What DevOps Can Teach IT About Change Management

Even if your shop hasn't embraced DevOps and has no plans to do so, the practice offers leadership and communication guidance applicable to nearly every facet of IT. Here's what we learned from presentations at the DevOps Enterprise Summit in San Francisco.
Gartner's 10 Tech Predictions That Will Change IT
Gartner's 10 Tech Predictions That Will Change IT
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If you're an IT professional struggling with change management (and really, who isn't these days?) there's much to be learned from DevOps experts. Even if your shop hasn't embraced DevOps and has no plans to do so, the practice offers leadership and communication guidance applicable to nearly every facet of IT.

That's our key takeaway from the DevOps Enterprise Summit in San Francisco Nov. 7 to 9, where we heard speakers from Allstate, Starbucks, and Hearst Business Media, among many others, share their experiences managing change.

Three key themes emerged to help any professional tackle change management:

  • Don't drop a new direction on your team and run.
  • Find ways to make work visible to all stakeholders.
  • Embrace value-stream mapping.

The bottom line? Be proactive about how you're managing change.

"One of the biggest reasons transformation efforts fail is if we don't walk the talk," said Allstate's Opal Perry, divisional CIO for claims and VP for technology and strategic ventures. Before beginning a change management process, the key question Perry and her team asked themselves was, "What are the things impeding people from taking risks?"

The team quickly discovered staffers were afraid leadership was going to change its mind in a few months, so they were hesitant to embrace change.

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To overcome this hurdle, Perry and her team focused on promoting values-driven behavior, which leaders were expected to demonstrate by their actions, not merely their talk. "We needed a set of tech values that would be a litmus test to help us drive this transformation," she said.

The team settled on five key values:

  • We support each other.
  • We allow freedom of action.
  • We practice agility with purpose.
  • We act as change catalysts.
  • We leave things better than we found them.

"We then put forth a set of behaviors based on these values," said Perry. "We believe if we demonstrate these behaviors, it will become part of our values."

To avoid the drop-and-run method of change management so common in many organizations, Perry and her team decided to take on a proactive role. "We use tools like culture hacks to make sure we are really courageously managing change, instead of handing stuff down and leaving folks stranded in the process," said Perry.

It was also incumbent upon leadership to "continually reinforce that we are making deliberate change," said Perry. This is no easy task in a traditionally hierarchical culture, like the insurance industry. "[The culture] has risk aversion," said Perry. "We had to let go of the command-and-control tradition and embrace the team of teams [approach]."

Once strategic priorities are developed and communicated, the next step is figuring out how to align team capacity against those strategic priorities, according to Courtney Kissler, VP of retail technology for global POS at Starbucks.

"Like any organization, there are competing priorities," Kissler said. "How can you really get a good understanding of your team's capacity when the work might not be visible? How do we make the work visible, and how do we do a good job of aligning that capacity?"

In October 2015, Starbucks hired its first CTO, Gerri Martin-Flickinger, former SVP and CIO at Adobe Systems. "She noticed there was a need for a common vocabulary," said Kissler. "One of first things she did was bring a group of people together to help create a common language and definition around our technology capabilities."

Martin-Flickinger also rebranded Starbucks IT as Starbucks Technology, which "set a different tone for the organization," said Kissler.

Most important of all, Kissler said, the team had a value-stream map. "One of the leaders was a trailblazer in bringing the team together and documenting value stream for the POS team," said Kissler. Having a value-stream map helped the organization remain clear on what value was being derived every step of the way during a project.

Value-stream mapping also played a big part in IT transformation at Hearst Business Media. "It's one of the most beneficial and helpful things we've been able to implement at Hearst Business Media," said Alexa Alley, the company's DevOps program manager.

iSixSigma defines value-stream mapping as "a paper and pencil tool that helps you to see and understand the flow of material and information as a product or service makes its way through the value stream… A value stream map (aka end-to-end system map) takes into account not only the activity of the product, but the management and information systems that support the basic process."

Beyond mastering the process itself, Alley stressed the importance of factoring in human nature. Among the behaviors her team saw during its value-stream mapping process were:

  • Defensive posturing around an individual's or a team's process and goals.
  • Individuals who added nothing but eagerly shot down the ideas of others.
  • Disagreements about how to measure success.

In the end, though, value-stream mapping is a valuable endeavor to "increase performance across the entire system, increase feedback loops and communication, and build a culture that allows for experimentation, continual iteration, and learning," said Alley. "Anyone can build this competency in your organization."

How do your change management experiences compare? Has your organization embraced DevOps? Is value-stream mapping part of your IT practice? Tell us about your own experiences in the comments section below.