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The secret to scaling DevOps in the digital era

17 Jan 2019

Article by Meshach Samuel, Global Operations Director, Digital & Analytics,  HCL Technologies

Agile software development has been a ‘thing’ since the early nineties, its popularity steadily rising in Australia and globally in the 20-odd years since the term was coined.

DevOps, the new model on software development and operations, allows organisations to create, deploy and operate high-quality software products more quickly than they were able to, using traditional approaches.

Research house, Forrester, declared 2017 ‘The Year of DevOps’ and later that same year pronounced 2018 would be ‘The Year of Enterprise DevOps’.

Forrester Principal Analyst, Robert Stroud, noted a significant shift in the conversation, with the firm’s clients no longer asking ‘What is DevOps?’ but rather, ‘How do I implement DevOps at scale?’

That’s the $64 question for enterprises, as they attempt to speed the delivery of the new apps and services they need to launch in order to remain competitive – without increasing their developer headcounts.

Facing the challenges

It’s not an easy feat. Organisations around the world have learnt at a cost that while agile DevOps methodologies can result in improved outcomes within teams and projects, they have a propensity to fail miserably when implemented across the enterprise at scale.

Common problem areas include: a discordance in organisational culture; issues arising from the use of multiple agile development models; lack of cohesion within teams which are geographically dispersed; monolithic IT architecture and legacy technologies which don’t marry well with the DevOps model; sourcing models which hamper collaboration;  disjointed performance management systems; and dependencies between product teams hampering speed of delivery.

But these aren’t merely pitfalls associated with adopting Agile or DevOps. Rather, they’re symptoms of a bigger issue: the challenge faced by organisations as they attempt to ‘scale’ digital, by enacting transformation initiatives to get the entire enterprise working smartly and more nimbly.

Why so hard?

Excellent methodologies they may be, but the simple fact is, Agile and DevOps are of limited effectiveness if deployed in isolation. Organisations can’t capitalise on the benefits fully if they fail to adopt a holistic approach. Positive outcomes are diluted if Agile methodologies are mandated in an enterprise that remains rigid and resistant to change, rather than one that’s committed to running at the same speed as the digital team.

People, process and technology – all must be open to transformation if a DevOps culture is to set in and not remain confined to the high-tech margins.

Of these three elements, people often pose the greatest challenge but the productivity and efficiency dividends these transformations can deliver make it one that’s well worth tackling.

Strong Organisational Change Management is the key to engaging all areas of the organisation, from the frontline to the C Suite, in the drive towards agile digital operation.

The most effective approach sees senior executives leading by example; whether it’s running town hall meetings in ‘sprints’ or leveraging SCRUM to define Key Performance Indicators for a partner organisation.

Focus groups containing representatives from across the organisation should be set up to drive change while marketing and communications personnel must have a remit to develop and disseminate consistent messaging about the enterprise’s digital direction.

Agile and DevOps coaches have a pivotal role to play too: as directors of the journey and key participants in focus groups.

Creating DevOps teams

Creating a DevOps-driven organisational culture isn’t as easy as saying it will be so. To have employees across the enterprise doing things as quickly and well as the DevOps team, most enterprises will need to reorganise their workforces. That may mean shifting staff out of silos and into teams which are self-organised and cross-functional.

The former is important because it fosters a climate in which accountability and innovation are encouraged and employees are empowered to make decisions and adapt to changing scenarios. The latter means teams can collectively muster all the skills necessary to ‘own’ whatever business feature or capability they’re given responsibility for.

But while self-organised teams have a better chance of getting things done fast, care must also be taken to ensure chaos does not ensue, when the DevOps modus operandi is adopted across the enterprise. Focusing on ‘aligned autonomy’ – maintaining a balance between independent operation and the corporate cohesion that comes from working collaboratively towards a common goal – is vital. 

The road ahead

Transforming a workforce at scale can be a daunting exercise but it’s fast becoming essential, as the fourth industrial revolution compels companies to find ways to do things smarter, faster and more economically.

As organisations progressively go digital, their people must transform too, if they’re to master the challenges and opportunities a rapidly changing business landscape promises to deliver.

Reconfiguring teams and corporate structures for optimised velocity, growth and innovation is part of that journey. The end game is a consistent culture where all employees exhibit the same behaviours and work practices which have long made DevOps synonymous with getting things done quickly and well.

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