A Detailed Guide to Setting Up Effective On-Call Rotations

October 11, 2023
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A Detailed Guide to Setting Up Effective On-Call Rotations
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    On-Call Schedules are predefined rotations/shifts assigning team members to be available for incident response at specific times. They are essential for ensuring round-the-clock support, swift issue/incident resolution, and continuous service availability. For a robust On-Call system, proper schedules are essential serving as the backbone of reliable Incident Response, and ensuring your team is well-prepared to address technical challenges effectively. In this blog, we'll explore On-Call schedules in detail.

    Use Cases for On-Call Schedules

    Incident Response 

    IT teams often have On-Call schedules in place to ensure right responders can rapidly respond to system outages, software glitches, or security breaches. With effective On-Call schedules in place, responders will not be required to address issues outside of regular working hours.

    Maintenance and Upgrades

    When performing critical system maintenance or software updates, having On-Call personnel available can minimize downtime and ensure a smooth transition.

    Technical Support

    Customer support also benefits from well defined On-Call schedules helping them in addressing customer issues and be available 24/7 by breaking their work into more manageable shifts

    Service-Level Agreements (SLAs)

    With 24/7 availability, rapid incident response, better escalation policies, documentation and easy handover can help Organizations maintain their SLAs commitments.

    Security and Fraud Detection

    Financial institutions utilize On-Call schedules for security analysis and fraud detection teams to respond to suspicious activities and breaches in real-time.

    Trading and Market Monitoring

    In global financial markets, traders and market analysts can respond to market-moving events outside of regular trading hours if they have well defined On-Call schedules.

    Check this out: Squadcast helps organizations maintain 99% SLAs

    Preparing for On-Call Scheduling

    Before setting up a robust On-Call schedule, a critical foundational step is assessing your team's needs. This involves a comprehensive analysis of your organization's specific requirements and capabilities. A sound approach to it can be:

    Understanding Your Services Portfolio 

    Commence by creating a comprehensive catalog of all the services, systems, and applications under your team's purview. This includes mission-critical, less critical, and even seemingly unrelated ones that can still impact core operations.

    By categorizing these services based on their importance to the organization, you set the stage for efficient resource allocation and better preparedness.

    Defining Service Levels and Expectations

    Review your existing SLAs or establish new ones. Define the expected response times, resolution times, and escalation procedures for each service or system.

    Consider the expectations of your internal or external customers. What level of service do they require, and how does this impact your On-Call strategy?

    Assessing Workload Management

    Analyzing historical data and incident logs unveils workload trends, common issues, and opportunities for added support. Ensuring a fair distribution of On-Call responsibilities among team members promotes a healthy work-life balance.

    Gather Your Tech Stack

    Choosing the appropriate tools to support your On-Call scheduling process is crucial for its success. Begin by researching and evaluating Incident Management platforms that suit your organization's requirements.

    Incident Management Software Communication and Alerting Tools Documentation and Knowledge Sharing Analytics and Reporting
    Research and choose incident management platforms that fit your needs, focusing on incident tracking, communication tools, and reporting. Select communication channels for incident notifications, like email, SMS, calls, or dedicated incident management platforms. Choose a platform for storing and sharing incident-related information (e.g., wiki, knowledge base, or collaboration tool). Consider tools for incident trend tracking, response time analysis, and performance assessment.
    Ensure seamless integration with your existing infrastructure and tools. Set up escalation rules to ensure timely alerts to the right team members. Establish clear documentation standards for consistency and clarity. Ensure tools support reporting and auditing features for compliance requirements.

    Our Incident Management Platform has top integrations to make it work for you, check more here: Squadcast Monitoring Integrations

    Creating a Robust On-Call Schedule

    Setting Up a Rotation System

    Establishing a clear and fair rotation system minimizes burnout and maintains team morale. Determine the optimal rotation length based on the size of your team and the nature of incidents you encounter. Common choices include, business hours, non-business hours, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly rotations. Implement a well-defined transition process as team members hand over On-Call duties to their colleagues.

    Defining Shift Rotations

    Choosing appropriate shift durations is crucial to strike a balance between responsiveness and avoiding fatigue. Determine the ideal shift duration based on your team's capacity and the nature of incidents. Common shifts range from 8 to 12 hours, but it may vary based on operational needs. Consider incorporating overlap periods between shifts to help address ongoing incidents and sharing critical updates.

    Managing Holidays and Time Off

    Safeguarding work-life balance, accommodating holidays and ensuring time off for your team is vital. Plan for holiday coverage well in advance. Ensure that the team members have the opportunity to request specific days off while maintaining essential coverage. Having backup resources available to cover for team members on leave makes it easier for everyone.

    Squadcast allows you to automate On-Call schedules by setting them up to recur. You can refer to this video tutorial for better understanding.

    You can easily reassign members & add overrides to manage emergency absence and holidays. While it also helps you send seamless notifications to On-Call Responders through sound Escalation Policy. When everything’s integrated with your calendar & ChatOps tools, it becomes easy to acknowledge or reassign incidents.

    To create an escalation policy in Squadcast, follow these steps:

    • Go to the Settings page in Squadcast.
    • Click on the Escalation Policies tab.
    • Click on the + Create Escalation Policy button.
    • Enter a name for your escalation policy.
    • Select the Type of escalation policy you want to create. There are two types of escalation policies:
      -  Round Robin: This type of escalation policy where users are placed in a ring and assigned to incidents sequentially.
      -  Advanced: This type of escalation policy allows you to create more complex escalation rules, such as escalating to different teams or individuals based on the severity of the incident.
    • Add the assignees or teams that you want to escalate to. You can add users, teams, schedules, or even other escalation policies.
    • Set the Timeout for each escalation level. This is the amount of time that Squadcast will wait before escalating to the next level.
    • Click on the Save button.

    Once you have created an escalation policy, you can assign it to incidents when you create them. To do this, open the incident and select the escalation policy from the Escalation Policy dropdown menu.

    Here are some tips for creating effective escalation policies:

    1. Consider the severity of the incidents that you are responding to. For critical incidents, you may want to have a shorter timeout period and escalate to more people more quickly.
    2. Make sure that the people on your escalation list are available to respond to incidents. You may want to have different escalation policies for different times of the day or days of the week.
    3. Test your escalation policies regularly to make sure that they are working as expected.

    Check more on: managing On-Call Schedules

    Communication and Notification Strategies

    For effective On-Call scheduling, it's important to take into consideration the nature and severity of incidents, team's skills and preferences, and response urgency. An Incident Management Platform must offer consolidated information, notifications, and tracking, going beyond email, SMS, and push notifications.

    Escalation policies are your safety net to ensure that incidents don't go unaddressed. They outline the steps to be taken if the primary On-Call person doesn't respond or if the situation escalates. Some best practices would be:

    Define Escalation Levels Specify Timeframes Identify Escalation Contacts Automate When Possible
    Determine how incidents should be escalated based on severity. For example, less severe incidents may escalate differently than a more severe ones. Clearly define response time expectations for each escalation level. This ensures that incidents move through the escalation chain swiftly. Designate the individuals or teams responsible for each escalation level. Ensure that these contacts are available and informed about their role. Consider automating parts of the escalation process to minimize human error and ensure reliability. Many Incident Management tools offer automated escalation features.

    Squadcast has one of the most flexible escalation policies which makes sure that organizations never miss an incident notification and they get escalated to the right members.

    You can create multiple layers of escalation policies to ensure timely acknowledgement. Additionally, repeating the entire policy multiple times will also improve the MTTA & MTTR.  

    Critical alerts can come in anytime! Their level of attention and urgency sets them apart from standard incidents. How can you handle critical incidents better & efficiently? 

    1. Priority Tagging: Clearly label critical alerts to distinguish them from routine incidents to ensure they receive immediate attention.
    2. On-Call Rotation: Assign specific team members or a dedicated "SWAT" team to handle critical alerts. These individuals should be ready to respond 24/7. Squadcast allows you to create dedicated Squads for such incidents. 
    3. Runbooks: Develop detailed runbooks or playbooks for handling critical alerts that have step-by-step instructions of the triage. 
    4. Keep An Eyes On Past Incidents: The Past Incidents feature displays historical incidents for faster issue resolution, offering valuable context, activity insights, and past solutions. So, you can fix critical alerts better & faster.

    Managing On-Call Incidents

    Eventually everything boils down to maintaining service reliability and learning from past experiences. Incident documentation will always have your back. Few things to keep in mind would be:

    • Encourage On-Call responders to log incidents in real-time. With Slack integration, engineers can automate actions of creating runbooks and postmortems, creating incident war rooms, etc.
    • Set Incident Response times expectations. For example, critical incidents may require immediate response, while lower-severity incidents can have longer response times.
    • With an analytics dashboard you can do a routine checkup and effectively track important incident metrics.


    The steps discussed above provide a solid foundation for enhancing operational efficiency and delivering a responsive Incident Management environment.

    Squadcast is a Reliability Workflow platform that integrates On-Call alerting and Incident Management along with SRE workflows in one offering. Designed for a zero-friction setup, ease of use and clean UI, it helps developers, SREs and On-Call teams proactively respond to outages and create a culture of learning and continuous improvement.

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    October 11, 2023
    October 11, 2023
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