Why is the Third Way of DevOps so difficult to master?
We all know the feeling. You’ve seen an opportunity to improve things and genuinely want to do something about is. But you soon feel the clarity and anticipation draining out of you. First there’s the pressure of the day job. Then there’s the inertia of your co-workers who are oblivious of, or indifferent or hostile to, your ideas. And finally, as if these concerns weren’t enough, you’re faced with the difficulty of unlearning old habits and developing new ones. You wonder why you bother. In a way, it’s a bit like a lottery: You buy a ticket fully knowing that the odds are stacked against you, but it’s the worth it for the uplifting short and illusory dream that it might just happen.
This is, of course, all about the Third Way of DevOps—creating a culture that fosters two things: continual experimentation, which requires taking risks and learning from success and failure, and the understanding that repetition and practice are the prerequisites of mastery. It all sounds great in theory, but why is it so difficult to put into practice?
It’s not due to lack of knowledge and skills. We have more information available to us and more easily accessible than ever in the history of our planet. We can thank technology for that. But has it really made us more effective at what we do? If I know something and don’t apply it, how is that so different than not knowing it at all? If I know how to read but choose not to, how is that so different that not knowing how to read? If I don’t use what I know, how long will I retain it and how will I integrate it with the other things I know? Most importantly, can and will I apply what I have learned to make things better?
We have been learning and studying all our lives in an attempt to make things better: our ability to understand IT, frameworks, methodologies, capabilities, practices, work processes and, of course, tools. Consider how many thousands of hours you invested in school, self-study, read out of curiosity, listen to podcasts and do work-related training and certification. Most of my friends proudly describe themselves as “lifelong learners” and one claims the day they stop learning shall be the day they die!
Training in Skills
We’ve also invested considerable time and effort into improving ourselves so that we may work more effectively with others: communication skills, teamwork, shared rituals, structured problem-solving, leadership and coaching all fit into this category. Who (in IT) has not been a part of some Service Management, Lean, Agile, Scrum, Kanban or DevOps training? After all of our training, you’d think we’d be further along than where we find ourselves.
Knowing and Understanding
Knowing and understanding are not the same thing—I can know the Four P’s of IT Service Management (People, Process, Products and Partners), yet not view it as a lifecycle model and understand that to obtain the benefits of this knowledge, my team must determine the roles of people and objective of work of processes and then implement tools to automate the processes enabling people’s roles and tasks.
Understanding and Doing
Nor are understanding and doing the same thing—I can know that structured problem solving is based on the scientific method and can be broken down into four stages (Plan, Do, Check, Adjust). I may also understand that structured problem-solving is preferable to the reactive educated guesswork my team engages in whenever it encounters a problem. But if we do not change our behavior when it comes to problem-solving, our understanding will not manifest as action.
Doing and Being
Neither are doing and being the same thing—I can be doing something and still not have internalized it so that it becomes who I am. I can know the core principles DevOps (engage in systems thinking, amplify feedback loops, foster a culture of experimentation and learning). I may understand that all three principles must be applied to foster a sustaining DevOps environment. I may be even be holding initial planning sessions with my team during which we map out the DevOps value stream, identify bottlenecks, create feedback loops and introduce changes to create a create a culture of experimentation and learning.
Moment of Truth
But what happens when we meet with our next P1 incident? Does the knowing, new understanding and behaviors get tossed aside while we fix the problem, or do we hold fast to the new way of doing things as we grapple to not only remediate the incident but to view it within the context of DevOps?
So, What’s a Person To Do?
The velocity and degree to which we can move from knowing to being determines how effectively we can apply what we know. Here are a few things you can do to smooth the transition from knowing to being and help put the Three Ways of DevOps into practice:
- See and feel the potential impact from moving beyond knowing to being
- Use the uplift to get motivated
- Take action by changing something within you and your team’s circle of control
- Reflect on the fact that you have realized potential (this is very powerful when you share it with your team)
- Check and adjust based on the outcomes of step #3
- Allow the feedback from the previous step to motivate you to carry on!
Curiosity and Humility
This approach requires a certain attitude. One of curiosity and humility. You need to be inquisitive so you keep striving to understand. And you also need to be unassuming and you see yourself as having plenty of room to learn and grow; being deeply (almost obsessively) interested in what’s going on and how things could be improved; trying to be aware of and to set aside any preconceived ideas—adopting a beginner’s mind.
To Be Continued …
In our next post, we’ll explore specific steps you can take to leverage The Third Way of DevOps and make tangible progress based on what you know and don’t know, understand and don’t understand, and do and don’t do.
This article was co-authored by Mark Smalley.