Leading DevOps — Inspiring and Influencing Enterprise Agility
I’ve had many conversations over the course of 2017 that I want to share with you. There are key components to the ideas of leading DevOps that I see among our customers, which fall directly in line with research the DevOps Research Association (DORA) is continually executing. This research focuses on organizations that are seeing Enterprise Agility and are winning in their markets. What is far more interesting to me is the focus of this year’s study on executive leaders. The paper leads off with a detailed “Executive Summary” in which we actually get information about how much “transformational leaders” influence the success of agile and DevOps in an IT organization. If you are leading DevOps initiatives, a DevOps practitioner, or just interested in DevOps, please read the State of DevOps Report (hereafter referred to as “The Report”). It is a very concise and scholarly study of “high/performing” IT organizations. Given this information, what I want to do today is take a look at characteristics of those leading DevOps successfully described in the report and tell some customer stories that match to try to validate the findings but also share our success as a product solution, product consultants, and coaches.
Characteristics of those leading DevOps initiatives successfully
VersionOne is focused on helping business and operations teams maximize value stream visibility and unify agile and DevOps processes. We believe these two ideas are key to helping organizational leaders from the C/level to middle management be successful. I believe that those leading DevOps teams to success will focus on these two ideas in addition to having the following five characteristics from pages 14 and 15 of The Report:
- Vision: Has a clear concept of where the organization is going and where it should be in 5 years.
- Inspirational Communication: Communicates in a way that inspires and motivates, even in an uncertain or changing environment.
- Intellectual Stimulation: Challenges followers to think about problems in new ways.
- Supportive Leadership: Demonstrates care and consideration of follower’s personal needs and feelings.
- Personal Recognition: Praises and acknowledges achievement of goals and improvements in work quality, personally compliments others when they do outstanding work.
I believe all of us would agree that we want to work for a leader who embodies any number of these characteristics; after all, if someone were covering all of them, we would be positioned well to do our best. Now let’s connect the dots with a few stories of what I have seen across the spectrum of “they aren’t there yet,” “a leader who gets it but faces significant cultural hurdles,” and “a leader who embodies all five characteristics.”
Story #1 — They are not there yet
An internationally/recognized legal services software/as/a/service provider came to us looking to begin to shift its organization to a much more agile atmosphere in which transparency and more effective change management were priorities. The provider came from a routine that saw no or low visibility across its value stream, production outages that cost revenue, and a general inconsistency of teams not working together but instead in their comfortable silos. As the teams make progress they are starting to ask questions of themselves that many of our clients ask: how do we optimize our process? How do we deliver faster and with better quality? They are starting to ask, think about, and act on these questions and this is just the start of their DevOps journey. What is most intriguing to me here are the executives who are beginning to build a long/term sustainable vision and also trickling down intellectual stimulation for their leadership teams. Note, these are two of the five traits of those leading DevOps shown in The Report. The right questions are being asked to begin the cultural and technical transformations they need in order to see more success. What I am most impressed by at this point is their transition as a leadership team from measuring velocity of backlog items in development done to measuring the cycle times of those same backlog items. The reason this impresses me is because it signals a key change in leadership’s thinking which previously focused on business through development team velocity to cycle time which spans backlog item acceptance into an iteration through end/user delivery. It means business, development, testing, compliance, and operations must work together to improve a metric that leadership values. As the organization and its teams begin to focus on optimizations of cycle time, they are using a core capability of VersionOne / Performance Measurement. This ties nicely back to the transformational leadership qualities because the leadership team is looking for its teams to be innovative. The teams will need to be innovative to optimize their planning, development, and delivery processes. With VersionOne they will not only be able to track business value across their value stream but also to get the key metrics they need to know current performance and efficiency trends. Here is a quick look at where this customer’s leaders are looking to see the key performance metrics that matter to them: What will be most important to this group is the trend of the bottom two graphs over time (grouped by version). As they release more and more software and business value, they will want to decrease the amount of time in phase (shown by the purple and blue bars in Efficiency by Phase) and improve efficiency by phase and across the entire value stream (percentages on top of the bars in Efficiency by Phase and the Efficiency graphs). Not only will VersionOne give them these metrics so they know their cycle time, efficiency, and flow, but it will also allow them to make continual improvements. It will begin to help the leaders validate their vision, improve it, or reword it. Furthermore, as the teams begin to get data, they will be intellectually stimulated because the challenges of optimization and continuous improvement will force innovation and creativity.
Story #2 — A leader who gets it but faces significant cultural hurdles
A large and prominent software/as/a/service insurer began its enterprise agility journey with us more than two years ago. Its leadership team, in addition to casting a long/term vision and providing intellectual stimulation, has embraced supportive leadership techniques and personal recognition at the team and organizational levels. What is more interesting to me is the amount of these two traits already sewn into their culture, even though they have large and seemingly impenetrable silos. I love talking to our users and champions there to hear how the silos are being lowered incrementally and the benefits they are seeing. As you might imagine with a company that is risk/averse, there are challenges in the technology organization that need to be overcome. Often risk/aversion from businesses that are highly regulated bleeds into or completely overwhelms all aspects of technology operations and culture. In this client’s case, risk/aversion was rearing its ugly head in a very cyclical and unproductive fashion. In the classical problem DevOps solves, the development team did not trust testing or operations and vise/versa. Mistakes by all teams caused more internal processes to be created to meet audit and compliance concerns. At this point, no team would budge on their validation items being met before continuing to create, validate, and deliver value. As anyone could imagine (or perhaps as some of you know firsthand) the business partners to these teams were unable to trust delivery promises to which their teams were committing. Fast forward to late 2016 when a courageous leader casts a vision to “make everyone’s roles effective and fun again,” and steps into the scene to promote DevOps practices and end/to/end visibility and challenges the aforementioned teams to work together. However, the visibility, audit, and compliance stipulations remained and the group needed something to mend the cultural gap. In comes our solution with Delivery/at/a/Glance, real/time audit and compliance tracking, and release automation. The adaptation of the team to envision optimization of their process with these core VersionOne capabilities is a great start to improving their teams’ experiences with one another and to relieve their deployment pain. Furthermore, as they begin to utilize and trust VersionOne’s ability to provide real/time audit and compliance, leaders are able to focus their efforts on vision casting, being supportive, and recognizing collaboration and innovation. This, in turn, provides critical improvements to their culture to improve working relationships and build trust. The view above provides information by release in which the details of which activities were completed by whom and when. These are all key components of any audit and compliance routine, but instead of collecting and documenting everything at the end of the process, VersionOne is capturing the information in real time. This saves an incredible amount of time and also stops the flow of work when a problem is detected much farther to the left of the typical organization. Another very important view to this group is the ability to look at all the events that occurred on a specific backlog item. Every commit, build, validation, and deployment is visible in one location.
Story #3 — They get it and they are moving toward DevOps awesomeness
The final customer story involves a leader at a popular online sports apparel retailer who demonstrates all five of the “transformational leadership” traits. It amazes me that he respectfully expects much of his team, casts a vision, gives them a chance to be creative, and ultimately believes in them, unabashedly. In return, I have watched his team deliver some incredible work for their organization. The leadership trait that this leader embodies is inspirational communication, and I would argue this is the most important trait of the five. I believe, as the report confirms, when leadership is able to effectively communicate guardrails for their teams and instill a continual learning culture that doesn’t penalize mistakes, but strives to learn from them, teams are given the best gift they can be given — the environment to be successful and drive technological innovation. More specifically, teams in this approach are able to engineer innovation that is specific and crucial to the competitive advantage of their company. What far exceeds the expectations of this leader and his group of engineers is the level of detail he receives within VersionOne. So far, we have covered flow metrics, including cycle time and efficiency as well as how the solution is capable of providing real/time compliance. Now it’s time for the final “piece of the pie,” the “crème/de/la/crème.” VersionOne is capable of providing customers with a risk assessment that is unique among the current offering of agile and DevOps toolsets. The leaders of this particular customer are interested in this because they want to be able to determine delivery risk and identify value stream optimizations that can be made. From a risk perspective, our motto at VersionOne is accelerate delivery with confidence. We want to provide metrics that provide customers the ability to make informed decisions, predictions, and investments around their products’ risk profiles. How does this aspect of our solution benefit this customer? It provides an eagle’s eye view into any fragile code, poor development practices, lack of testing, or complexity that could cause deployment pain. I still recall the first time we all got together and demoed work that had been completed on site for this customer. The leader was nearly speechless about the prospect of getting more data to make data/driven decisions that improve the quality of technology and culture in their technology organization. This view promotes effective risk management and provide the guardrails to make sure that the organization understands its risk profile. When you know where your risk and complexity reside — all the way down to your code base — and how it connects to the business value you are trying to deliver, you know where incremental improvement needs to be made. There’s no more guessing!
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with me. What I hoped to accomplish is a reference point for you to see how our current customers are using our solution and coaching services to improve anything and everything in their journeys to enterprise agility. As a reminder, at VersionOne we are passionate about unifying agile and DevOps. We are pioneering new territory in which our customers can make data/driven DevOps decisions on their DevOps machine. This provides an advantage over just knowing what is provided to the machine as input and what comes out as output. You can use our metrics to accelerate delivery with confidence, drive incremental investment, tackle the theory of constraints in your team or organization, and change the culture in your organization to be one of transparency and adaptation. Furthermore, your leaders will be empowered with the data that will help them transform their leadership and your organization to be a market leader. In today’s technology market, it is clear: transformational leadership is key to leading DevOps success. Check out our webinar, Measure DevOps Performance with VersionOne, to learn how VersionOne helps you accelerate delivery with confidence, unify agile and DevOps, and obtain data/driven DevOps metrics. VersionOne is a registered trademark of VersionOne Inc. and Continuum is a trademark of VersionOne Inc.