Origins

Following the great feedback from my first article “A Story of DevOps“, I have decided to write another. In fact I have a series of these which I will publish in the next few weeks.

Telling Stories

I am a believer in relative estimation – that using a known reference point is the best way to understand a complex concept. Stories, metaphors or parables are often have been used over the centuries to do exactly this, to convey the complexity of something in terms that the audience can understand. This is what I intend to do over the next few weeks by using stories to help convey DevOps philosophies and practices in a more relative form. I would encourage you to share your stories as those of us going through the DevOps transformation will be feeling similar pain.

The Phoenix Project (Gene Kim) has significantly influenced me and our organisation largely due to the fact that it is a story about a guy called Bill Palmer and the challenges he faces as he gets promoted to VP of IT Ops. I related to the story so much I asked my wife to read it so that she could understand my work environment – Needless to say, it was not her cup of tea. The point is that we all relate to stories where we recognise something about us. If you work in IT, I would highly recommend that your read the Phoenix Project.

Emergence

We love the origin stories of how people, teams and superheroes form. Its probably the elegant fusion of the Tuckman Model and the Change Curve that plucks at the strings of our emotional being. When the boy superman lifts the car for this earthly father or when he realises he can outrun a train or when Peter Parker gets bit by a spider and realises he can climb walls or when the Fellowship of the Ring start out on their adventure to save Middle Earth… the list goes on.

My favourite is the origin story of Spiderman as I love the idea that a geeky school kid becomes one of the best ever superheroes. A normal schoolboy, who wants to impress a girl, gets bit by a spider and the transformation begins. Peter Parker changes, physically and mentally, and clumsily finds and harnesses his newly found gifts, often with unexpected outcomes. So, to impress the girl, he enters a competition to win some money to buy a car. He wins the competition but loses his uncle – darkness falls as grief and desire for revenge takes hold. After much practice, mastery and the development of his identity, he finally catches the villain and eventually understands the immortal words spoken by his uncle, “With great power, comes great responsibility” – This is the origins story; exciting, gritty and inspiring which we can in some ways relate to in our own lives.

Transformation

The process of denial, blame, uncertainty, acceptance, problem solving and moving on whilst at the same time forming, storming, norming and performing is the basis of every good origins storyline – why should yours be different? It’s no easier because you are doing a culture change in a business and you may need to accept the pain of the origins journey and possibly even enjoy it!

However, no one or no group of people reach high performance (or save the world for that matter) without a few mishaps, failures, doubt, vulnerability, despair and a whole host of other negative circumstances and emotions. In many cases though the best stories are the one where the good guys have the most trials and tribulations but somehow overcome and succeed. I have just watched Avengers Assemble whilst writing this; a group of individual experts, great in their own right realise that they need to work together to achieve the vision and go up against an enemy that will destroy the world and at the end, when all is lost, trust, unity and sacrifice prevails and against all odds the heroes win, again!

Mentors

Your challenge may not be against Alien Gods or Super Human creatures but you are essentially changing a culture built upon structures and practices designed to run in a complicated environment not a complex one. The Value Flow and Quality (VFQ) course run by Emergn is really good at explaining the ‘Why Change’ and describes the difference between Complicated and Complex environments and how our thinking, practices and behaviours needs to change to be more responsive as individuals, teams and businesses. When you research this you will realise why you are struggling – many of the ways of working were designed for repeatable, bound and visible work not unique, unbound and invisible work. The Gantt chart was invented in 20th Century and was used for the Hoover Dam and WWI but it is not suitable for all the types of work today. The nature of work has changed and our culture and practices need to change with this. Peter Drucker declared that increasing the productivity of knowledge workers was “the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century.” We all, therefore, have massive responsibility to change over a century’s worth of culture and behaviour to improve the productivity of our knowledge workers – the challenge the DevOps movement is addressing as we speak.

However, knowing that you have to change and how to change is not enough. Often we need a change agent, a mentor, a Yoda-like character that helps us through the process without necessarily being part of the process. Eric, from the Phoenix project, did this for Bill (the IT guy) and showed Bill how manufacturing lines work and got Bill thinking about how this fits in his world and what he may do to improve performance of his teams. Jonah did the same for Alex, the plant manager, in The Goal (Eli Goldratt). Lots of our favourite stories have a Mr Miyagi, Yoda, Eric, Jonah, etc. -like character. I had Yoda (James Smith) and Mr Miyagi (James Betteley) from the DevOpsGuys to support me and when all was lost they encouraged me to keep going. James Smith said to me once, “Raj, you can’t see it yet but you are building foundations that skyscrapers will be built upon” – we all need this individual support and encouragement to get us through this gargantuan challenge.

“You can't see it yet but you are building foundations that skyscrapers are built upon” James Smith, DevOpsGuys

A combination of Emergn and DevOpsGuys helped us with our origins story. They helped with the why change and how to change, coaching us each step of the way to achieve great results and to improve how we respond and adapt to the needs of our customers.

Hope

Your DevOps journey is similar: your origin story is just beginning and you are initiating a counter culture that will be extremely hard. You may be the lone ranger in your organisation or you may be the team trying to transform against the odds. Jamil Qureshi says that we need to change the hundreds of words and pictures that go through our mind each second to enact change – to change we need to think, feel and then act; you are doing this for yourself and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

"We think, then we feel, then we act" Jamil Qureshi

For those of you who are leading this movement, whether the sponsor or the initiator of this movement, you will feel isolated, challenged and vulnerable as you feel you are saying and doing things different to the norm. However, your old self will still dominate, especially when under pressure. I remember saying to myself, “How can I be part of the solution when I am part of the problem?” – We have to start by getting out of our own way! This is true in any of the superhero movies – you start with accepting that you need to change to become the person you need to be… were destined to be.

"How can I be part of the solution, when I am part of the problem" Raj Fowler

There is a proverb that says “Long suffering brings patience, patience brings character and character, hope.” Wherever you are on your journey, this is your origin story – have hope.

Next time… One Ring!

Raj Fowler

I am a natural, enthusiastic and authentic leader who understands the impact of IT as a differentiator for business performance and how organisational culture directly influences IT and business performance. With a strong appreciation of the changing technology environment, I have spearheaded a transformation of organisational ‘ways of working’ through adoption of the philosophies and principles that underpin DevOps, Agile and Lean. As a result, I have a track record of delivering operational excellence whilst improving IT agility, security and responsiveness enabled through close business relationships, technology-led thinking and inspirational leadership. 3 years ago we delivered about 50 to 100 changes per annum across about 80 business systems, all of which we managed using our standard plan, build and operate practices. Change was difficult and the transition from project to service was painful. I lived the opening chapters of the Phoenix Project on a regular basis. I now manage over 100 business systems and we categorised 7 of these as Products which include ServiceNow, Salesforce, Cognos, SuccessFactors, SharePoint. SAP and Bespoke Applications where we have established Product Teams. These are teams that build and support Product using DevOps philosophies. As a result, we delivered over 2500 changes last year whilst at the same time improving the service by 30%, improving customer satisfaction and employee morale. Using the "you build it, you support it" (Amazon) mentality, change is no longer a big event but a normal everyday occurrence and the usual spikes of incidents are no longer there, in fact with each change we deploy, the incident volumes reduce! Teams are not only delivering new features but are cleaning up their code and removing technical debt with every release. As a result, we have made a significant impact to the efficiency of our internal functions which in turn helps the competitiveness and profitability of the enterprise.

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