DevOps … is a term used to refer to a set of practices that emphasize the collaboration and communication of both software developers and information technology (IT) professionals while automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes. It aims at establishing a culture and environment where building, testing, and releasing software can happen rapidly, frequently, and more reliably. — Wikipedia
We are all, I believe, familiar with the fact that culture is an important factor when adopting DevOps.
Most engineers and technologists are probably tired of having the “C” word thrown at them: culture.
Because let’s be brutally honest: DevOps value comes from the automation stuff. The latest “State of DevOps” report confirmed “that automation is a key differentiator for organizations.” All the shiny technology that supports the “continuous-es”: continuous integration, continuous deployment, continuous delivery, with infrastructure as code and spinning up servers in the cloud and then collapsing them when no longer needed, with other cool technology concepts such as containers, microservices and a whole array of sexy build, test and monitoring tools. Just when we start getting excited about it and drooling about the new tools we get to play with, somebody else pipes up with that culture. stuff again …
Groan. Just let us get on and do IT!
But equally, probably the most important part of the “continuous-es” is continual learning and improvement, because again, let’s be honest: The real value of DevOps takes years to realize. It is not a one-time, overnight migration with a simple press on the ‘Install DevOps” button. It is an iterative exercise involving people from the end-to-end value stream; therefore, it is all about continual experimentation, learning and improvement—and doing it with people from different siloes who don’t usually like talking to each other. So, it’s a “cultural thingy.”
If it’s not somebody talking about culture and collaboration and communication, it’s one of those “frameworky-geeks” talking about agile, scrum, lean thinking and IT service management (ITSM) and how we need “flow,” “process engineering,” “voice of the customer,” “kaizan,”kanban,” and a whole host of other Japanese-zen-like mysterious terms which only consultants are qualified to talk about and do, as they are the enlightened-ones (probably with their own secret handshake or Doctor Spock type split fingered salute!).
“DevOps is a philosophical movement,” we hear. Now, if there are two things that I wouldn’t normally associate with each other it is technical engineers (I was one!) and philosophy. Although I do remember trying to stare down a server once, hoping by the power of positive thought and sheer will power for it to start working again; the alternative was a sledgehammer …
Where was I? Oh, yes. So what are some of these “culture things” we should care about, apart from the “Wall of Confusion” that everybody keeps talking about? “We’re not confused! It’s the other lot on the other side of the wall that don’t get it!”
Below are some of the key discoveries relating to the culture, or soft skills, issues that teams experience and recognize during the DevOps business simulation, “The Phoenix Project.” Before you start getting all excited again, this is not a computer game in which you can win points by zapping Ops people who get in the way or setting phasers to stun when you see a developer about to release some more untested code or beam up an uppity product owner who tells you that what you coded may have been what they asked for but isn’t what they were thinking. This business simulation is a dynamic, interactive, classroom-based workshop in which people have to get together—face to face—and, well, communicate and collaborate! The simulation workshop has been performed with literally hundreds of DevOps teams across the globe and across different industries, and is used to support DevOps training and to help empower teams. (see a blog posted on this site).
What are Some of These Key Learning Points and Takeaways?
DASA has developed the competence model to help organizations assess and develop the right knowledge and skills within their DevOps teams. The competence model is based upon industry feedback from practicing organizations, and helps organizations assess their level in terms of Novice, Competent, Proficient, Expert and Master. It looks at four key Skills & Behavior areas and eight Knowledge areas.
Skills & Behavior Areas: Courage, Team-building, DevOps Leadership, Continuous Improvement.
Simulation exercise discoveries for Courage:
- “Feedback” is often seen as negative. People don’t like or dare to give feedback. It is perceived as personal, as criticism and often as blame. A blame culture makes it even more difficult to create open, honest feedback which is a barrier to learning and improvement.
- “Fail fast” often means “blame fast,” or “pass the blame.” A blame culture creates a lack of trust and willingness to experiment for “fear of failure.” Often in the simulations if things go wrong, people revert to asking,”Whose fault was that?” rather than asking, “What happened? How can we stop that happening again?”
- Sharing knowledge. Still in many organizations, knowledge is power; people don’t like to share knowledge or don’t think others are capable of using knowledge. A critical aspect of DevOps is multi-functional teams with broad shared skills and knowledge.
Simulation exercise discoveries for Team-building:
- Teams are unaware of the need for active listening, confirmation of agreements and decisions and verifying “assumptions”—many mistakes are the results of “assumicide” and poor understanding, which causes disruptions and excessive hand-off moments to gain the right information resulting in waste, delays and rework.
- Ownership, responsibility and being proactive. Many IT people wait to be told what to do. Many people don’t like to admit they don’t know or that they need help. others don’t actively seek out and ask, “How can I help,” asking upstream and downstream, “What do you need from me to be able to do your job?”
- Many teams have an aversion to getting together as they have poor experiences of pointless meetings with lots of talking and then not a lot of decisions being made or action being taken.
- Many teams don’t set for themselves goals for a meeting or learning objectives from a training session. They do not ask themselves, “What do I need to take away from this session?” They often don’t ask, “What do you expect from me?” “What should my contribution be?” They often cannot answer the question, “What problem do you want to be able to solve after attending this?” Many times in a session people say, “I was told to come.”
- Silo thinking: Many teams still think from siloes, e.g the technology team they are in or the development team, and don’t think end-to-end. They are building and supporting a technology solution and not managing end-to-end business value.
Simulation exercise discoveries for DevOps Leadership:
- When there are managers in the simulation, people often sit back and wait to be told or managers feel they must come up with the solution and give instructions.
- Managers have difficulty letting go, and sometimes don’t have the patience to let teams learn and improve themselves.
- Managers fear experimentation and failure, as they may be blamed.
- Managers often blame teams for not becoming self-steering, becoming self-empowered or for not taking ownership, yet they do not help coach and empower teams.
- Often managers are unable to answer the “why” question: “Why are we doing DevOps?” If managers do not know then how can they expect team members to know?
Simulation exercise discoveries for Continuous Improvement:
- Teams are poor at reflecting, analyzing, thinking and coming up with solutions. They lack skills in “problem thinking,” also in terms of Kolb learning cycle. Often they recognize one symptom and then leap to conclusions and solutions.
- Lack of skills in facilitating a stand-up meeting. See the five key team skills mentioned by Jan Schilt on DevOps.com. These skills are: The stand-up; Facilitating a retrospective; Managing the Kanban (Visual Management System); Managing the Andon: (and swarming problems); and Collaboration.
- Many teams struggle to record issues in their work, such as a CSI (continual service improvement) register. They agree it is a good idea, then nobody does it, or if they do then nobody looks at the list again. If I ask, “Who owns this?“ they usually look at each other the point to the business or IT manager. There is no sense of ownership for improvements. This confirmed our own mini-survey of 650 organizations: Less than 20 percent had formal CSI.
- With improvements, teams wait for somebody to say, “You will do this,” rather than suggest, “I can pick up that.” Improvements mean more work and teams are already busy enough, allocating time for improvements and rewarding improvements are not valued.
- Teams often say they do NOT reserve time to reflect and discuss improvements. They are often too busy and managers do not stimulate, or allow them to reserve time for thinking and acting on improvements to the way of working. Priority is given to completing the ever growing backlog of work.
Business Value Optimization:
- Many technology people do not understand the business they are supporting, the critical business activities and business times, how a system delivers value to the business, what happens at a given time if a critical IT feature, function or technology is not available. There is a technology mindset as opposed to a business mindset.
- Many technology teams have never seen a user or seen how users or customers use and experience the technology. Many think they don’t need to know this. This is a top-scoring ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) card worldwide in global workshops and has been for 15 years. “IT has too little understanding of business impact and priority,” and is also a top concern for business managers.
- In every single simulation and workshop I conduct worldwide, the issue of prioritization is raised, again in relation to business impact and business value, yet all teams recognize a growing pressure on scarce resources, a dilemma between “innovation” and “maintenance work” and a need for clear prioritization.
- Product managers in teams are often unaware of technical debt and its impact. ITSM teams have difficulty quantifying the impact of technical debt and how this impacts current and future business plans.
And finally, the latest “State of DevOps” report also confirmed the importance of skills and behaviors, particularly what it calls “Transformational Leadership”: “By 2020, half of the CIOs who have not transformed their teams’ capabilities will be displaced from their organizations’ digital leadership teams.” The survey continues: “Leaders are the ones who set the tone of the organization, and reinforce the desired cultural norms.” Oh! There is that “C” word again. Are we ever to escape it?
What are the characteristics of a transformational leader, according to the State of DevOps findings?
Vision, inspirational communication, intellectual stimulation (challenges people to think about problems in new ways), supportive leadership, personal recognition. These characteristics are one of the reasons why leadership is one of the four key Skills & Behaviors in the DASA competence model.
A simulation experience helps make the “C” word become a reality. Delegates can translate it from a buzzword into meaningful behavior. The simulation allows delegates to see, feel and experience the benefits of communication and collaboration, while helping them to translate DevOps theory into practice.
As a leader, you can use a simulation exercise as an instrument to communicate your vision in an inspirational way. End-to-end stakeholders can be brought together and stimulated to explore and develop DevOps skills, knowledge and competences together. At the end of the simulation experience teams have been empowered to capture takeaways they want to apply. As a leader, you can support them in translating the captured takeaways into real behavior and helping shape together a DevOps culture for your organization.
About the Author / Paul Wilkinson
Paul has been actively involved in the IT industry for more than 35 years. Fulfilling a wide range of roles ranging from computer operator to IT infrastructure operations manager. He was co-author of the ITIL publication, “Planning to Implement IT Service Management,” and was a member of the ITIL advisory group for ITIL Version 3, and the architects team for ITIL Practitioner. Paul is also co-director and owner of GamingWorks, the company that developed the internationally renowned “Apollo 13 – an ITSM case experience” ITSM simulation game and most recently the “Phoenix Project – DevOps business simulation,” which is based upon the Phoenix Project book . He was also co-author and developer of the “ABC of ICT (The Attitude, Behavior and Culture of ICT)” publications, having conducted ABC workshops and simulation workshops with delegates representing more than 4,000 organizations worldwide. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.