 

Companies all over–including those with or without Splunk–may have invested in a wide range of tools, but none of that can fully function without people (not in our current state of things, at least). We have to remember that having compassion is important, which is exactly what inspired this initiative for me. 

With all that being said, I hope you all will continue to be mindful, positive, and do what you can to take care of one another out there! 

About Hurricane Labs

Hurricane Labs is a dynamic Managed Services Provider that unlocks the potential of Splunk and security for diverse enterprises across the United States. With a dedicated, Splunk-focused team and an emphasis on humanity and collaboration, we provide the skills, resources, and results to help make our customers’ lives easier.

For more information, visit www.hurricanelabs.com and follow us on Twitter @hurricanelabs.