Gene Kim: What high-performing IT organizations do differently

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Author and DevOps enthusiast Gene Kim is passionate about studying what makes successful IT organizations tick. Through his research, Kim has identified what makes high-performing IT organizations so successful, and he’s been sharing his learnings through his books, numerous speaking engagements, and articles. We recently asked him to share some of his findings with The Enterprisers Project. Here’s what we learned:

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): You helped benchmark more than 1,300 organizations to figure out how they became great. What did you learn?

Gene Kim

Kim: I’ve been studying high performance for 15 years, and until recently, it's been elusive defining exactly what a high-performing IT organization looks like. For at least 30 years, researchers have been trying to find the link between IT investment, IT performance and business performance – and the answers were never very satisfactory and is sometimes referred to as the “productivity paradox.” However, over the last two years I think we’ve made a breakthrough: high performing IT organizations do exist and they are massively outperforming their non-high-performing peers, and helping their organizations win in the marketplace.

TEP: How do high-performers compare to their low-performing peers?

Kim: We know that high performers are doing 30 times more frequent production deployments, they complete them 8,000 times faster (think “minutes” v. “months”), and they have far better outcomes. Their production deployments are twice as likely to succeed, and when things blow up, they can fix the problems twelve times faster. What’s amazing is that now we can see that there are seven behaviors that enable high performance. In other words, it’s more than just correlation. We can actually say that these are top predictors of performance.

TEP: Can you share some of the top predictors of performance for these high-performers?

Kim: Some of them are technical practices like version controlling all production artifacts and continuous integration and automated testing practices by development. But some of them are cultural. We found that IT organizations with a high-trust culture typically outperform IT organizations with low-trust command-and-control cultures – those are the organizations where people are afraid to tell bad news, where messengers of bad news are shot, bridging between functions like Dev, Test and Ops are discouraged. This cultural factor was the third highest predictor of performance, and confirms that “DevOps culture” really does affect performance. In DevOps cultures, bridging between functions is encouraged, people are trained to tell bad news, and because when failures happen, it causes genuine inquiry (“blameless post-mortems” made famous by John Allspaw), and novel ideas are embraced.

TEP: Were there any other interesting findings across the board?

Kim: Another thing I found exciting is that when you look at the high performers, not only do they have better IT performance, as I described earlier, but they have better organizational performance as well. They’re twice as likely to exceed profitability, market share, and productivity goals. And for those organizations that are providing a stock ticker symbol, we found that the high performing ones had 50 percent higher market cap growth over three years. So it’s great for Dev, it’s great for Test, it’s great for Ops, but it’s also great for the organization as well.

Read "Gene Kim: Learn about DevOps directly from the pros."

Gene is a multiple award winning CTO, researcher and author.  He was founder and CTO of Tripwire for 13 years. He has written three books, including “The Visible Ops Handbook” and “The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win."  Gene is a huge fan of IT operations, and how it can enable developers to maximize throughput of features from “code complete” to “in production,” without causing chaos and disruption to the IT environment.  He has worked with some of the top Internet companies on improving deployment flow and increasing the rigor around IT operational processes. In 2007, ComputerWorld added Gene to the “40 Innovative IT People Under The Age Of 40” list, and was given the Outstanding Alumnus Award by the Department of Computer Sciences at Purdue University for achievement and leadership in the profession.

Ginny Holden is an independent consultant who brings the practice of IT to life through memorable storytelling.