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Is DevOps fatigue next? Don't buy into the dogma

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James Head CEO and Founder, Rebellion Consulting
 

Many organizations are suffering from agile fatigue—and DevOps may be next. The process of transitioning from one orthodoxy to another, such as from waterfall to agile, takes time and patience, and so does the move to DevOps. 

You will encounter many dead ends and wrong turns on the way, but you need to understand that your audience consists of intelligent, experienced, and very capable knowledge workers. They need your support, education, patience, and understanding as they adjust to new methods and practices.

Beware of one-size-fits-all solutions, and keep these other points in mind as you move forward with DevOps.

[ Continuous delivery and release automation (CDRA) demands speed and quality. Find out how in TechBeacon's guide to CDRA. Plus: Get the Forrester Wave on CDRA.  ]

DevOps is at a crossroads

DevOps as a philosophy and culture is at a critical crossroads. It risks becoming another prescribed religion that must not be questioned.

You don't need to look far to see where DevOps might ultimately be heading. "Agile fatigue" is happening, not because the underlying philosophy is without merit, but because of how it's being applied and who is applying it.

Two of the main culprits are large consultancies and certification factories producing one-size-fits-all, top-down "agile transformations." These apply a prescriptive form of meaningless agile ceremonies and practices while losing sight of the underlying intent for agile.

Other culprits are well-meaning but ill-informed agile coaches or leaders who claim to be all-knowing but lack any pragmatism or understanding of what being agile even means. I fear that DevOps could be next.

It's time to rein in the DevOps dogma and go back to basics.

My journey into DevOps started with the seminal books The Phoenix Project and The DevOps Handbook. Both are underpinned by the "three ways," which gives you some clues about where you should be focusing your attention.

1. Systems thinking

Systems thinking emphasizes the importance of the whole and of breaking down functional and team silos. The goal is to increase flow of value from idea through to the end customer, and how you might reduce handoffs, queues of work, sign offs/ hand offs.  

Here you want to create true end-to-end teams that are given both the autonomy and appropriate guardrails to be able to create value for the end customer with little or no intervention from any other party.

[ Learn the secrets of successful DevOps initiatives in TechBeacon’s Guide. Plus: Get the Optimizing DevOps Initiatives: Both Sides of the DevOps Divide report ]

2. Amplify feedback loops

This allows you to improve quickly. How do you know that what you are creating solves a real problem or need, and how do you know it's valuable to your customer, without putting it in their hands and seeking feedback?

This also applies more widely to the commercial realities. You need to expend the smallest amount of effort to establish not only that customers want what you're providing, but also that they are willing to pay for it in sufficient enough numbers to create a viable business model. In short, you need market validation.

3. Continual experimentation

A culture of continual experimentation and learning is a generative culture that allows for mistakes to be made without judgment or punishment, and that emphasizes individual and organizational learning. The latter can happen only if you empower individuals and groups to be creative, experimental, and iterative.

You must give them autonomy, psychological safety, and purpose so that they can be at their best.

Does any of this sound like a methodology or an imposed transformation? It's more of a philosophy, a culture, and a way of being and working. Where we have failed up until now is that we’ve been focusing on the methods and practices and have become blind to the overarching principles and the changes that are required at the leadership and overall system level.

Start with the whole

Start to consider the why, what, and how not as individual components but as a whole. This ultimately means deeper conversations with people all across your organization. You need to do it with compassion and patience.

Many leaders and nontechnical people who don't get it are smart and action-oriented, but when faced with new technologies and approaches, they might feel intellectually on their back foot, or out of their depth. Or perhaps they're bullish about prescribing the how over the what.

For true long-lasting change you need buy-in and support, which take time and patience. Organizational leaders need to seek out experience and expertise to build a coherent why (vision) and what (strategy), while giving autonomy to teams to figure out the how (execution).

Go forth at your own speed

That's ultimately what it comes down to: Start learning, exploring, and experimenting at the speed your organization feels comfortable with. But don't wait too long.

For many businesses founded in the last 20 years this is the norm—and they are already considering what's beyond agile and DevOps. They are figuring out how they can create even more extraordinary organizations that put not only their customers front and center but their staff, suppliers, community and the environment as well.

Join me at DevOps Enterprise Summit London — Virtual, running June 23-25, 2020, where I'll be talking about the quest to reinvent a 156-year-old reinsurance company. We want to share our story with you so you can understand the dead ends and wrong turns, the mistakes and how we ultimately overcame the; the transformation of the company, its culture, and ourselves; and how we "went native" and now cannot turn back. 

[ Get up to speed on quality-driven development with TechBeacon's guide. Plus: Download the World Quality Report 2019-20 ]