Paula Thrasher, Executive Director, Digital Technology, United Technologies
Many executives are focused on bringing DevOps practices to their technology organizations, but how can you build that team and drive a DevOps transformation? Successful DevOps teams have boundary-spanning talent, end to end cross-functional teams, and a focus on learning and skill building. Successful DevOps organizations are collaborative, cross-functional, and competent.
Innovating through Changes in Perspective
A key part of my own background in DevOps was combining my experience as a software developer, and then making a radical transition into leading an IT operations organization. This unique perspective gave me the edge I needed to create dramatic and effective changes within the field. I have realized over the course of my DevOps journey that the best teams come about when you expose your own people to that same boundary-spanning opportunity. A lot of times, people don't take challenging assignments thinking it’s too far out of their area of technical expertise. In fact, that’s exactly why they should take on those roles in order to become good at something. These are opportunities to becoming a better leader where you would take on challenges that force you to leave your domain, leave your comfort zone. With your eyes wide open to what your weaknesses are, you can devise a better plan to really learn from that new challenge.
Especially in industries like those of United Technologies Corp. (UTC) where I currently work, it’s crucial to our success that we be fully cross-functional. Being cross-functional isn’t limited to the CIO department. It means the entire company. DevOps is not only Development and IT Operations. It’s the entire business model from idea to support. That’s why ideas like “DevSecOps” are trending too—security and cyber are key organizations to a DevOps organization too. But why stop there? It’s not a catchy phrase to call it “BizFinUXArchDevTestSecLegalHRSupplyChainOps” … but any successful cross-functional DevOps team includes heavy collaboration from all of the functions that drive our businesses. Don’t stand up a separate “DevOps” team separate to your existing work. Make the whole team the DevOps team.
The rise of DevSecOps as a trend reflects that DevOps as an idea has moved beyond traditional Silicon Valley startups or consumer firms into large, regulated industries like banking, energy, and manufacturing. Large enterprises struggle with the tension between the need to innovate and adapt to the change of technology, while still bound by strict regulatory, compliance and security restrictions. As a solution, these industries have embraced the new policy of building security, audit, legal and regulatory compliance into our DevOps teams from the beginning and embracing the core DevOps values of lean management, automation, and measurement.
DevOps is the how, it's not the why
In our case, the whole business means everything from product innovation to factories, compliance, security production, and support. For example, our latest initiative in the DevOps space is a project called Tick- Tock. Our objective with this project is to instill speed and agility to our overall product development life cycle. We are determined to remove process roadblocks during the acceleration of the entire development timeline while still trying to maintain the quality of our services for our customers. A most impactful outcome of the DevOps transformation is that, as a manufacturing company, the Tick-Tock project will help us make a huge leap towards making the manufacturing process as digital as possible. We’re affectionately taking to heart some of the lessons from ‘The Phoenix Project’ by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford. The book is about a fictional manufacturing company called Parts Unlimited that transformed IT from a business-burden to a business-enabler using DevOps. The lessons of the book are ones we know apply well to our digital transformation—the lean manufacturing techniques that were so successful for our factories are the same skills our IT organizations need to unlock radical efficiency while delivering quality and customer impact.
Since DevOps needs to be an organization-wide transformation, companies can’t just hire their way to competence. You can’t only buy DevOps people, you need to make them. DevOps teams are created through experience and training. When you bring teams of experts together and enable them to work closely together, each team member begins to gain a little breadth in those other areas—in ways that never happened when teams were part of separate silos. It’s also important as an IT organization to continue to invest in the depth skills for individual contributors. Too many IT organizations have taken their training budgets to bare bones, but investing in your people is one of the best ROIs for a DevOps transformation.
From a CIO perspective, in a company of any size, there will be teams that perform at different levels. Most companies have a spectrum from high performers to groups that are less mature. The most recent State of DevOps report put out by Puppet, Splunk and Dr. Nicole Forsgren highlights that high performers are not only doing better than the rest of the industry, they are also accelerating faster. High performing Agile teams desiring to bring more efficiency to software development, was what led to the idea of DevOps as a movement. In much the same way, those great DevOps teams will be the mastermind for the next new innovation. One of the most important functions in leadership is enabling those high performers to clear the roadblocks of bureaucracy that will unlock even higher performance.
Successful transformations have a combination of grassroots success with leadership championship. It will be the high performers who would disrupt and discover the next DevOps innovation. The goal should not be just to build the DevOps team. The goal is to create an organization that is good at innovation and continuous improvement.
Aligning Teams Around the “Why”
Many people in the DevOps industry focus too much on the “how” and not the “why”. With the wrong focus, you limit your employees’ ability to innovate. Align your teams instead to a business outcome, where DevOps is a tool to unlock the radical efficiencies needed to achieve that. Successful teams have a sense of purpose and combined with the three C’s—collaborative, cross-functional, and competent teams, results will follow.
While Digital may be a strategic component to companies in today’s world, DevOps has become the enabler that impacts a company’s strategic plan. As a result, DevOps isn’t just something happening in the CIO shop, it’s a digital trend that everyone in the top-down leadership has taken an interest in. DevOps is vital to building better products in our industries in time for delivery, to drive better quality, and to lower costs. DevOps is the how, it's not the why.