As a DevOps and Agile consultant, I work with many technology leaders who see DevOps as this big tangled mess of which they are trying to make sense. When I talk to them, I have to teach them to lead in a systems-thinking manner, a key tenet of DevOps. Making sense of systems thinking is no easy task, but to make it a little simpler, let’s tell a tale of farm-to-table that includes the characters of tractor, farmer and popular Italian restaurant Olive Garden.
A tractor is at the very most multi-purpose—it can till the field, spread fertilizer, pull a trailer to return a harvest, etc. The farmer, on the other hand, might be interested in things such as the acidity of the soil, water levels and local weather forecasts, but his ultimate goal is singular (to produce a yield of crops) and his domain expertise is narrow.
Let’s say this particular farm provides tomatoes to Olive Garden. Olive Garden views the relationship between farmer and tractor from a completely different perspective. It cares about purchasing tomatoes to add in a variety of dishes, and cares much more about getting the tomatoes delivered to the store than how those ingredients were produced. After these tomatoes leave the farm, they become part of a complex process of delivering quality ingredients to the plates of customers.
Now that the picture has been painted, let’s pretend that the farmer is really a member of the development team, the tractor is Jenkins, and Olive Garden represents the leadership team or their business priorities. The farmer, or developer, is thinking very narrowly and tactically. Jenkins, or the tractor, can’t prove the farmer is moving business value from one end to the other. Contrastingly, leadership wants to see everything done in a holistic way, connected to metrics and business value. This scenario leaves farmers and Olive Garden working in silos and thinking differently about how to reach goals. Sound familiar?
This is where systems thinking, or holistic thinking, can help unite leadership and technical teams, improving culture, customer satisfaction and more. So, how do we get from this blasé transaction of tomatoes to table (or code to customer)? In general, if we only focus tactically on what we’re trying to accomplish, we aren’t thinking holistically. Holistic thinking means looking at the entire delivery toolchain and how a single piece of code ultimately will affect the end user or customer.
The goal of leadership is to try to drive vision and to make decisions based on real data. Developers need to try to prove to leadership, especially when they start talking about tools, automation or cultural changes, that there’s going to be value in those initiatives. Sounds easy enough, but sometimes leadership doesn’t provide a good vision for how they want developers to think outside of the box, and so, they’re stuck. We’ve seen this picture before. We have DevOps engineers that are just another silo in the process; not intentionally, but because leadership doesn’t set a good vision. Systems thinking isn’t in place.
As a consultant for Agile teams, I often see Agile and DevOps mixed together. And what I don’t agree with is that the intersection point is small; that’s a common misconception. But when we want to think outside of the box, we need to focus on ideas and capabilities and we need to be able to make data-driven decisions.
So, what is the intersection of Agile and DevOps? Agile is just a component of DevOps. DevOps is the extension of Lean and other methodologies that came before it. In other words, Agile and DevOps can’t live without each other. In organizations that are trying to do both, I’m coaching them to try to utilize both frameworks and both cultures to do what they need because they’re ultimately the same.
Providing a taste of data-driven DevOps to leaders is how to get them to turn their head in the direction that you want it to go.
Ultimately, systems thinking breeds continuous improvement because, if you have a holistic view, you’re monitoring all parts of your process, and so you can have more meaningful retrospectives and you’re thinking about what you can improve all along the way. And you’re on a journey to make your organization, or your team or yourself, epic.