Your organization delivers software, so it should be obvious that improving your software delivery means improving your organization. But how to improve your software delivery organization? I’m going to tell you how, and you’ll be amazed at its simplicity: To improve an organization’s performance you need to improve all the components of the organization. And, you need to know how to improve each component.
An organization is made of…
An organization is made of three types of ingredients: people, process, and artifacts.
People includes you and your staff, the relationships among them and between them and others, and the culture that shapes these relationships. When we talk about “improving people,” we mean developing peoples’ skills and shaping the organizational culture.
Process includes the path that work follows through the organization as value is added at each step along the way to the customer. Improving process focuses on optimizing this flow of value to the customer.
Artifacts are the inputs that flow into the processes, the outputs that result from them, and the tools and technologies utilized in processing.
A model for improvement
The Lean Startup movement inspired a very effective model for rapidly improving in uncertain and risky business situations. By rapidly iterating through successive Build-Measure-Learn cycles, you systematically reduce risk and uncertainty. Each iteration through the cycle examines and eliminates the greatest remaining risk as the organization learns how to reduce its shape, size, and probability. Over time, the business carries less risk and delivers better products and services, with increasing precision (to the right customers), reliability (service quality), and control.
Improving the components of your organization
By applying the Lean model to each component of the organization, we can arrive at a prescription for improving all of them.
By “build people” we mean improving peoples’ skills and the overall culture. Several methods are effective:
Model new behavior. Leaders adopt, demonstrate, and reward the new behavior. This is the quickest way to change culture.
Exercise the new skills. This is the most effective way to acquire new skills.
Provide a mentor.
The extent to which a person’s skills have delivered the expected results can be measured by:
Review by others.
Learn what to improve next in people
By “learn” we mean identifying the next area that needs improvement. Two ways are effective:
Conduct retrospectives and blameless postmortems.
Analyze the results of the reviews and the testing (performed in the “Measure” step).
To build—that is, to improve—process you mercilessly simplify it. For example:
Reduce redundancy, handoffs, and re-work.
Reduce batch sizes and cycle times so less work is in progress but is completed more quickly.
Increase visibility so the current status of all work is obvious.
Empower people to use their judgment.
Shift the drudgery to automated tools.
Process improvement cannot be delivered in isolation, however. The people and the artifacts needed to support the process must be developed in order for the process to have the desired result.
To measure the extent to which a process has achieved its desired result, audit the process. Look for evidence that the process was followed and that the desired results were obtained.
Learn what to improve next in process
To identify the next area of process improvement to pursue:
Conduct retrospectives and blameless postmortems.
Analyze the results of the audit performed in the “Measure” step.
To build (improve) your inputs, tools, and outputs:
Raise standards (i.e., decrease margin of error).
To measure the extent to which your inputs, tools, and outputs have improved:
Test (ideally automated).
Survey customers, internal and external.
Learn what to improve next about artifacts
To identify the next area of process improvement to pursue:
Conduct retrospectives and blameless postmortems.
Analyze the results of the tests and surveys performed in the “Measure” step.
Try the above model for improving your software delivery organization. Like my other clients, you will see your software delivery performance improve dramatically. Contact me if you need help.
You may have heard that the goal of DevOps is to rapidly deliver and reliably operate high quality software-based services. But that is only partially true. True, that is the desired result. But fostering the habits that produce that result consistently is integral to the goal.
In my work with clients I have found several cornerstone habits essential to creating DevOps results, and I have helped software organizations embrace these habits and earn the payoffs. Let’s explore the cornerstone DevOps habits and why these habits are as much a goal as the results they promote.
Habits come in two flavors, and the first flavor of habits is practical.
Habits of Practice
Habits of practice are the behaviors we routinely engage in, often without thinking about it. We buckle our seatbelt when sitting in a vehicle, or we stash our wallet in the same pocket or the same place in our purse. What today is an unconscious habit once began as a conscious choice to behave in a certain manner. Perhaps we were reminded by our parent to fasten our seatbelt, and we complied, consciously, until repetition forged an unconscious habit. Perhaps we were alarmed at the thought that we would forget our wallet or keys someplace, so we patted down our pockets, consciously, like Peter Falk in the final scene of The Princess Bride, until that, too, through repetition, became an unconscious habit. Whether conscious or unconscious, these habits of practice create the results that we are safer while sitting in the car, and that we do not forget our wallet.
Habits of practice create results. In DevOps, we want to deliver high quality software-based service rapidly. The habits of practice that create these results include, generally, automation, measurement, and sharing.
The particular practices of these general categories vary with each organization, as each has its own business situation to contend with. But it is impossible to deliver high quality, reliable service without these practices, especially as the scale of the operation grows to significant size.
We want to foster these habits of practice. In order to successfully develop them we need the other flavor of habits.
Habits of Mind
Habits of mind are the manners of thinking and the internal monologue we conduct inside our own heads. Just as our behavior can be habitual, so can our thought patterns. Habits of mind are important because they can create and change habits of practice. For example, we all know the feeling of frustration when something in our lives isn’t working for us. It grates at us, it taunts, and it refuses to budge. Frustration is a sign that we need to change something about our lives. Our internal monologue upon encountering frustration influences whether we will change and what kind of change we will make in response. When our thoughts reflect passivity, I always have bad luck, we are not motivated to change. When our thoughts are empowering, this is an unfortunate but temporary setback, we are moved to change something about our situation—to try again, to try in a different way, or perhaps to let off steam and simply get over it.
In order to consciously create a new habit of practice, you need to have certain essential habits of mind. The essential habits of mind drive you to change your behavior over time, until you have improved your habits of practice. Without the supporting habits of mind, habits of practice are created by default, without our awareness, and these default practices seldom are the most effective at reaching our desired goal. Even once you have changed your practice, you can only improve by honing those practices, and the drive to improve your practice stems from your habits of mind.
In short, habits of mind create habits of practice create results.
In the DevOps field the factors that influence practice have been collectively termed “culture.”
But culture is an opaque term that does not lend itself to scrutiny. It is more useful to consider the habits of mind that foster habits of practice.
Shlomo’s Four Cornerstone Habits of Mind for DevOps Practices
The four cornerstone habits of mind necessary to foster DevOps practices and DevOps results are agency, awareness, respect, and healthy selfishness. Read on for more details on each of these habits of mind.
Agency means thinking that you can change things, that you can improve your lot through your actions, that you are an agent in your own life. If you believe you are able to change things then you can summon the motivation to try to change your behavior. On the flip side, if you lack agency—if you believe nothing you do will change anything—then you will be disheartened and won’t bother taking any of the steps necessary to change behavior. The more agency is ingrained as a habit of mind, the more you will feel in control and able to change your behavior.
This is a cornerstone habit of mind for DevOps because DevOps habits of practice require constant refinement, and you must believe that you can change and improve the current situation in order to do so. In an organizational setting agency is sometimes called “empowerment.” Organizations, too, cannot improve their practices unless members believe that they can change the way things are done. This is why agency as a habit of mind is so important for cultivating DevOps habits of practice.
Awareness is the mental habit of perceiving what is around you. We are not aware of everything that transpires in our lives, and often we do not recognize that our practices can be improved. We cannot change our habits of practice if we aren’t aware that they need changing. This is true in life in general and with DevOps in particular.
Respect means acknowledging the feelings and opinions of others. Organizations consist of, and exist to serve, individuals with varied feelings and opinions. If you want to change habits of practice you must acknowledge the feelings and opinions of others who are involved. This doesn’t mean you need to feel those feelings yourself; it only means you need to believe that those feelings exist and are valid.
Healthy selfishness is thinking of your interests so that you can help others. It means thinking about how to overcome your obstacles to success and enabling yourself to do the same for your teammates. It means wanting to make your world better so you can make the world at large better. It is the driving force behind economic and technological progress. And healthy selfishness is essential for DevOps because it is the motivating force behind improving habits of practice.
What About Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the emotions of others. It requires lowering your emotional defenses and allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the stirrings of another’s heart. Within the context of a supportive friendship or life partnership, empathy is vital. Understanding and sharing your partner’s emotions is essential to support them through pain and adversity and to grow together with them—in fact it is the essence of such a long-term relationship.
But empathy’s importance for DevOps has been drastically overstated. At our jobs we do not need to open our hearts to feel pain. Demanding that someone exhibit empathy evokes alarm and raises their defenses. Even professionals who do directly confront emotional pain, the psychologists, counselors, and ministers, do not allow themselves to be moved by the emotions they are exposed to in the course of their work. They maintain their emotional defenses. For the rest of us who do not deal directly with pain at work, which includes everyone in the IT and software industry, respect—acknowledging feelings and opinions of others—is enough for the professional setting. Insisting on empathy at work is irresponsible.
The Habits Are the Goal
DevOps is the continuous improvement of practices to rapidly deliver and reliably operate high quality software-based systems. Continuous improvement means regularly, consciously, and intentionally developing and honing those skills. In other words, DevOps is more than just the goal of delivery and operations. It is also the habits—of mind and of practice—leading to continuous improvement.
Fostering the three DevOps habits of practice—automation, measurement, and sharing—requires the four cornerstone habits of mind: agency, awareness, respect, and healthy selfishness. In all, those are the Seven Habits of Highly Effective DevOps.
The classic formulation of DevOps, Culture, Automation, Measurement, Sharing—”CAMS”—is an expression of habits of mind and habits of practice: culture is a habit of mind, automation, measurement, and sharing are habits of practice. To succeed at a DevOps initiative, you and your team members must exhibit these four habits of mind. They are the keys to forming productive habits of practice and, ultimately, the results you want to achieve: rapidly delivering and reliably operating high quality software-based services.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
Support change. Cloud computing enables organizations to adjust their use of computing as requirements change. Encourage your organization to adjust and adapt to change.
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:
Hire and partner with only the most trustworthy. As risks materialize, your business will rely on these trusted people to maintain normal operation.
Regularly assess all assets and access points for risk. Look especially diligently into automating work processes so they utilize “blessed” configurations.
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:
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.
Utilize small, standardized, compassable elements. Standardization and simplicity is the key to operating at scale.
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.
Simon Wardley recently satirized the typical response of corporate IT departments to technology change as follows: Ignore, ignore, ignore, “no”, “no”, “I said ‘no,’ dammit”, “Oh no”, “Oh, f**k”. It reminds me of the classic Toys-R-Us TV commercial from the 1980s featuring children singing about not wanting to grow up. Resistance to change is not unique to children or to IT departments – it is a feature of every organization. How can you help your organization avoid being stuck, and instead drive change before it’s unnecessarily painful to “grow up”? The key is urgency. Growing up is a good metaphor for organizational change: both are normal, both feature resistance, and in both the stakes increase over time. Immature people, like immature organizations, do not reliably achieve their goals. And the longer that inertia dominates, the further behind they remain. Failure to adapt – getting stuck – can be fatal, as it was for the Eastman Kodak Company. In personal as in organizational growth the pressure to change – the urgency – is fostered by discomfort. To increase urgency you need to cause people to feel discomfort with the current state of affairs. John P. Kotter’s seminal work Leading Change offers several kinds of tactics to increase urgency:
Show that the present isn’t working: Allow a crisis to happen, publicize poor results, force encounters with unhappy customers, publicize lost opportunities.
Change the metrics: Create performance targets that are high enough and/or broad enough they can’t be reached with business-as-usual.
These tactics to increase urgency all work by fostering discomfort with the present. A client found himself spending inordinate lengths of time evaluating opportunities and procrastinating a decision on which ones to pursue. When I showed him how his lengthy decision process was limiting the number and quality of opportunities that presented themselves, he realized that he could grow his business significantly by streamlining this process. He saw the urgency of addressing the issue, we worked together to fix it, and his business has grown threefold since.
Creating a sense of urgency is the first step in a successful change program. Kotter describes further steps to a successful change effort, but urgency underlies them all.
An informal survey of my application developer friends revealed four main types of motivations driving developers. These four types of motivations are represented in this diagram:
Individual developers can be motivated more or less altruistically. Individual developers can also be focused on the external manifestations of success – such as appreciative customers – or on the internal manifestations – such as more power or money. The diagram above is not a judgement of “better” or “worse” motivations – it is simply meant to capture two personality factors and their expression among individual developers. Also note that developers may have different motivations at different times, or even simultaneously in combination.
Just as individual developers can have varying motivations, organizations can also be more or less altruistic, and focused more internally or externally. Internally focused organizations spend an undue proportion of their energy and resources doing work (or inventing work to do) that will not be visible to the outside world, while externally focused organizations measure their results based on their effect on the outside world – market share, profit, and customer satisfaction.
Where do you rate your organization on the above diagram? Most business leaders want organizations firmly motivated by providing value to the customer, and software businesses are no different. Developing software is all about delivering value. Your software development efforts can only provide value if they are successfully delivered to the customer – and in today’s “as-a-serivce” world, that value is constantly provided via the internet. This means that you should spend significant effort ensuring your customer can actually reach your service to receive the value. It means automating your deliveries. It means measuring and improving your delivery speed and success rates. It means involving your customer early on so that you know the value they seek and so you can provide it. It means making sure all your teams work together to get this to happen.
Because ultimately, it means a developer’s job is not finished until the customer has derived value.
Like companies producing any kind of offering, software companies require three elements in order to successfully deliver: knowing what to build, knowing how to build it, and knowing how to deliver it to the customer. When each of these three functions – research, engineering, and delivery – does its job independently, you get slow progress and uninspired, sub-par products. But when all three functions work together in a customer-centric fashion, you get excellence – in implementation, innovation – in concept, and world-class results – by delivering those two to the customer.
With the explosion of internet-based services in the past decade delivery has by necessity become an ongoing activity. And so in recent years much attention has been devoted to integrating development with technical operations – DevOps. DevOps integrates into a single team the skills of how to build the service and the skills of how to deliver it. But, as pointed out earlier, DevOps teams often lack the most critical element: the customer’s involvement. DevOps teams can build and deliver really fast, but don’t know what to build.
Integrating development with the customer-facing functions (marketing, sales, etc.) without technical operations results in an organization that knows what to build and how to build it, but doesn’t know how to deliver it to the customer. This organization is full of ideas – even innovative ideas – and implements them, but they don’t see the light of day. I call this a “feasibility practice” – it can show you what is feasible but it can’t deliver it to customers.
Teams that know what to build and how to deliver it to the customer, but not how to build it, also do not provide value to the customer. Such teams are close to the customer both on the inbound (understanding the customer’s needs) and the outbound (explaining the company’s offering) directions. Marketing sits squarely in this space: it knows what to build and how to deliver but can’t transform that knowledge into value for the customer.
As an executive leading a software delivery effort, make sure your organization occupies the very center so it can understand, build, and deliver the right value to the customer. The customer is here in the center as well: he participates in validating the ideas, critiquing the implementation, and accepting the delivery. It is only here that your organization can achieve excellence, innovation, and world-class results.
Traditional descriptions of cloud computing and the various cloud operating models – IaaS, PaaS, SaaS – focus on the locus of responsibility for various layers of the system: facilities, network, storage, servers, etc. But these descriptions typically omit a critical element. Can you spot it in the diagram below?
The missing layer is the only layer that really matters – the customer. Ensuring that your application can actually be consumed – that delivery can be successful – is a critical part of providing your value. Your application’s facilities, network, and storage may be running properly, but will your customers actually benefit? Without a properly staffed, trained, equipped, and managed operations team, your service won’t last long enough for customers to care. If your customer is important, then so is your operations team.