The Business of IT

Culture of Learning

What does getting lost on the streets of Buenos Aires have to do with high performance? I could see my destination—a restaurant near Puerto Madero—clearly on the map in my hand, yet every turn I made seemed to take me farther away. It made no sense to me. I began to become frustrated. I always thought of myself as having an excellent sense of direction, yet none of my skills were helping me. What was wrong? I was about to give up and call an Uber.

Then I realized. I had been navigating using the context that I had learned in my childhood in North America, where the sun is in the Southern half of the sky. But I was in the Southern hemisphere, for the first time, where the heuristic must be reversed. So every time I turned left I should have turned right, and vice-versa. Once I realized the correct context, the map suddenly made sense and I quickly reached my destination (and had a delicious meal).

What had happened? I had been operating under assumptions that were not true for my current context. This disconnect happens often in organizations, and it kills performance.

Everyone in your organization should share a vision about the purpose of the organization. I don’t mean the goals—though those are important—but goals change, and I am referring to something more fundamental: an agreement that everyone’s purpose is to learn together. To learn how to deliver better products, more quickly, more safely, and more sustainably. To learn about the customer, the problem domain, and the tools that must be wielded to fill the customer’s needs. To learn.

This common agreement about how we make our decisions is what we call culture. And a culture of learning is paramount for achieving high performance. Seek to become a learning organization.

The Business of IT

Digital Transformation, DevOps, and the Bugaboo of Change

How do you feel when you contemplate the idea of changing the way your organization operates? Scared? Jaded? Excited? Your answer—and the answers your employees give—to this question reveals how difficult it will be for you to pursue Digital Transformation and DevOps.

This photo, “change machine,” is copyright © 2009 tracyshaun and made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Ron Westrum described three types of organizational culture: pathological, bureaucratic, and generative. The names are unfortunately clinical, but I summarize them as follows:

Pathological culture: Change is fatal.

Bureaucratic culture: Change is futile.

Generative culture: Change is fertile.

DevOps and Digital Transformation demand new ways of operating, and your organizational culture will determine your success. If your organization feels that change will be fatal, your transformation will require intensive expert help. If the feeling is that change will be futile, your transformation will be merely difficult (and expert help is still warranted). And if the pervasive feeling is that change is ground for excitement and innovation, then you have already slain the main bugaboo of change.

The Business of IT

The four pillars of cloud computing success

Succeeding with cloud computing requires incorporating your organization's unique economic, cultural, risk, and technological considerations.
Succeeding with cloud computing requires incorporating your organization’s unique economic, cultural, risk, and technological considerations.

Success with cloud computing means adopting more than just technology change. It requires addressing the elements that make your organization unique: how you work, the risks you’re prepared to take, and the market in which you sell. Even a tailor with all the right supplies – several yards of fabric, a sewing machine, and an iron – needs to craft a garment that looks good, is of high quality, and is done in an efficient manner. Here are the key ways to incorporate your organization’s economic, cultural, and risk factors into your adoption of cloud computing and accelerate your success.


The three crucial economic aspects to incorporate into your use of cloud computing are:

  1. Understand the business impact of the services that will run in the cloud. Only by understanding the business impact of each service will you be able to properly prioritize regular and emergency work on those services.
  2. Increase capacity with demand. Demand will change over time, so success with cloud requires that your services adjust their use of compute power accordingly. Measuring the demand is the first step toward this goal.
  3. Decrease capacity as demand wanes. Don’t keep around inventory that just sits gathering dust – get it off your balance sheet. Note that decreasing capacity with demand can seldom be done effectively with a self-hosted or private cloud.


The following three aspects of your organization’s culture must be incorporated into your adoption of cloud computing:

  1. Act strategically. No business goal ever achieved itself – it requires concerted effort by people collaborating toward a shared goal. Give people the context they need to understand the shared goal.
  2. Support change. Cloud computing enables organizations to adjust their use of computing as requirements change. Encourage your organization to adjust and adapt to change.
  3. Make it easy to access all your organization’s data. When change comes along, the data will need to be juggled in new ways.


Three critical aspects of incorporating your organization’s changing risk profile into cloud computing adoption:

  1. Hire and partner with only the most trustworthy. As risks materialize, your business will rely on these trusted people to maintain normal operation.
  2. Regularly assess all assets and access points for risk. Look especially diligently into automating work processes so they utilize “blessed” configurations.
  3. Create a single source of truth for authentication and authorization. Whereas other data in your business need not be immediately consistent, authorization and authentication should be, in order to avoid the split-brain, he said she said phenomenon.


While we’re at it, here are the three most impotent technical aspects to get right in your cloud adoption efforts:

  1. Treat all processes as elements in a single value stream: service delivery. With all component activities in the delivery process focused on this result, collaboration and integration between disparate teams is vastly improved.
  2. Utilize small, standardized, compassable elements. Standardization and simplicity is the key to operating at scale.
  3. Build systems that expect failure and act reasonably despite it. When change comes and failure happens, your systems will be able to cope reasonably.

Succeeding at cloud computing means looking beyond the technology and incorporating your organization’s economic, cultural, and risk factors.

Contact us if you need help.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the cloud from Shlomo Swidler