DevOps has become a well-accepted and growing component for delivery success, shown in the State of DevOps Report among other respected publications. But even as it becomes more ubiquitous, it’s naive to think every organization will cease having delivery concerns. Implementations will differ widely, and adherence is essentially self-reported. So what is it, then, that separates those organizations that struggle with effective software delivery for years from those that consistently shoot further past their competitors?
The fuzzier nature of the culture and relationships aspects of DevOps obstruct the potential for an ISO- or CMMI-style certification—which is likely a good thing, though it also opens the door for DevOps to be simply a re-branding exercise without any teeth. As a guideline, the CAMS model is still an excellent overview of key DevOps principles. It lays the groundwork for measurement, feedback and sharing that set the stage for improvement, yet stops before making continuous improvement a top-level concern.
The rate of continuous improvement is the metaphorical equivalent of compounding interest. It takes just a simple illustration to show how starting further behind, but focusing on continuous improvement, can take you past those that have more initial resources.
Prioritizing DevOps for Continuous Improvement
DevOps with a focus on Kaizen or continuous improvement can catapult a company’s ability to effectively deliver software. Unfortunately, it falls squarely in the Important/Not Urgent quadrant in Stephen Covey’s model, where good ideas and good intentions are continuously frozen. An inability to keep momentum and traction in this state affects many companies.
To reach our goal of continuous improvement in the DevOps implementation in a company, first we must examine how to successfully drive internal initiatives in general. As a default behavior, companies commonly relegate themselves to just making it through quarter to quarter, delivering mostly incremental customer features. More ambitious initiatives draw lots of excited talk in executive suites, yet often stall and get delayed in actual implementation. Why is that an all-too-common occurrence?
There are three main hurdles:
- Inconsistency of shared goals and priorities across all levels of the organization: There’s often a gap somewhere around either middle management or line management where initiatives can tend to slip. It doesn’t hurt to over-communicate and ensure it goes across all levels, especially when important changes are occurring.
- Lack of individual accountability and empowerment: If communication is adequate, do individuals know not just the goals but also what they can and should be doing to reach them? This aspect is in principle tackled by official systems such as management by objectives (MBO) or objectives and key results (OKR). You can find success or failure in many systems, so rather than debating the merits of various people management systems, make sure to focus on the key goals and actions chosen.
- Do people actually have the budget of time and potentially funding to take action? Without time for action, there is only a nebulous intention—and perhaps a slight feeling of guilt at not having made progress.
Simply identifying the above obstacles and addressing their existence can be eye-opening and likely will cause common-sense measures to emerge to align the organization. After the initial quick wins, there certainly will be more difficult steps to follow that are specific to each organization. The end result is certainly worthwhile.
Unblocking the organizational obstacles to DevOps implementation, not as a one-time project but an evolving program of continuous improvement, blazes the path for long-term success.
As a further thought, imagine you also accelerate the rate of continuous improvement so it’s not a constant. An amazing example of the power of acceleration is the notion of a solar sail: Accelerating its velocity just 1 millimeter per second seems imperceptible, yet after one day, it’s moving 195 mph, and after 12 days, it’s up to 2,300 mph. “Astronomical” is an apt description of the delivery speed of some famous tech startups. That’s the power of continuous improvement!