Creating a culture for DevOps to thrive

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For many organizations, the move to DevOps is more complicated than simply putting agile metholodies, tools, and techniques into practice - it requires a cultural shift. This is especially true when running into the inevitable roadblocks that occur along the path to disruption. Mirco Hering, Agile & DevOps lead for Accenture and a speaker at the DevOps Enterprise Summit taking place next week, says this is when IT leaders must stay the course and have faith in their DevOps vision.

We spoke with Hering to learn more about how IT leaders can create a culture to enable DevOps to thrive, and what the future of IT might look like if they successfully stay the course. (Bonus: Read on for a special offer for Enterprisers Project readers.)

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): Your presentation at the summit is focusing on making systems of record work in an agile environment. Why is this a challenge for enterprises?

Mirco Hering

Hering: Larger enterprises have to deal with both digital and legacy systems (e.g. systems of record). The reason for this is that delivering solutions requires changes to both kinds of systems, and to make them work the overall solutions needs to fit together like two well-oiled gears. Even though this is the case, most references to successful DevOps implementations are from the custom development world. It is not easy to work with systems of record as they have not been created with DevOps practices like configuration management and continuous integration in mind. So while it is important to speed up delivery for both kind of systems, systems of record present a harder challenge. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I want to share my successes and ongoing struggles as a story of hope and challenge. Hopefully it will be a starting point for an ongoing discussion where we can all push the state of the industry forward.

TEP: You've been working with both DevOps and Agile methodologies for years. How have you seen the practices evolve?

Hering: This is a very interesting question. I have just recently blogged about it from my personal perspective. I find that the industry seems to have moved along the same dimensions (but perhaps that is a case of confirmation bias). Coming from some form of waterfall development and in a time when the best answer to productivity improvement was going offshore or using packaged software, agile provided an alternative way to deliver projects successfully. The initial focus was on small teams of highly focused individuals and the success of those teams showed what is possible. Early successes meant that many more organizations wanted to adopt agile and that it was adopted for larger and more complex environments.

At this stage, agile projects got into trouble as the relatively simple recipes and the tendency toward offshoring and packaged software worked against the ideal of small, co-located teams for agile delivery. This is where I saw the next two trends picking up: Scaled Agile Frameworks (like SAFe) and DevOps with its cultural and technical aspects. While there is a lot more to be done in this space, I can already see the broader organizational change as the next frontier. Otherwise successful agile/DevOps teams run into problems with the funding cycles and other organizational practices at the moment. While agile and DevOps was used in small pockets of organizations, it was easy to fly under the radar, with mainstream adoption we will now have to solve these other, more complex problems in the organization and do so while shifting the overall organizational culture.

TEP: On your blog, you talk about the cultural transformation needed to become truly agile and adopt DevOps. What can IT leaders do to create the right culture for DevOps and agile to thrive?

Hering: Over time I came to realize that methodology and technical practices can only get you so far. Staying the course in tough times is not easy and reality is that it's likely going to get worse before it gets better. Leaders need to believe in their mission and support the team in times when it does not look like there will be quick wins.

There is this story about Toyota and how they introduced the andon cord in their factories overseas. This cord is being pulled whenever there is a problem with the production system. Of course this is disruptive at first and some factories stopped using the cord because of the disruption. The ones who used it had a negative impact on productivity initially while the others continued to produce the same results as before. Management could have easily given up on the andon cord, but they stuck with it and over time improved their production system so much that they outperformed the other factories significantly. There was no chance for the other factories to catch-up afterwards as the improvements were systematic and not just focused on fixing defects as they appeared as the other factories had done. To me this serves as a worthwhile example for management who adopts DevOps. Management needs to find ways to measure progress of the improvements and need to stay the course of systematic improvements even when productivity takes an initial hit. I have seen many transformational efforts that start well and then get stuck when disruption is necessary, which might mean some steps backwards on other dimensions. Here is where management can show what it means to support a vision and to stay the course.

Let me share one more piece of personal advice for cultural change. I subscribe to Dan Pink’s sources of motivation at work: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Management should look for opportunities to create a workspace where each team member can increase their satisfaction along those three dimensions. We are all knowledgeable workers in IT, and the best way to get the best out of us is for us to be highly motivated and work in line with the company vision. From talking to people in the IT industry I often find that we have optimized work in a way that has not considered the relevant characteristics and knowledge of workers, and this is likely to be the next area that will increase productivity significantly if addressed correctly.

TEP: How do you think DevOps and agile methodologies will shape the future of IT organizations?

Hering: Honestly, I think agile and DevOps will be part of every organization in the next few years. So far very few have really transformed their whole organization to become as lean as possible. After all, agile and DevOps are both ways to become leaner. I think that agile and DevOps practitioners and change agents will join forces with organizational change management practitioners to examine organizational processes. While I don’t know how the end-state looks, I have a few things in mind that I hope to see in organizations over the next few years, and I will hopefully play my part in some of those transformations. Here is what the organization of the future looks like for me:

  • HR practices have been transformed to recognize the team based nature of work and that outcomes of the organization matter the most.
  • Financial governance has found a way to decouple funding cycles so that agile teams can continue working as long as certain organizational results (financial and otherwise) are achieved by teams.
  • Project based teams are a thing of the past. Teams exist as persistent entities with stable members that transcend traditional role definitions and even organizational boundaries where vendors and system integrators are involved.
  • Stakeholders across the organization have access to real-time information from both business and IT systems to steer the organization.

There is still time to register for the DevOps Enterprise Summit and receive 20 percent off using the friends of The Enterprisers Project promo code “ENTERPRISER20.”  The event takes place Oct. 19-21 in San Francisco, CA.

Mirco Hering leads Accenture’s DevOps & Agile practice in the Asia-Pacific region, which focuses on Agile, DevOps and Continuous Delivery to establish lean IT organisations. He has over 10 years experience in accelerating software delivery through innovative approaches. Mirco experienced the positive effects of Agile when he used it for the first time to rescue a failing project. He delivered this project successfully to the client, which seemed impossible only months before. Since then, bringing Agile together with DevOps practices has been the recipe for Mirco’s project success. In the last few years Mirco has focused on the organizational aspects that support scaling these practices and methods to large complex environments. He has been supporting major public and private sector companies in Australia and overseas in their search for efficient IT delivery. Mirco is Accenture’s global DevOps offering lead and is currently leading the transformation effort for a major delivery program. Mirco is a regular speaker at industry conferences and shares his insights in industry publications and on his own blog.

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.