Executive Connections Insights

The DevOps Agile Skills Association (DASA) was a sponsor of the ‘Executive Connections’ sessions held for leaders at itSMF USA – Fusion 18 Conference in St Louis.

One of the program activities was a chance to explore DevOps challenges and recommendations with Gene Kim, keynote speaker and author of the Phoenix Project book.

These are some of my takeaways from the session with Gene, biased towards people, culture and leadership aspects. Why am I focusing on these areas?

In the executive connections workshop on the first day of the conference, we made an inventory of the delegate’s pain points. ‘People and culture’ was a top scoring issue, primarily around buy-in to new ways of working, end-to-end working, integrating different ways of working, ownership and linking activities back to business strategy and goals. It was interesting, yet worrying, to see that two highly recognized ‘undesirable behaviors’ discussed during the exercise, related to the two top-scoring ABC cards (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) cards below. These were top cards for the last 15 years chosen in global workshops!

On the second day of the Executive Connections, itSMF leaders got a chance to chat with Gene about DevOps and ITSM.

One observation from Gene, to help put the itSMF delegates mindsets at rest, was the explicit recognition of the value of ITIL® principles, adding that knowledge gained from ITIL practices generates important feedback into the DevOps ways of working.

However, ITIL needs to shift from a perception of it being a ‘bureaucratic, control focused culture’ to one of ‘an enablement culture,’ as well as embracing a broader view of ITSM. However Gene added, it isn’t just ITIL and Ops needing to change, both Ops and Dev must shift their attitudes from technology to ‘what technology can do for the business’ – which relates to the top scoring ABC card ‘Too little understanding of business impact and priority.’ Looking at the inventory of pain points, Gene also stressed the importance of culture and behavior for making the adoption of DevOps a success, referring back to the State of DevOps report. (Here is a DASA blog summarizing both the State of DevOps findings as well as feedback from more than 400 teams have participated in the Phoenix Project simulation).

Leadership – the make or Break Capability

Gene recognized that adopting the DevOps philosophy, mindset, and way of working can be met with skepticism, not just from technology staff, but equally from business and IT leaders as well, yet we all know that a transformation of ways of working is necessary – driven by the need for Digital Transformation. But, Gene added, if you are looking around waiting for someone to take the lead, and nobody does, then you should say ‘it might as well be me’ – this takes courage and a sense of ownership. A specific mindset and behavior that imperative throughout the organization. To quote Mike Orzen, ‘Improving daily work is more important than doing daily work,’ which is everybody’s responsibility.

When it comes to improving, however, Gene suggested that Blameless Post-mortems are crucial to unlocking open sharing of valuable lessons across the organization. Once again in my mind, leaders must foster this ‘blameless’ culture if they want to create a culture of ‘experimentation,’ and ‘continual learning and improvement.’ (Here is a blog showing the importance of ‘Courage’, ‘gaining Leadership buy-in’, and behaviors leaders said they needed to adopt to make DevOps successful and foster the right culture).

End-to-end and Top-to-bottom Mindset Shift

But it wasn’t just Dev and Ops mindset change. Security mindsets must shift from security controls to control ‘objectives,’ Product owners must shift from a focus on ‘features’ to ‘outcomes,’ business and IT leaders must focus on ‘Value,’ and recognize that it is not just a matter of the benefits and features. There must also be a focus on risks and technical debt when prioritizing work and allocating resources – This relates to the second top-scoring ABC card ‘Everything (features) has the highest priority according to the business.’ As Gene explained in his opening keynote ‘Technical debt is like Financial debt. Without countermeasures, it just gets worse’.

Strategic Initiatives – Tied to Business Value

In the inventory exercise on day 1, the number 2 top-scoring item and discussion topic was ‘Strategic fit’ and ‘IT having a seat at the table.’ In our global workshop around ‘Business & IT Alignment,’ we find that the majority of IT organizations are still struggling to make the shift from ‘Service Provider’ to ‘Strategic partner’ – This requires ‘Trust’ and ‘Credibility.’ Gene stressed in the discussion ‘we also need to start marketing our value to the business.’ However, this means improving our understanding of the business outcomes expected. Mark Smalley’s presentation and whitepaper ‘business value from DevOps’ stressed the need to start communicating in business terms.

It was also one of the top takeaways from the DevOps theory to Practice Phoenix Project simulation workshop we delivered at the Fusion conference.

If we take a look at many of the recommendations from Gene, we can see a direct link back to the DASA skills areas ‘Courage’, ‘Leadership,’ ‘Continual Improvement’ and ‘Teambuilding.’ One of the unique aspects of the DASA competence model with the DevOps training arena is the addition of the knowledge area ‘Business Value Optimization’ – helping realize the strategic fit and make the shift from ‘features; to ‘outcomes.’

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Paul Wilkinson

Owner / Director, GamingWorks

Paul is the co-founder of GamingWorks, a simulation training company based in the Netherlands and a DASA Training Partner. He has been involved in the…