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Interview with Damon Edwards, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of SimplifyOps

“DevOps is a management problem”

Hartmut Schlosser
DevOps
Damon Edwards

Improving your own organization’s performance – from where they are now to performance levels equal to the industry leaders – seems like a very long and difficult road. What is missing in most organizations? We talked to Damon Edwards, co-founder and managing partner of DTO Solutions and DevOpsCon speaker, about the challenges that accompany DevOps and how a repeatable system that empowers teams to find and fix their own problems looks like.

JAXenter: DevOps has the potential to transform not only the IT department but also the whole company. Why is it that DevOps means more than just bringing Devs and Ops together?

Damon Edwards: DevOps, Agile, Lean, Kaizen… they all are built on the same fundamental ideas. All are about teaching an organization how to find and fix its own problems in order to improve time to market and quality while decreasing costs. DevOps is critical as it is focused on the core of any digital enterprise, the path from requirements to running features in production. When you connect DevOps with Lean and Agile thinking in other parts of a company, great things happen.

JAXenter: Why is it so difficult to achieve this transformation? What are the typical obstacles?

Damon Edwards: The companies that struggle the most with their transformation are the ones who see DevOps as a technology problem in need of technology solutions. DevOps is a management problem. How your organization functions today is the sum of all of the past management decisions. Trying to fix technology or tooling problems without addressing the management conditions that created the state you are in today? That is like trying to swim upstream in a fast moving river. At best, your people are going to make some progress, but it will be very exhausting and expensive. At worst, people will just quit out of frustration and get pushed right back to where they started or somewhere worse.

Are you trying to fix technology or tooling problems without addressing the management conditions that created the state you are in today? That is like trying to swim upstream in a fast moving river. At best, your people are going to make some progress, but it will be very exhausting and expensive. At worst, people will just quit out of frustration and get pushed right back to where they started or somewhere worse.

JAXenter: In my experience managers tend to have problems with letting their teams act and decide autonomously. Do you have a piece of advice on how to convince your boss that a certain loss of control is not per se a bad thing?

Damon Edwards: First, you have to understand why managers cling to a command and control mindset. It’s human nature. People fear both what they can’t see and what they think is out of control. In most organizations, the digital work is hidden or opaque. It is in fragments in people’s heads, code, configurations, tickets, wiki docs, word docs, spreadsheets, etc. A manager is going to have a very difficult time feeling comfortable when they have poor visibility and they know that the people underneath them are working in a siloed or disjointed way. Instead, they are going to try to force control through command and control edicts, rigid processes, and applying lots project management effort.

Don’t discount the power of examples of Lean or Kaizen thinking.

Second, don’t try to convince your boss of anything. Show them. Use techniques like value stream mapping and lean waste analysis to make the flow of work visible. Get them comfortable that everyone (from managers to hands-on-the-keyboard engineers) has a common understanding of how the work actually flows and what improvements need to be made. Focus on building quality into the process (test early, “shift left” ops concerns, etc) to build confidence. The more you can show managers that you are going in the right direction and have quality under control (or can credibly explain what needs to be done), the more likely it is for them to see the value of pushing decisions to lower levels.

A repeatable system turns good ideas into a habit.

Third, don’t discount the power of examples of Lean or Kaizen thinking at other companies. There is plenty of documentation, from many industries around the world, showing that classic command and control thinking is a recipe for higher costs, slower delivery, and poorer quality. Get people to read it.

JAXenter: In the abstract of one of your sessions, you mention that most companies are missing a repeatable system that empowers teams to find and fix their own problems. Could you explain how such a “repeatable system“ looks like?

Damon Edwards: At its simplest form, you need to get people together on a regular basis to look at how they are currently doing things; figure out what is and isn’t working; then go and fix things. A “repeatable system” means they need a set of techniques that can be applied on a regular basis. Great teams know that improvement isn’t something you can do once in a while. It has to be something that is done all of the time. A repeatable system turns good ideas into a habit.

As far as specifics go, you have to come to my talk. But in a nutshell, I’ve personally seen a lot of success porting well known Lean and Kaizen techniques to this service delivery domain.

JAXenter: DevOps is about breaking up silos. In your experience, how would you proceed when some stakeholders are simply not interested in breaking up their silos?

Damon Edwards: There are two basic types of resistance. The first is the fear of the unknown. Managers are ultimately responsible for what happens below them. In today’s siloed opaque organizations, managers spend a lot of effort just trying to hold things together. The visibility and quality improvements I mentioned before can go a long way towards helping those managers see how the old siloed ways of working are problematic and how breaking them down helps everyone.

The second is just that humans are humans and they fear a loss of power. It’s up to an organization’s senior leadership to decide if a manager is clinging to old ways because of perceived concerns about impacts on the business or if the manager is clinging to the old ways because of self-serving fiefdom building. If the problem is the former, education and a good continuous improvement system can help show the way. If the problem is the latter, it is up to senior leadership to decide if they will permit behavior that is actively undermining the improvement of the business in favor of personal gain.

JAXenter: In your DevOpsCon talk, you present a fresh look at proven lean techniques that already work in high-performing IT organizations. What is the key message of your talk that everybody should retain?

Damon Edwards: The key message is that high-performing companies are simply good at getting better. That is their key skill. Nothing stands still. Business changes, customers change, people change, technology changes. Being good at getting better is why they high-performers achieve and maintain their high-performance. It’s not magic and it can be learned by applying the right management mindset and continuous improvement system to any organization. Of course, that is easier said than done!

Thank you very much!

DevOpsCon 2016

Author
Hartmut Schlosser
Hartmut Schlosser is an editor for JAXenter and a specialist in Java Enterprise-Technologies, Eclipse & ALM, Android and Business Technology. Before working at S&S Media he studied Computer Science, Music, Anthropology and French Philology.

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