This DevOps Chat features Eric Robertson, VP of product and engineering at CollabNet. We discuss value stream mapping, which comes from Lean methodology and has been around for a while. But do you actually know what value stream mapping is? How can it help your DevOps transformation? Eric does a good job of explaining.
As usual, the streaming audio of our conversation is immediately below, followed by a transcript of our chat. Enjoy!
Transcript of our Chat
Alan Shimel: Hey, everyone. This is Alan Shimel of DevOps.com here for another DevOps Chat and our guest on this chat is Eric Robertson, VP of product management and engineering at CollabNet. Eric, welcome to DevOps Chat.
Eric Robertson: Thank you. Thank you, Alan. Glad to be here.
Shimel: Yeah. We’re glad to have you here, Eric. I don’t think we’ve had anyone from CollabNet, actually, on DevOps Chat before, though I think we’ve done some video interviews over at DevOps Enterprise Summit—maybe it was San Francisco in October and November—but we’re—so we’re glad to have you here. We’re eager to find out about what’s going on with CollabNet and about some of the stuff you’ve been doing. Eric, if you don’t mind, though, there might be some people out in our audience who are not familiar with CollabNet, so, if you can, just—doesn’t have to be long, but maybe a quick elevator pitch on who CollabNet is, what you guys do.
Robertson: Sure. Sure. So CollabNet’s been around since, I think, 1999, and it was one of the foundational on the open source, with our Subversion version control software. We since then moved into the ALM, application lifecycle management, platform. It’s our product offering called “TeamForge,” where we started linking in that planning, development, and testing life cycle, with integration to tools. And now, with me, we actually extended that life cycle all the way down into the operations—thus, the concept DevOps. And now we are launching—have launched, actually, a series of products and partnerships around DevOps for our customers.
Shimel: Fantastic. Fantastic. So, Eric, one of the things that, when we spoke off mic earlier, we spoke about value stream mapping, and I know that’s something kinda, if not near and dear to your heart, something that you’ve been involved in with CollabNet. Why don’t you give our audience—let’s start off with this. There may be people out here who, just as they didn’t know CollabNet, maybe they’re not familiar with the term “value stream mapping.”
Robertson: Yeah. It’s very interesting. Value stream mapping is actually an older concept. It’s part of the Lean management framework. For example, many may have heard about Toyota. It was started there, as far as best practices around mapping material and information flow and how could we apply to, for example, the value chain, and pretty predominant in the manufacturing domain. And it’s kinda of interesting because I have a background in software engineering and I have degrees in computer science and engineering, but my first job was actually in architecture—not in software architecture, but actually designing building. CAD design.
And it was interesting that, during that time, they started talking about design patterns and best practices, as far as architecting and putting together systems and designing. And I said, “Wow, this is very similar concept to what I learned back in college, when I was doing software engineering, software design.” And, very soon, that started translating into object-oriented and design patterns and things of that nature. So it’s interesting how patterns and techniques that were very popular and used in other domains, like manufacturing and architecture, now being applied to software. In other words, software is maturing, right? The software development process is maturing. It’s starting to utilize these type of practices.
And the value stream map is just an example of that, right? It’s Lean management method for really analyzing that current state and designing a future state, based upon a series of events that take a product, a service, from its beginning through to its customer. Right? And, again, like I mentioned, Toyota—this is known as that material and information flow mapping, and it can be applied to any value chain, for example, right? And what is a value chain? It’s just a set of activities that take, for example—that delivers a valuable product or service to the market, right? So you got, in the manufacturing world, this was machines that did it; in the software world, it’s now tools that we use to deliver a product from a planning all the way to its operations stage.
Shimel: Yep. Got it. So, Eric, this is something, obviously, that you have written and you’re talking a lot about it. Can you tell our audience, if they want—maybe if they wanted to find out a little more, where can they go? Before we dive in more than that, maybe where can they get more information on this?
Robertson: Yes. Actually, they could come out to our website, collab.net, but, also, I recently published an article around how value stream mapping delivers a better DevOps tool chain, and we can post those links—I believe it was also on DevOps.com and we have one that was delivered through TEDxBeacon, so there’s a series of outlets, and we’ll post those links there on where they can get more information about this.
Shimel: Excellent. You know what? We’ll, for sure, do that. And then, Eric, you had also mentioned that you guys were doing some sort of roadshow or a little city tour, where you’ll be talking about this, as well as other areas of interest around DevOps and what CollabNet’s doing. What’s going on with that?
Robertson: Yeah, so we’re actually having a series—we’re also doing it through webinars, but we’re also doing it through seminars, and we’re gonna be having these seminars throughout the different series. And, basically, what we’re doing there, what’s really critical there, is that we’re going to be not only talking about the value stream as far as more of the how this applies into the DevOps—in DevOps world, but also we’ll have customers there talking about how they are leveraging value stream mapping and how they’re mapping that to their tool chains and how they’re able to, from bare, start applying measurement, which, to them, is what they’re calling “the last mile” of DevOps, right? And it’s really—they’re gonna talk about how that provides a window to allow them to monitor, measure, improve their workflow processes, all around a series of KPIs, both velocity KPIs and also quality KPIs.
Shimel: Mm-hmm. Excellent. So, again, I think, Eric, what we wanna do is post a—maybe if you have a schedule of cities that we can post with the notes from today’s show.
Shimel: I think that’s the way to do that. So—
Shimel: —let’s return, though, for a moment, to value stream mapping and kinda dig in here a bit. One of the things—and, again, as we spoke about off mic, I’ve had some experience with value stream mapping—one of the things, though, in speaking to potential customers of value stream mapping, is it’s easy to say, “Oh, yeah, that sounds good.” Right? “Oh, that’s something we wanna do.” Okay, well, let’s schedule some time and I’m gonna need the right people at the table because, if you don’t have the right people there, it’s very hard, number one, to truly map out the value stream and, number two—
Shimel: Right? And harder than that is let’s get some consensus on what we’re gonna do to make it happen.
Shimel: You know, unfortunately, it can’t be some developer who raises his hand and says, “I really wanna make a digital transformation here and I need to convince my CIO. Can you come in and give me a value stream mapping kind of session or workshop or can we discuss it?” It’s not a one-man show.
Robertson: Exactly. Exactly. And it is very interesting you said that because, because value stream looks at the lifecycle from planning to operations, there’re different stakeholders, right? And what’s happening in, especially in enterprise, is these stakeholders now—they have implemented the tools or they have guys that work for them or folks that work for them that implemented these tools, and they’re starting to ask questions or they already started asking questions around value. What I mean by that—you have the executive and he’ll say, “You know, my folks are telling me we did four deployments today.” Great. What does that really mean for the business?
Robertson: Did we get little features out to the business, where they get utilized? Are they utilizing that? Did I actually place the right emphasis on those features? Right? The last release that I deployed on time, at least from a developer perspective, said I deployed this, I deployed it on time, but I’m having this increase of service desk tickets. What’s going on here? Why am I being called? Right?
Robertson: And I _____ –
Shimel: Oh, yeah. Exactly.
Robertson: Right? [Chuckles] And it means that the IT office guys, right? They have their own set of—type of metrics that they’re looking at, right, and they wanna understand, right, “Is there anything impacting this release?” and without having to chase down and talk to every other person or look into every tool, to try to gather this information, right? And then you’ve got the engineers, like the QA engineers, and now compliance, security’s coming into play as well, right?
Robertson: So now folks wanna know, “Before I deploy, did all this pass through the quality gates? Was this sufficient?” Right? “What about security and compliance checks? Can I automate that feedback? Can I get that feedback to the appropriate stakeholders?” Right? So they’re already involved in asking these questions, but they really don’t have any direction there on how to get that information. And this is where—this is the impetus to say, “Well, you know what? Now’s the time to start looking at these tools, where you’re gathering this information, what’s generating this information flow, and how we bring this together.” Right? So it kinda starts to endow that value stream mapping conversation pretty well.
Shimel: Yep. Excellent. Excellent point. Because, like DevOps itself, value stream mapping is a team sport, right? And—
Shimel: And it’s cultural and you need that group kind of involvement to make it happen. So, Eric, I’m sure you probably have a few war stories around this, though. Can you share with us sort of—you know what I always say? You learn more from your failures than you do from your successes.
Robertson: Oh, my God.
Shimel: Can you share with us maybe some value stream mapping engagements that didn’t work out and, of course, only if you’ve learned something from it, and what was the valuable lesson you learned?
Robertson: Exactly. I mean, that’s—it’s very interesting that you said that because we had one customer—and I can even use it from my experience. I mean, I worked at a company and I used to dread Wednesday mornings because Wednesday mornings was—wasn’t really a scrum meeting, but it was more of a meeting as far as, “What is the latest status of this release that went out the previous day?” because we did weekly deployments, weekly deployments. And everybody would dread that because it was really no place to go to get a full understanding that, “Well, if this release actually was deployed, what was in that release? If it wasn’t deployed, what was the bottleneck in there?” Right? “Was it that it failed a certain testing that it didn’t get through or did we discover that, in this environment, we did some monitoring and it didn’t pass this stage?” We had no idea. I mean, did the builds fail? Why? There was no insight to anywhere in that chain, right, from the planning, ’cause it’s all kinds of activities that are happening in the coding, the building, the testing, the deploying a release.
And so, if you don’t really have an idea, as far as that information flow in a place where you can go and view that information and quickly understand “What are my exceptions, right, that I need to quickly identify and quickly address?” everybody’s chasing their tails there. And I’ve been on so many projects where that transpired and happened. And so this was really impetus of why we wanted to start having—start putting—leveraging this best practice, leveraging these practices, and then the tooling becomes more secondary type of aspect, rather than primary goal for driving processes.
Shimel: Yeah, I agree with you. The tooling then winds up taking sort of a backseat to it. So let’s—well, we’re almost out of time, unfortunately, Eric. As I mentioned to you, the 15 minutes goes quick. We do the best we can.
Robertson: No worries.
Shimel: Let’s put—
Robertson: I’m enjoying it.
Shimel: —value stream mapping to the side a little bit. What else is—
Shimel: What else is going on with CollabNet?
Robertson: So CollabNet is also partnered with a company called “Clarive”—it’s release automation software—and what we’re doing is is that we’re linking the release automation capabilities into our value stream management platform. Now what’s nice about this is that this allows us, very quickly, to start getting metrics across different type of applications and projects. And what I mean by that is, if you go into a larger enterprise, for example, they – of course, they’re experimenting with container type technology and Web-scale IT technologies, but they’ve also got some legacy applications, right? There may be Java, right? There’s—or on WebSphere or a traditional type of applications or architecture. They may even have mainframes or they may even have package apps, right?
So one of the things that we’re doing is that we’re getting—we’re creating this abstract _____ layer around all those tools, so customers can have, enterprises can have a common user experience around release automation, whether or not—so, again, we’re abstracting the tools, so you’re focused on the process, and it doesn’t matter what tooling is utilized underneath. If it’s Webscale IT technologies, container-based technology, it does not matter. You can basically have a common release process across your different type of applications—package, legacy, and traditional—so we’re very excited about that.
Shimel: Excellent. Sounds very cool. Eric, we’d love to talk more to you about this, but we kind of are over time. What I’d like to do, though, is maybe invite you back and we can talk. You know, we’ll leave value stream mapping for a moment and we’ll talk about other stuff next time, but I think we’d like to hear what’s going on in the world of DevOps, obviously, and with the players in it, and CollabNet has certainly been on the scene here and lots to tell. Until then, though, it looks like we’ll call it a wrap on this version of DevOps Chat and we’ll speak to you soon, and I—Eric, we’ve gotta get those links over. There’ll be in the notes for people who are listening in. But until then—
Robertson: Great _____.
Shimel: Eric Robertson, VP of product management and engineering at CollabNet, thanks for being our guest on this episode of DevOps Chats.
Robertson: Thank you, Alan. Glad to be part of this.
Shimel: My pleasure. This is Alan Shimel for DevOps.com and DevOps Chat. Thanks for listening in today and we hope to see you soon on another DevOps Chat. Buh-bye.