In this DevOps Chat, we sit down with Dr. Mik Kersten, CEO and co-founder of Tasktop. Mik besides being the founder of Tasktop, is also the creator of the Eclipse Mylyn open source project. Tasktop continues to lead the way in value stream visualization and software delivery integration.
Mik gives us the latest on this and more in this conversation. Enjoy!
Alan Shimel: Hey, everyone, this is Alan Shimel, DevOps.com editor-in-chief, and we’re here for another DevOps Chat. Our guest on this episode of DevOps Chat is Mik Kersten. Mik, for those of you who don’t know, he’s almost synonymous with Tasktop. Mik, welcome.
Mik Kersten: Thank you, Alan. It’s great to be talking to you again.
Alan Shimel: So how does it feel to almost be synonymous with your company?
Mik Kersten: Now that you mentioned it, it sounds good. It’s been an amazing journey with Tasktop. I think it’s just been a great now ten years of looking at how to bring those benefits of Agile and DevOps to large organizations. So it feels good is the short answer.
Alan Shimel: Another one of those ten year overnight success stories in the startup world. Mik, all kidding aside, there might be some people in our audience who aren’t familiar with Tasktop. So, if we can, just maybe a real quick 30 second sort of elevator pitch on what Tasktop is, what it does.
Mik Kersten: Yeah, absolutely. Most organizations now know that in order to get the up and coming productivity and efficiency that they’re after to be competitive in today’s world, they need to face an Agile toolchain and they need to deploy DevOps and continuous integration, and to do that you pick your issue tracking tools, your continuous integration tools, your release automation tools, and all of those bits and pieces. If you’re a large organization, you pick requirements management tools. If you’re doing any physical products, you need some additional tools for requirements and bills of materials and those kinds of things.
What’s interesting is that once organizations scale up there are DevOps transformations. They’re both hitting more tools and different kinds of partitioners. So the missing piece for making all of these benefits of DevOps work at scale is this piece of integration infrastructure. We can connect up all the tools to get an end-to-end flow, so to get the benefits of Agile and Lean, all the way from business idea to running software and the revenue results and delighted customers.
That’s what Tasktop has been doing. Over the last ten years, by release we’ve been connecting different stakeholders, processes and tools, so that you could have this end-to-end flow of information. So you could have the best of breed tools, the latest issue trackers or Agile planning tools, the latest continuous integration tools and so on, while getting this end-to-end flow, because really the problem that we’re addressing is that when you look under the covers in most transformations you’ll see that both DevOps and Agile have been deployed at these local optimizations. The team can do continuous integration or continuous delivery. Or the organization has continuous delivery, but has not optimized anything upstream, and that’s really the problem we’re trying to solve. Let’s get the entire IT organization to be Lean end-to-end.
Alan Shimel: Fantastic. Mik, in us talking before we started recording today, you said that the most recent release of Tasktop and the hub is probably the most important and meaningful thing you guys have done in ten years. Why don’t you share with our audience why you feel that way? What is this great functionality and great feature set that came out in this last release?
Mik Kersten: Absolutely. What we’ve noticed is that the way that – again, you take any large IT shop who has not yet deployed Tasktop and you look at how they support their transformation, and you’ll notice you’ll see all these point-to-point integrations. So you’ll see, let’s say, the Agile planning tool wired in through some APIs or Web hosts or some data integration technology into the requirements management tool, into the time tracking tool, into the quality management tool, into the automated test tool, into this _____ tool and so on.
What we noticed four years ago is that the slave connecting things point-to-point was going to blow up. Once you’re making point-to-point connections, you get this exponential factor. So it’s okay if you’ve got two or three tools. All of a sudden you’ve got four or five tools. Just the sheer number of API calls are bringing down your servers actually.
We know a lot of customers where they say their JIRA issue tracker is getting so many API calls from these integrations that it takes a minute to load an issue. So you get all these weird symptoms.
You also get this thing that’s very difficult to maintain, because as soon as one tool changes or someone adds some new fields to a project’s definition of a user story or something of that sort, multiple integrations break and you’ve got this spaghetti code of Web host and API integration madness.
So we realized four years ago we couldn’t even test all the integrations we’re supporting in that point-to-point way. It was already costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars of resources, of basically VM resources, just to test all the tools we support in a point-to-point based way. So we said four years ago, “We’ve got to stop doing things in a point-to-point way. It won’t scale. We need to support all the Agile and DevOps tools out there, and it won’t scale to supporting large scale DevOps transformations.”
So we started creating this notion of models. First you look to open standards. So we got our feet wet and we on the committee of OSLC, but to get everyone to adopt open standards just didn’t work. And these tools are so complex because the stakeholder tools right now have become very elegant, basically. The developer tools are very tuned to the developer process, and with that comes a lot of complexity specific to developers, to testers and so.
So we realized open standards won’t solve it. APIs alone don’t solve it, but are actually part of the problem. You need to take a different approach. So internally we made this integration factory so we could test everything, and we made these common models. The models are basically the currencies of Agile and DevOps and the ALM and SDLC systems, things like requirements, user stories, builds, releases, security, vulnerabilities, those kinds of things.
That’s how we started testing everything and then we said, “Okay. If you raise the slave abstraction, it actually makes it much easier to connect everything. With last week’s release of the Tasktop Integration Hub, we’re actually taking that model-based approach and exposing it to all of our users. So you simply define all of your models in your value stream, again, like user stories, requirements, builds, releases, chain sets and so on, and then you plug in however many tools you want into those models and you get this amazing thing. You get complete automation for your value stream.
So we’re calling that value stream integration, because end-to-end you can now have these flows and you can actually track things like cycle time, and you can basically get the benefits that a startup with 100 or 200 people is getting in terms of their speed of delivery at very large scales, at thousands or tens of thousands of IT staff. So you’ve got that value stream integration layer that we provide.
Alan Shimel: Excellent. I agree, Mik. You know what? Obviously you work at Tasktop. You’re very excited by what they’ve done. But for our audience out here who are generally pretty sophisticated technologists, I hope they appreciate really the – I mean it’s making people’s lives easier, right. When you can make people’s jobs and lives easier like that, it’s a good thing and this sounds like it could be a real game changer that way.
Mik Kersten: Yeah. Alan, that’s a thing that’s absolutely near and dear to me. My whole background was from productivity tools, empowering developers and taking the waste out of their day with all the open source work on Mylyn and the dev tools that we’ve done. Our mission was to bring about that change in the way people work at scale, because it gets even worse.
You look at the large IT shops out there, the place where most of the world’s IT staff works, and we’ve measured what they do. Every developer or every tester, every business analyst, they’re spending at minimum 30 minutes, in some cases we’ve seen two hours per day of duplicate entering information for every code change they make, for example, because of all the governance and compliance and other rules which need to be there in large scale organizations, but all of that work is waste and it drives people crazy because they don’t like doing it, because it’s basically manual data entry.
When you think of what it actually is, they’re entering information and logging into different systems, all of which could have been done automatically if, again, we took this value stream-based approach. You make your code change. All that information propagates into however many tools the organization had to set up. You might have to track different kinds of requirements and changes differently. That’s okay.
So the most satisfying thing that we’ve seen with deployments of this, because we actually had customers in an early access program since April – the Tasktop Integration Hub is running in production at customer sites today – is that all of that waste gets taken out instantly. Basically our expectation is that the moment its deployed, and we’ve seen this, your employee engagement scores are going up that week or that month, that quarter, because you’ve taken out all that wasted work which drives the best people in their company crazy, the fact that you’re making them do it.
So that’s our whole goal. The person goal is just make the lives of all those people in IT better by removing all that waste. Then of course the organization economic goal is through that: make your organization more innovative, because you’re now able to deliver at the speed of a startup and get that promise of DevOps at scale.
Alan Shimel: Absolutely. Mik, we’re running short on time, as we always are on DevOps Chats, but let me quickly pivot to something else I wanted to touch on with you, and that is the idea of the bridge of that job to DevOps or bridge between that job and DevOps. When I first started with DevOps four years ago, maybe more, five years ago, there was, “Well, DevOps really picks up where Agile leaves off,” but they were clearly two separate things. Agile is for developers. DevOps is for everyone.
But what we’ve seen is that DevOps is borrowing more and more from Agile, more and more from Lean. Where do you see the connection between Agile and DevOps, if that makes sense?
Mik Kersten: It’s by different thought leaders, different vendors and so on. In the end, it’s all the same thing. It’s Lean for software and software at scale. So in terms of how organizations have aligned, I think what has happened is that so much of the bottleneck for software delivery for so many large organizations has been in deployment reliability and velocity and automation. DevOps has formed the big new movement and really picked up as a movement where Agile left off.
In the end, the technology is you need continuous delivery. You need to implement continuous delivery, but the DevOps movement has come from that side, from development and operations and said, “We need to deliver things faster, more reliably, and automate all the stuff that’s manual in their account.” That’s actually shifted and taking over where the Agile movement started, which is we need to track work and be responsive to change and bring customers into the feedback loop.
So there are two key components and I think the sheer velocity that we have right now behind organizations going to DevOps has made it the more important transformation agent. Everything that was going with Agile stays as a key part of the transformation. I think it’s very important for those leaders out there, putting together those DevOps transformations to not stop at code commit.
You have to actually take the Lean fast feedback loop, continual learning all the way into business analysis, design and so, because if you stop you’re going to have to solve the deployment bottleneck, but not the upstream bottleneck. For example, if you don’t have enough UI designers, it won’t matter how quickly you’re deploying. You’ll do bottlenecks on your UI design. You’ll need to higher there.
So I think we all need to take this end-to-end Lean view and DevOps is just a great transformation agent and a great movement to help us all do that.
Alan Shimel: Good stuff. Mik, we’re coming up to the end of our time. I want to ask you one last question, not a trick question, but I always like to ask if possible. For our audience out there, if you could recommend one book that they read, and not an obvious one, don’t tell us The Phoenix Project or even the DevOps Handbook. It doesn’t have to be DevOps related. What book would you recommend?
Mik Kersten: I’m holding it up right now. I know you can’t see it, but it’s the book Learning to See by Mike Rother and John Shook. If you even just flip through this book, you’ll see the value stream mapping and value stream integration and management approach that make the manufacturing work. As we go into this post-DevOps, post-Agile bigger picture world, it’s that same view of the value stream, focusing on the end-to-end value stream that I think need to inspire that next generation of leaders creating these transformation.
I think the DevOps Handbook contains a lot of this. It’s a great book. I’m nearly finished reading it. It has a lot of the right sources, but in terms of something that you might not have seen it’s this Learning to See book, which is really about learning to see production. We need to learn to see the flow of software across the value stream and most organizations have not done that yet, and that’s really – our mission is to help organizations do that, but the ideas are here. We’ve done them before. Again, it’s been done in manufacturing and now it needs to be applied to software delivery.
Alan Shimel: Fantastic. Mik Kersten, Tasktop, thanks for being this episode’s guest on DevOps Chat. Continued success and looking forward to more, and maybe seeing you at DevOps Enterprise Summit in London.
Mik Kersten: Absolutely. Thank you, Alan. Great chatting with you, as always.
Alan Shimel: All right, Mik. You be well.
Mik Kersten: Thank you.
Alan Shimel: This is Alan Shimel for DevOps.com.