DevOps is wasted unless the business goes Agile too

When analysts and journalists write about Agile and DevOps, the focus is typically on the technology and infrastructure – what it means for software and systems development in an age when the nature of business demands the ability to quickly adapt and change. Often, they also discuss the need for a ‘business champion’ who will promote the project to the operational side of the organisation, and in particular to the board.

What doesn’t get so much coverage, as I was reminded recently while talking with Matt Lovell, who runs Centiq, a consultancy specialising in SAP HANA, is that the business also needs to change. In fact, given that IT is normally there to support or deliver the organisation’s commercial aims, not vice versa, there’s not much point making the IT adaptive and flexible if the business isn’t also adaptive and flexible. That’s especially true for projects intended to create real-time business intelligence or manage supply chains and customer relationships, of course.

Yet when we talk to people who work in the field of Agile and DevOps, they report that it can be hard getting this across to clients. Too often, they assume that implementing DevOps will simply let them carry on as before, but with more regularly updated software. What a waste that would be!

Agile change needs a new business mindset

To make it more challenging, it’s not simply a case of changing the business once then letting the ‘new version’ bed in. DevOps is continual, iterative change, and it requires a serious change of mindset. That kind of real-time shift can be just as profitable and productive for the business and its managers, but they are going to require even more help and support than the DevOps folk, which is where Matt and those like him come in.

It’s one thing to adopt Agile methods for development, he says, but embedding the same Agile mindset into customer relationships is another challenge altogether, as is helping companies “fundamentally change how they think, and how they work with customers and the supply chain. [They need to understand that] if we can deliver iteratively on a platform that’s more real-time, we can have more free and open discussion about the business’s future and capabilities.”

In particular, the new perspectives opened up will almost certainly involve technology, but they won’t necessarily be led or constrained by it.

It would be easy to assume here that the main problem is organisational inertia – the “We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way” attitude – and of course that kind of thinking does still exist. But as Matt points out, any organisation that’s investing in Agile and DevOps clearly has an appetite for change, so there must be more to it than that.

You don’t know what you don’t know

“Business people don’t know what they don’t know,” he says. “The business tends to focus on infrastructure and traditional viewpoints – they assume the old constraints are still there. You need to know that the problem is solvable before you can pay attention to it.”

That requires education, expectation setting, business change management and more. Perhaps it could start with going to the business and saying, “What if we take technology off the critical path, how does that change your thinking?”

Have you engineered successful business change along these lines – or did you try it but fail? Either way, we’d love to read your thoughts and advice below.

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