DevOps – A Cultural Christmas Carol

Bring a strong DevOps culture to your Christmas table and collectively reap the benefits.

Twas the night before Christmas and not a creature was stirring. Except for Anna Scroogely, the CIO of Laggard Inc. and her downtrodden team. As usual they were working overtime trying and keep the latest release of some flaky software working across a patchwork of neglected, creaking infrastructure.

As Scroogely prepared to trash another procurement request, the lights dimmed, her monitor flickered and a face came into focus. It was Clint Marley, Laggards’ former CIO.

“I’m here to warn you Scroogely that tonight you’ll be visited by three spirits. Listen to what they say regarding DevOps culture or you will suffer my same fate – doomed to wear the chains of ineffectiveness and mocked by your business peers.”

“Humbug”, retorted Scroogely. “You are just a technical glitch, an aberration. Probably the result of overexerting myself on this afternoons round of golf then drinking too many glasses of cheap Chardonnay”.

“Fool”, wailed Marley – heed my warning and listen to the spirits”.

Another image appeared on Scroogely’s monitor. A thin harrowed face, not dissimilar to Bob Codify, a development VP she’d fired in the fall for daring to mention Agile in a leadership meeting.

“I am the spirit of organizational rigidity” the face whispered. “I represent the mistake of Laggard splitting its teams along technology lines and silo’s that are misaligned to business goals and the needs of our customers. Worse, these teams are measured and incentivized according to outputs not outcomes – more lines of code produced, more problems fixed.”

Scroogely squirmed uncomfortably in her exquisite executive leather chair and feverously tousled her hair.

“Well spirit – the more the merrier, I always say. Great for building morale, right?”

“Wrong” snapped the spirit. “Organizing teams this way doesn’t facilitate collaboration and a high-trust culture. Scroogely, you must re-engineer your team structures along strategic lines and customer journey’s. Then you must review business value chains for any people and process bottlenecks that impede the flow of value to Laggard’s customers. And while you’re at it, develop a metrics programs that isn’t just based on speeds and feeds, but considers staff morale, development and knowledge transfer.

“Easy peasy”, Scroogely responded. “Sounds like we’ve got a talent problem. I’ll just get HR to trove the job boards for some of the latest tech talent.”

The spirits eyes narrowed. “Not one of your better ideas. You must seek out skills that are transferable across the organization, understanding that the test of a true “team player” and the culture you need won’t be found on an impressive looking LinkedIn profile. Seek out folks who have showcased their expertise. Like for example, contributing to an open source project.

Scroogely felt distinctly uncomfortable with all this cultural chatter. “Well, thanks for the advice, but these budget forecasts won’t wait. No rest for the wicked”, she exclaimed as she switched off the monitor.

As quick as a flash the monitor sprang back to life. Staring back at Scroogely was a bloated face bearing and uncanny resemblance to Janice Toady, an ex IT Operations manager with a fondness for rifling free donuts from office coffee room. Just as Scroogely was making a mental note to cancel that program the face spoke.

“I am the spirit of technical debt, Scroogely. The price Laggard is paying for poorly designed and defect-ridden software. But heed this, before taking another technology leap-of-faith, look carefully at the debt position, using people, process and technology dimensions. Your development teams are being pinged on both speed and quality issues, so confront the constraints and contentions that inhibit reliable testing along with the process bottlenecks holding back releases.”

“But what about my operations team”, Scroogely scoffed. “Shouldn’t they be responsible for picking up all the problems?”

“NO!” exclaimed the spirit. “The responsibility for quality lies with everyone – you, your designers, development, testing – everyone! You must shift quality left, Scroogely. Using advanced monitoring and testing disciplines to detect problems and opportunities for improvement early in the development lifecycle. You must shift left…left…left.

The voice and image faced and Scroogely was left in complete darkness.

Flicking back into like, the monitor displayed a flurry of stark pictures. Stock prices falling, angry and dissatisfied customers, Laggard stores closing.

Scroogely slumped in her chair. “Spirit, I fear you most. You are the portent of business collapse if I cannot lead a DevOps style cultural change program within IT. Please spirit, give me another chance. Let me lead an organization that is ready and built for change. An organization where normalized bad practices are replaced with collaboration, trust and empathy. An IT business that doesn’t fear failure, but learns and grows from it. Please spirit, let me embrace DevOps.”

Scrooge awoke to find herself staring at black screen, committed to transforming Laggard into Leader and bringer all her staff along on the journey.

And the moral of this Christmas ditty? – don’t let your organization fester in a dystopian Dickensian nightmare. Bring a strong DevOps culture to your Christmas table and collectively reap the benefits.

As Tiny Tim Cratchit would say – “God bless us, everyone.”

Happy Holidays!


Peter Waterhouse, Senior Strategist at CA Technologies, is a business technologist with 20+ years’ experience…

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