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Seasoned DevOps practitioners are fond of advising newcomers to kick-start their organisation’s agile journey by starting small – both in respect of the size of project they undertake and the team they task with addressing it.
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From there, they can work through the organisational challenges that inevitably arise when creating multi-disciplined teams (including developers, operations staff and people fulfilling other IT functions), before shaping how their continuous delivery pipeline will operate.
As the team works toward producing and deploying code changes multiple times a day, the CIO (or whoever is leading the organisation’s DevOps charge) should have an established set of KPIs and metrics to show how the business is benefiting from the move.
This should make it easier to get senior management buy-in for the CIO’s continuous delivery strategy, it is often claimed, because any attempt to change the way anything is done on a company-wide basis will be an uphill struggle without it.
Ron van Kemenade, CIO of ING Bank, advocates this approach, having successfully instigated the adoption of DevOps in the Netherlands branch of its business after he became CIO in 2010.
His influence has been instrumental in accelerating the spread of DevOps to other countries in which ING operates and paving the way for members of other business units – outside IT – to get involved too, since his appointment as ING’s global CIO in 2013.
“We now have countries where we have 50% of IT in DevOps teams and 50% working in a waterfall way, and we have countries where business is fully included in BizDevOps, and others where it is not,” he says.
The experience of scaling up the organisation’s DevOps activities across different countries, cultures and business units has taught van Kemenade a lot about what works and what doesn’t, he says.
Ron van Kemenade, ING Bank
“Going to the board and saying everything is rubbish and we need to change everything we do, and we need to throw £100m at the problem, will not work,” he says.
“Starting small and being accountable for your success and showing the difference that doing things this way makes to the organisation [may prompt the question], why not expand it a bit further?
“What is the cost of regret if you fail on a small scale? If you succeed, you can create a bigger environment.”
DevOps theory vs practice
While that sounds easy enough in theory, anecdotal evidence suggests many CIOs run into problems when it comes to scaling up their continuous delivery efforts, having already achieved some modest, early success.
This point emerged as a recurring theme at the inaugural DevOps Enterprise Summit (DOES) London conference in June 2016. At the show, agile practitioners working in financial services, insurance, telecommunications, retail and the public sector opened up about the challenges they have encountered.
Speaking at DOES, Jason Cox, director of systems engineering at entertainment giant Disney, said it is essential to have a strong leader or CIO installed within the DevOps team to steer the ship.
“People like to keep doing the same thing, unless acted upon by an external force,” he said. “The force we found that was important for us to change that was leadership.
“If no one is ever giving me vision of the target, how am I going to hit it? Leadership has to be able to communicate the vision, and encourage [it to take hold], and that requires courage.”
Jason Cox, Disney
Courage in the face of adversity is an important quality for a CIO to have, because he or she will encounter setbacks that could knock their DevOps plans off course, said Cox.
For example, when pushing operational and organisational changes through a large enterprise, it is not uncommon for internal politics to slow progress, he added.
“You develop a team and you want to protect it [from change] and protect the ideas you have and impose on the group. When you’re the size of Disney, you have a lot of this,” he said.
“When new leaders come in, there is disruption. They bring in new ideas, and they can be great, but they can also be negative and stop some of the progress being made. We have heard this from other organisations when new leaders came in and the DevOps programme was put on pause.”
CIOs will also need to deal with the more everyday people-management issues that crop up in any team, not just one practising DevOps, says van Kemenade.
“It’s not a fairy tale. There are always going to be misunderstandings, prejudices and frustrations, which is simply human nature, right?”
Banking on DevOps success
Barclays Bank is in the midst of an 18-month (and counting) push to embrace agile processes and DevOps methodologies, as it fights to keep a step ahead of the growing threat from new market entrants and fintech startups.
Speaking at DOES, Jonathan Smart, the company’s head of development services, said senior management support was assured from the beginning, because it was their idea to push ahead with adopting an agile strategy in the first place.
“We are not doing agile for agile’s sake,” he said. “We are pursuing a strategy for the whole business to exhibit agility. And when I say the whole business, I mean HR, auditing, security, compliance, the investment bank, the retail bank – everything.”
Barclays has made a concerted effort to ensure the top-down mandate to adopt agile processes is understood and accepted at all levels of seniority and within every business unit, said Smart.
Jonathan Smart, Barclays Bank
This has involved making everyone aware of the company’s targets, priorities and reasons for wanting to adopt agile processes, and ensuring details of this are consistently communicated at all levels. But there is still more to be done, he said.
“Leadership training is something we are not doing enough of – we need to do more of it,” he added. “Senior management get it, the troops get it, but it’s the people in the middle who have to deliver, come hell or high water, that we need to get on board.”
This has led to Barclays creating 35 ‘communities of practice’ within the organisation, attended by 10,000 volunteers who help to spread the message about what the company is trying to achieve with its agile endeavours.
“We also have 2,500 people in the agile community of practice,” said Smart. “So we have that groundswell of passionate practitioners to help us on that journey.”
Such is the level of staff engagement this has garnered, he said, that he has reason to believe the company can lay claim to being home to the world’s “largest and fastest” agile deployment.
The DevOps movement has picked up pace as enterprises have sought to rebuild their monolithic application stacks using microservices principles, so they become more modular.
This type of change is usually accompanied by a related push to alter the way software development is done within the organisation, so the advantages of running applications made of smaller building bricks can be fully realised.
And that is where DevOps – and its emphasis on using small, multi-discipline teams to test and release smaller software updates and code changes multiple times a day – comes in.
In the days when monolithic applications ruled supreme, software updates would take days, if not months, to push through – making firms slow to respond to feedback or changes in end-user behaviour.
Ron van Kemenade, ING Bank
Combining a DevOps-style approach to software delivery with microservices should make it quicker and easier for organisations respond to such changes, and has the potential to make them more competitive, productive and efficient.
That is as long as every member of the team – regardless of their job function – feels like they have a stake in the project delivering on its objectives, says van Kemenade.
“An engineer should be as responsible for customer satisfaction as the marketers are, and they should be as liable for the technical debt as the engineers are, and they need to jointly define the priorities in the backlog about what to fix first,” he says.
“When people realise what their joint responsibilities are and there is no way of escaping total responsibility, I think that is really key to the success of BizDevOps.”
Overcoming resistance to change
But it is not unusual to come up against people who are resistant to change or are wary of joining multi-discipline teams because of concerns about the impact it might have on their long-term job prospects, said Lebara CTO Finbarr Joy at DOES.
“I have had experiences where people believed broadening [their skillset] was career-threatening because it no longer sits within the narrow guidelines of the next-level certification that some arbitrary IT authority had laid down,” he said.
“It should be the experience of being able to do more to broaden skillsets, certainly do more as a team and be more empowered, and should be an awful lot better than sticking to the rules of some third-party service provider career ladder.”
One way to resolve this could be to re-evaluate how DevOps team members are incentivised and motivated to do their work, he advised.
Read more about DevOps
- The topic of DevOps has dominated discussions at many of the major IT conferences this year, with suppliers and analysts lining up to warn enterprises about the business risks of failing to adopt a more agile approach to software development.
- Enterprises risk missing out on the business agility benefits that adopting DevOps can bring because of misplaced concerns about the level of risk to operations.
In such situations, a little “positive peer pressure” can also go a long way, says van Kemenade.
“When people see it works, and works better than what they are already doing, there will be part of that group that wants to prove they can do it as and the rest will follow through the need for standardisation,” he says.
Although people have a tendency to like doing what they have always done, enterprises should do all they can to hold on and nurture those who really seem to understand the benefits DevOps can bring, said Disney’s Cox at DOES.
“You can have great plans, great ideas and great designs, but it takes people to make those dreams become a reality.
“Focusing on people, developing the talent, recruiting and retaining strong talent is critical.”
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