6 Steps To Survive A DevOps Transformation

From measurable goals to targeting quick wins and sharing lessons learned, here are the steps that can lead to DevOps success.

Jez Humble, VP at Chef, a lecturer at U.C. Berkeley

April 1, 2015

5 Min Read

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DevOps is everywhere, and if you're not already in the middle of a DevOps adoption program, there's probably one coming your way. Here's how to survive, in six only moderately painful steps.

1. Insist On Measurable Business Goals

The DevOps community is still evolving, so everyone defines DevOps differently. But you must be clear about what DevOps means for your organization. Otherwise your objectives will be similarly undefined. That will lead to confusion and cynicism. Insist on a shared set of measurable goals and an agreed-upon timeframe to get there -- an ambitious, but achievable, plan.

The point of DevOps is to make your systems more resilient, your software delivery process faster and less stressful, and your working environment more humane. Use these themes as your starting point.

For example, you could aim for 10% fewer critical defects, 20% higher uptime, doubling your release frequency, or some combination of outcomes.

Just make sure everyone in the organization knows what they are, agrees on them, and understands the timetable.

2. Give Teams Support And Resources To Experiment

Teams can’t be expected to do their usual duties and work towards these new goals. Much of DevOps is about process improvement, such as simplifying and automating manual processes. This is real work, the same as implementing features or fixing bugs, and it needs to be managed and prioritized in the same way.

[Get practical insights on how to launch a DevOps program at the Interop workshop Achieving Operational Excellence Through DevOps.]

There are a number of techniques to make sure there is sufficient capacity for this kind of work, such as using Kanban to limit work in process, assigning part of the team to work on the initiative full-time, or giving teams a certain amount of time per week just to work on process improvement.

The crucial thing is not to let regular duties crowd out improvement work, because the improvement work is what’s going to fix the inefficiencies that make it so slow and painful to deliver and support new features.

3. Talk To Other Teams

People often cite compliance, security, governance, and so forth, as obstacles to improvement. These concerns are valid, but usually the solution is to be found inside the walls of your company.

Talk to the people in charge of these domains and discuss how you might find win-win solutions that help you both achieve the outcomes you want. You'll almost always be surprised at how receptive people are to this kind of discussion if you approach them with respect.

Also, experiment with process improvement in ways that won't cause huge problems if they don't work. Most importantly, don't let the complexity of your environment dissuade you. Even high performers such as Amazon are subject to regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and PCI-DSS.

4. Achieve Quick Wins

The art of success in a change initiative comes down to three factors. First, tackle something that will have a quick and measurable impact on one of your goals. Use a tool such as the Theory of Constraints or value stream mapping to find where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.

Second, do the least amount of work needed to move the needle, which means limiting the scope of your work.

Third, partner with a team that's interested in pursuing change, and has sufficient capacity and capability to succeed.

You're unlikely to get all of this right the first time, so pull the plug if things aren't working and try a different approach. Your first shot should aim to get some concrete improvement in a month or two.

5. Share What You Learned

To get support from other people in the organization, talk about what you've been up to, what's worked, and what hasn't. People are often reluctant to try something new. They need to see it work with their own eyes. However, once you win these people over, they can become your biggest advocates. It's always better to have other people champion your causes.

Several organizations I've worked with have held internal conferences modeled on devopsdays, bringing people together from across the organization. It's hard to overemphasize the amount of energy and momentum these events created.

Lunch-and-learns, internal blogs, mailing lists, and Slack or HipChat channels are also great ways to get people involved. Provide enthusiastic help and support to others within the organization who want to try your ideas.

6. Keep Going

High-performance organizations always pursue improvement opportunities -- it's a daily work habit. To quote Taiichi Ohno, one of the creators of the Toyota Production System:

"Kaizen [improvement] opportunities are infinite. Don't think you have made things better than before and be at ease ... This would be like the student who becomes proud because they bested their master two times out of three in fencing. Once you pick up the sprouts of kaizen ideas, it is important to have the attitude in our daily work that just underneath one kaizen idea is yet another one."

These six steps are nothing new. They are proven ways of pursuing higher performance that should be familiar to anyone who has been involved in successful organizational change.

What's new is the idea that -- done right -- the goals of faster releases; more stable, resilient, and secure systems; and more humane organizations can be mutually reinforcing. This philosophy should always light your path.

Attend Interop Las Vegas, the leading independent technology conference and expo series designed to inspire, inform, and connect the world's IT community. In 2015, look for all new programs, networking opportunities, and classes that will help you set your organization's IT action plan. It happens April 27 to May 1. Register with Discount Code MPOIWK for $200 off Total Access Conference Passes.

About the Author(s)

Jez Humble

VP at Chef, a lecturer at U.C. Berkeley

Jez Humble is a VP at Chef, a lecturer at U.C. Berkeley, and author of the award-winning Continuous Delivery : Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test and Deployment Automation (Addison-Wesley 2011) and Lean Enterprise : How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale (O'Reilly 2015).

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