The “Perseverance” rover has landed successfully on Mars and exceeded all our expectations. In my last write-up, I briefly touched on the relevance of space travel in enterprise technology modernisation.. Case in point reflects our ‘high performing’ modern standards for technology delivery, as it takes up complex challenges such as interstellar travel, and makes it look simple. If that is the norm of the human race now for high performers, how hard can your next technology modernisation or the uplift project be? Your organisation’s DevOps capability is a large contributing factor in determining the success of such projects. Key is to understand where your team sits on the DevOps performance metrics in comparison to the global standards.
Winners and Losers — High performing DevOps culture
While high performance is a generally overloaded, overused term, there is a clear-cut definition of performance when it comes to DevOps communities. These measurements overarch the technology delivery functions measuring the ‘speed- to- market’ and the ‘business agility’ answering the question “why DevOps?” to your average business stakeholders.
*Low performers were lower on average (at a statistically significant level) but had the same median as the medium performers, ‘Table 2.3 Software Delivery Performance’),” Accelerate: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations — By Nicole Forsgren PhD, Jez Humble, Gene Kim
In a nutshell, high-performing teams are faster, reliable, and very resilient to any sort of change. Try to benchmark yourself by shoulder checking with more mature technology domains such as the gaming sector, space travel or successful and mature lean startups. Interested to read more about this? Best to refer to The State of the DevOps report from Puppet and Google, which has been monitoring the DevOps world for six years and counting.
Ski jump — Distribution factors
The ski jump model from my last write-up was a simple but powerful way to think about your modernisation journey and where you are in the jump (read here). When you further critique the model, particularly considering the complex landscape with multiple teams and enterprise systems, you see additional forces that impact the success of the journey. These forces, which I’ll explore below, including downward, upward, and sideward.
Downward forces — what is going to help.
There are several factors that help your organisation on its way to becoming a high-performing, cloud-native, agile organisation — fluent in modern technologies and ways of working. Collectively, these forces act like gravity, pulling the organisation down to its resting position. As the Earth’s gravity accelerates an object in a multiplied fashion (in the first second it will have fallen 10m, the second 30m, the third 60m, and so forth), so too do the factors for speeding up transformation programs. The factors build upon each other too and fast-forward the modernisation journey. While technology plays a key part, there is a number of other non-technical factors, which are equally important.
Downward forces — what is going to help.
There are several factors that help your organisation on its way to becoming a high-performing, cloud-native, agile organisation fluent in modern technologies and ways of working. Collectively, these forces act like gravity, pulling the organisation down to its resting position. As the Earth’s gravity accelerates an object in a multiplied fashion (in the first second it will have fallen 10m, the second 30m, the third 60m, and so forth), so too do the factors for speeding up transformation programs. The factors build upon each other too and fast-forward the modernisation journey. While technology plays a key part, there is a number of other non-technical factors, which are equally important.
- Small but targeted iterations
- Processes behind the scenes
- Tools and technology
- Organisational structure
When starting your journey, it’s crucial to pick a small, focused iteration with your team, then create a sustainable cadence where everyone gets a chance to learn and improve. This can be a part of your application ecosystem or a subset of your team who is already demonstrating a higher degree of maturity in this space.
While tools and technology play a key role, it’s equally important to adjust processes, such as communication plans and reporting, in order to be successful. Clear, fit-for-purpose roles and responsibilities with the right level of delegation and autonomy act as a catalyst on this journey, helping the teams to own the initiatives and execute themselves, so there are fewer roadblocks in their way.
- Define what good looks like
- Security, risk and compliance by design
- Mixed market economy
Going off-piste has its time and place, but not when you’re attempting a ski jump, or in this case a jump to modernisation. So having guardrails helps you stay on track, enabling you to put your efforts to the best use.
When it comes to DevOps, most teams and organisations do not know what ‘good’ looks like in comparison to the broader technology market. Creating quantitative and qualitative measurements around the modernisation journey creates an even playing field for everyone, with a clear picture of where you need to be. Having the right guardrails in place creates a safety net for the organisation, allowing your teams to go fast but safe. A few examples of this are how do you manage your cloud cost? How do you ensure solution governance with the right level of risk and compliance? ‘Budget dashboards’ and ‘Compliance as code’ modules are some of the answers. But to get the buy-in and adoption from the stakeholders and teams, you need to create a mixed economy where you would command certain enterprise initiatives, yet nurture the new ideas coming from your teams based on the demand
- Transformational teams
- Plan, Do, Check, Change
- Milestones and celebrations
Continuous delivery and DevOps is a new paradigm and different way of thinking about your software, teams, and your organisation. Open communication is key and you can never over-communicate in this matter as you go through a transformation phase. Humourously, it’s only when you become tired of communicating such changes that messages tend to start getting through. So keep persisting.
Doing the basic shoulder checks and defining clear milestones go a long way. Creating that fail-safe culture where you encourage your teams to try new things and show the learnings out from failed attempts is the secret sauce for your success.
And when you do generate some success, be sure to celebrate that and communicate it too — how ever small that may be. Organisations can often be too quick to move on, and therefore miss the opportunity to recognise good work.
Upward forces — What is going to slow you down.
- Inherited organisational culture
- Legacy architecture
- Skill market
There are number of research papers and studies around how an organisational culture directly correlates to high-performing teams and vice versa. The Westrum organisational typology model, pictured in the table above provides a view of three different types of organisational cultures. The wider organisational culture can certainly put breaks on your transformation journey. However, once you understand where your oganisation is on the journey and navigate through the challenges, your transformation will positively influence the overall organisational culture, helping to shift it in the right direction.
From a technology standpoint, dependency management seems to be a hot topic, as everyone tries to map their technology footprint to effectively re-architecture the ecosystem with cloud-first principles. The right level of investment can modernise a monolithic legacy system. However, what makes these investments difficult is when organisations try to do these changes with the lowest possible risk to the existing delivery backlog and features. Finding high-demand skills such as containerisation, AKS, infrastructure as code, etc., continues to be a challenge to achieve the promised speed that high-performing DevOps organisations enjoy.
Sideways forces — what can blindside you
Lastly, there are times when events occur that impact the organisation that are simply out of our control. This could be natural events such as COVID-19, earthquakes, or storms; technological such as disruptive innovation that makes a process, role, or business obsolete; or behavioural such as people doing unpredictable things. These winds blow projects or journeys off course and can be particularly challenging when a ‘gust’ comes along while you are in the process of jumping.
These winds shouldn’t deter you from jumping, as the need for modernisation will always be there and only become greater the longer you put it off. Therefore, shifting our perspective and focus to improving DevOps capability is wise.
When you view such winds in the performance matrix I discussed above, the high and medium performing teams will each be blown off course. The key difference is that the high performing team will be able to get their project back on track faster, as they can begin to make changes within hours rather than days or weeks
High-performing teams and cloud modernisation goes hand in hand complementing each other. There are a number of factors which help your modernisation journey and some which slow you down so you need to be aware of these. Smaller iterations of work together with plan, do, check and change culture and a set of guardrails will all give you the edge you are after in the enterprise-wide jump to the cloud.