As IT practitioners investigate the possibilities around DevOps and Agile transformations, one of the things they’re likely to hear over and over again is that these type of organizational tectonic shifts require executive sponsorship to truly succeed. But in the real world, garnering that support is hardly as easy as just picking up a phone and asking. Last week at IBM InterConnect in a panel featuring a number large enterprises, DevOps practitioners talked about the challenges of building DevOps momentum when the executives don’t initially buy into the prospect.
“We’ve done this in three different organizations, and I’ve never had executive support—not until I’m considered ‘safe,’ and then they give it,” said Chris Nowak, senior vice president of DevOps for Bank of America. “We’ve done it grass roots every single time. You have to build your own legitimacy.”
John Karnes at Silverpop shared a similar experience. Prior to the marketing firm’s acquisition by IBM, his team started its DevOps journey.
“We had to build our own excitement our own momentum around what we were doing,” explained Karnes, who is director of production operations and performance engineering for Silverpop.
As Nowack put it, DevOps people are internal salespeople and the product is faster delivery and more capacity for innovation. He believes that in order to sell the executives, technology departments need to collect metrics early and often.
“You want to be able to prove what you’re doing, so from the beginning if you can baseline, get some metrics out there,” he says, explaining that his team was eventually able to show as much as ten-times operational speed as a result of its DevOps patterns.
Karnes said that one of the keys to gaining momentum was communicating and playing up milestones throughout the organization. Being in the marketing world, one of biggest metrics for the business was uptime. Before its transformation, Silverpop was running three to four releases a year with about 8 hours of downtime each. Nowadays, that’s down to about 20 minutes of downtime per year. Through internal campaigning, he was able to show along the way what a difference DevOps was making for the business.
“As we started getting releases more consistent, with fewer errors and faster, we’d have an internal email distribution list that we’d send out all of our release notifications to and I’d say ‘Hey we set a new record!'” he explained. “After about a year or so, we’d have executives come in and say, ‘Hey, how’s this release going to go? Are we going to break a new record?'”
In addition, Valerie Scott, manager of application management services for HM Health Solutions added that gaining sponsorship required learning the language that appealed to executives.
“”We were going through a transition in our company and we had new executives coming in and the old staff was used to us communicating with them at the technical level. I was getting nowhere and it was very frustrating,” she said. “Then I learned the word ‘investment.'”
Meanwhile, Curtis Yanko, architecture manager for the DevOps Center of Excellence at Cigna explained that sometimes employees can be some of the best champions for DevOps to executives up the food chain.
“We can talk about how much of our portfolio spend is being wasted and how much is being reclaimed into productivity versus rework or idle time—those are great conversations but I made a promise to my senior leadership,” he said. “We do an annual internal survey with how happy you are at your job and I said ‘I am guaranteeing we will watch this going up.'”
As he put it, individual people who once had seemingly unlovable positions—such as managing the ETL—were all of a sudden excited to be working at Cigna.
“People like that go out and champion for me,” he said.