Interview with Helen Beal, Head of DevOps at Ranger4

Common #DevOpsFail: Think of DevOps as synonymous with Continuous Delivery

Gabriela Motroc
Helen Beal

DevOps has cultural change at its core but sometimes organizations find it hard to grasp the importance of the cultural aspect of DevOps. We invited Helen Beal, Head of DevOps at Ranger4 and speaker at JAX DevOps 2017 to talk about the contributing methodologies that converge and combine to drive DevOps evolution and to weigh in on the steps for DevOps success.

JAXenter: A lot of people seem to believe 2017 is the year of DevOps. What’s your take on this popular opinion?

Helen Beal: It’s an interesting assertion! I guess what people mean by it is that ‘this is the year it will go mainstream’ or ‘it’ll be in every enterprise CIO’s top three priorities’ or such like and I see articles and survey results flying about that suggest things like this. I often look at Google trends and, as you know, as I did it as your event in Munich in December, regularly talk about patterns of DevOps adoption. It is a grassroots movement, but we have been seeing more and more IT executive level support — yep, more people hear about DevOps every day, more organisations engage with us to try to understand what it means for them and how to proliferate DevOps thinking and principles.

There are more and more DevOps events every year — we’ll see the DevOps Enterprise Summit in London for the second year running this summer for example. All that said, there are plenty of organisations who are not ‘doing’ DevOps, or not calling it DevOps and joining up their thinking at least. And plenty of the assessments we do with organisations show that there is lots of room for improvement and maturity in DevOps practices in most organisations, big and small. So is this the year of DevOps? For us, there have been several years of DevOps already and we don’t anticipate it to be done and dusted by  January 2018. I did write a blog recently on what DevOps is going to look like in 2017 — you can read that here.

JAXenter: Has DevOps become a synonym for Continuous Improvement?

Helen Beal: Last year we ran a survey called “How Continuous is your DevOps?’ You can see me talking about the results here at AllDayDevOps. I think part of the challenge here is the sheer breadth of what DevOps has come to encompass. For a time, some people definitely thought of it as synonymous with Continuous Delivery — and it’s a common #DevOpsFail we have observed; the thought that we will build a Continuous Delivery Pipeline and they will come… but they don’t. DevOps has cultural change at its core and over and over we meet organisations who are finding this the hardest piece to tackle. We engage with lots of organisations who think they aren’t really tackling DevOps, but when we take a closer look we’ll find lots of areas like testing automation, value stream optimisation and focus on customer values that you can put in the ‘DevOps Bucket’. I think DevOps does have specific characteristics that aren’t ALL Continuous Improvement, but if all DevOps is for you is a label to try and deliver software and application services better, then that’s still useful.

JAXenter: What are the contributing methodologies that converge and combine to drive DevOps evolution? 

Helen Beal: I spent a lot of 2015 and 2016 talking about a ‘harmonious, polygamous marriage’ (a phrase I picked up from Jayne Groll at the DevOps Institute) to describe the relationship between Lean, ITSM and Agile. It’s a useful way to think of what DevOps is — the convergence of these methodologies evolving together. Back to your event in Munich in December though, I did another talk on the Correlations Between DevOps and Holacracy and had a chat with John Willis afterwards who talked about his three-legged stool: safety culture, learning organisations and the Theory of Constraints. We’re working on a paper on this at the moment — ‘The Emerging DevOps Superpattern’. Hopefully, it will be ready to release soon!

JAXenter: Your JAX DevOps talk is titled Superpatterns in DevOpsology. What does a superpattern look like?

Helen Beal: I’ve alluded to the superpattern above. It’s recognising that there are lots of schools of thinking and methodologies that have been around for a while which are all contributing to the DevOps BoK (Body of Knowledge) — ways in which we can deliver better software faster and more safely and look through the lenses of organisational, interaction and automation maturity. It’s about shifting left, engineering for performance, building quality and security in, nurturing autonomy, mastery and purpose and experimentation and learning, failing fast, safe and smart and, getting back to your second question, being the best that we can be.

JAXenter: Why should companies jump on the DevOps bandwagon?

Helen Beal: Nobody should ever jump on a bandwagon! But if you want to deliver more value to your customers and be a high performing organisation that thrives in a fast-moving digital economy, you might want to consider whether embracing DevOps thinking could help. Do you want to be better? How?

SEE ALSO:  “DevOps is not just one person’s job”

JAXenter: What are the steps for DevOps success?

Helen Beal: It varies for every organisation as every organisation has their own unique ‘fingerprint’ if you like for DevOps maturity in terms of what they are good at today and where the best opportunities for improvement lie. We tend to start with a data heavy (metrics being so important in DevOps) assessment of current capabilities alongside work exploring the organisational ‘why’ and what the desired future state. This allows a high level, fit assessed and prioritised roadmap to be put in place which we expand using Value Stream and Process mapping techniques. We used to talk about DevOps Transformation but I’m leaning towards Evolution at the moment — it takes a while to iterate change. The journey isn’t as ‘big-bang’ as ‘transformation’ suggests.

JAXenter: What should participants learn from your session?

Helen Beal: I hope to think about DevOps in a slightly different way, a bit about each of the streams of thinking that contribute to the BoK and some thoughts about where their organisation can focus best for most effect.

Thank you very much!


Helen Beal will be delivering one talk at JAX DevOps which will focus on exploring the relationships between Agile, Lean, ITSM, Learning, Failing Smart/Safe/Fast, the Theory of Constraints, Shifting Left and Holacracy and whether together they are a superpattern that underpins DevOps.

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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