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DevOps Enterprise Summit 2018: How to accelerate teamwork

Anders Wallgren CTO, Electric Cloud

At DevOps Enterprise Summit in Las Vegas last week, presenters and more than 2,000 attendees offered up answers to the conundrum facing many organizations as they scale DevOps: You know how to accelerate software delivery, but how do you accelerate your teams—and teamwork—in the process?

To succeed with a DevOps transformation, technology leaders and practitioners need to understand how to identify and nurture those qualities that are the hallmarks of high-performing organizations. 

Here are the key lessons learned from DevOps Enterprise Summit 2018.

Strong culture drives low latency

The 2018 Accelerate: State of DevOps Report found that smart investments in technology, process, and culture can drive profit, quality, and customer outcomes that are important for organizations to stay competitive and relevant—even in highly regulated environments. (Read an overview of seven key findings here.)

During their conference session, report co-authors Dr. Nicole Forsgren and Jez Humble reviewed several key insights, but one stuck out: If you let teams build autonomy (to improve software delivery), you can improve culture as well. And if you build a resilient culture based on a drive toward high performance, you'll be able to repeatedly and reliably deploy changes even when problems arise, such as a security breach. (When Forsgren said on stage that change advisory boards are useless, the crowd went wild.)

Nicole Forsgren and Jez Humble present insights from the "Accelerate: State of DevOps Report." 

Speed and stability go together, and high-performing organizations don’t allow these two values/goals to be mutually exclusive, according to Forsgren and Humble. Knowing how to learn faster by seeking out problems matters the most, so design for it. The more you can design your teams to give everyone a voice, the more trust you will nurture among teammates and the faster you'll accelerate team interactions.

On a related note, MIT senior lecturer Dr. Steve Spear talked about how to “discover your way to greatness,” with the underlying message that how you find and fix faults is what puts you on the path to success. If teams can gain competency in the outliers (instead of rehearsing their expectations), they're able to stress-test their processes and find the faults in their thinking.

When teams accelerate their thinking, they become a better learning organization that values new ways of thinking. I highly recommend reviewing and following Spear's four key disciplines of engineering (see below).

Steve Spear shares his four key disciplines of engineering.

[ See more: DevOps Enterprise Summit 2018 Las Vegas ]

Sharing is caring

Do you work toward the same goals as everyone in your company? Sadly, I’ve too often heard people say that either they don’t know the answer or, worse, they feel (or know) that others are actively working against them. Scott Prugh, software architect at CSG International, brought forward the idea of “unimodal IT” to get everyone in your organization in the same room, on the same page, and working toward the same goals. Business administration and IT (and everyone in between) need to work together to solve problems and achieve a shared goal. At CSG, they created a “Lean Portfolio Leadership Team” to create what they called “tanks” as a way to connect and disseminate information throughout the organization faster. Their goal? To influence new ways of enabling best practices, celebrate successes more frequently, and spread knowledge throughout the organization so everyone can opt into, and accelerate, mutual understanding.

What did CSG learn from the tanks project? If you treat everyone in the organization well and give them an equal voice, they will go to bat on behalf of the organization and work harder for their teammates, regardless of role or responsibility.

Scott Prugh explains CSG's concept of “tanks,” created by its Lean Portfolio Leadership Team.

Dominica DeGrandis, director of digital transformation at Tasktop, spoke about why you need to make connections visible in order to look deeper into the way organizations view problems, both as individuals and across teams.

The idea that “communication debt” happens when you try to communicate with other teams and that differing systems create friction makes a lot of sense. For one, we need specialists to deal with complexity.

On the other hand, specialization causes expensive disconnects among individuals and teams. And if you don’t address the problems related to complexity and specialization from the onset, someone in the organization could exploit it.

In IT, the selection of tool sets should be geared toward individual preference. But when these tools don’t talk with one another, you'll face troublesome handoffs unless you use an orchestration engine to pull it all together. And you'll also fall short with a lack of visible connections, flow metrics, and clearly defined priorities among team members.

If you can figure out why a work item is being requested and track that alongside the actual flow of work being done, you can create the visible connections between value streams and work management systems.

Dominica DeGrandis discusses the challenge of tool confusion across DevOps teams.

Learn fast and fill the gaps

So what teamwork metrics should you care about most in order to improve and accelerate interactions? For development teams, perhaps the only metric that matters is the number of WTFs divided by minutes. All jokes aside, the point is to choose the metrics that identify problems for the group as a whole.

Anders Wallgren explains the one measurement that truly matters for DevOps.

From a team culture perspective, figuring ways to measure employee satisfaction, employee retention, cross-team collaboration, and education/training growth are good places to start.

For team-building exercises (and to identify problem areas), IBM distinguished engineer Ann Carroa instituted an organizational draft across 1,700 team members. They created a survey across the teams and gave autonomy to those teams in terms of choosing and allocating resources. This shows that DevOps maturity should be more like a buffet, or a menu, rather than a set five-course meal. The team needs to choose where to start the measurement and how to improve.

Business simulation games are another tool that have helped teams learn fast so they can move faster as part of an organization. By giving people insight into new ways of working through a simulation, the experiential aspects of adventure can affect learning in a positive way that empowers teams to try new methods and help other teammates along the way.

One thing is certain: We need more ways to create tangible insight into why and where IT practitioners, managers, leaders, and business stakeholders should focus their efforts in growing personal and organizational skills portfolios. This week, the DevOps Institute unveiled its 2019 Upskilling: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report survey to benchmark skill sets, determine where individuals are currently, and identify education and training gaps.

If DevOps teaches us anything, it’s that we truly are only as strong as our weakest connections between one another. And if you aren’t building a learning organization, you’ll soon be losing to one that is.

Did you miss DevOps Enterprise Summit 2018 Las Vegas? Videos of the conference sessions are available on the IT Revolution YouTube channel. You can also find the presentations on GitHub. And don't forget: DevOps Enterprise Summit London 2019 is coming up next June. See you there.

Top image: Gene Kim shares his definition of DevOps at DOES 18 Las Vegas.

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