Guidance is the key for adapting DevOps to big business

by Gauthier Deschamps - Consulting Director, Sopra Steria | minutes read
DevOps is revolutionising agile transformation for big business. The method was initially focussed on software building but by automating production, it frees up resources so as to better resolve organisational and human malfunctions. It resolves the conflict between developers (the “Dev” part) and operations (“Ops”), by lowering the time to market without sacrificing the quality of the end product.
 
But DevOps is finding applications that go far beyond its original domain: it’s a springboard towards evolving the organisation of big businesses. By proving the real efficiency of collective governance and horizontal organisation at team level, DevOps is paving the way towards changing the cultural paradigm.
 
Large companies need to take the risk of working differently, although such self-reflection is not a given for all companies. But certified and experienced DevOps experts are at hand, ready to guide organisations in this transformative adventure. Supported by their peers, they are accustomed to driving forward change and are well-versed in digital professions. They have chosen to adapt the general principles of DevOps to the particular situation of each company. To initiate a full transformation, they are starting with a new mindset. The DevOps transition goes through three stages, and its success relies on collective decision-making.
 

1. Diagnose the company maturity

There can be no evolution without a starting point. Digital transformation is a continuous process; but measuring results is at the heart of DevOps’ principles. DevOps experts start off by making an assessment. The aim is to identify the particular set of challenges facing the company. The analysis is focussed on the practices, tools, governance, performance, and processes within the company. Beyond a company audit, DevOps experts gather their information from interviews with the teams. These focus on the team’s working environment, its position within the product delivery chain, its understanding of the company’s DevOps policy, its own agile practices, and on the self-assessment of its performance.
 
The assessment helps to locate the organisation on a pre-established maturity scale:
 
  • Level 1 “Initial”: poor levels of standardisation and documentation, the organisation essentially relies on the skills of individual key employees.
  • Level 2 “Basic”: each process is documented and updated at each iteration.
  • Level 3: “Intermediate”: standardised and centralised processes, feedback-based improvements made, long-term objective alignment.
  • Level 4 “Advanced”: Processes managed using ability and performance indicators.
  • Level 5 “Continuous improvement”: standardisation, centralisation, continuous improvement based on feedback and long-term objectives.
A surprising number of otherwise sophisticated companies are failing when it comes to monitoring their performance and standardising their processes. But for the vast majority of candidates for agile transformation, the difficulty lies in unequal levels of maturity. Skilled work, for example, will be performed to a high level but governance will be lacking. More generally, large companies share in these structural difficulties with rigid, siloed organisations and are resistant to change: but in spite of these cultural and organisational matters, the main principles of DevOps – namely, industrialising production, collective governance, integrating teams – can be adapted to any structure and much to their advantage.
 
To ensure that the level of maturity is indicative of the key factors for shifting to DevOps, three main points are taken in account:
 
  1. Organisation and culture;
  2. Measures, governance, methods;
  3. Practice and tools.
An organisation may therefore have a culture that is well-disposed towards DevOps without having the right tool capital. As such, the company’s strong points can be used to guide any suggested improvements.

2. Define the DevOps target in co-design

Once the diagnosis has been reached and shared with the agile transformation sponsor and the managers of concerned departments, it is now time to look towards the future. For the change to take place, teams must use their initiative. DevOps experts will perform their role as a guide in this second stage of transformation. They transmit the vision and the DevOps working principles, and mark out the pathway towards the collective development of a new organisation for each team.
 
Each organisation has to set its own objectives. The DevOps organisation relies on simple principles which must be adapted to specific contexts. To resolve internal conflicts and follow market expectations without sacrificing quality, the organisation must be (re)organised according to:
 
  • Product-oriented logic. This adopts a working method with small, manageable, multi-skilled teams, semi-autonomous and responsible for their own production. In practice, this usually takes place through the creation of specific job titles. As well as Product Owner and Scrum Master, resulting from agile methods, there is also Ops Master responsible for communicating with operations;
  • Agile practices, based on rigorous performance measurements and regular, product management meetings;
  • A dedicated management force to bring about cultural change. DevOps Squads are responsible for heading up the DevOps process within each product team;
  • Above all, co-design or participatory governance. DevOps complements horizontal management, which gives top priority to each team’s accountability and brings them together through common values. To evolve, large companies must abandon their top-down impulses and prioritise coaching teams under their guidance.
At company level, the DevOps vision is one that is driven and implemented by dedicated teams. Core Teams are made up of approximately 10 representatives from skilled and supporting teams. Guided by a DevOps coach, they rethink the company’s way of working. Strategic thinking is organised around co-design workshops, stimulating collective creativity thanks to gamification methods and close collaboration.
 
Still in a horizontal management mindset, Core Teams are afforded decision-making power. Their conclusions should be translated into concrete measures and with company-wide application.
 
Remember, results have to be measured! Reaching agile transformation targets must be checked concretely, using indicators chosen according to the objectives specific to each organisation. These are based on 5 levers for action and are the same across each production chain:
 
  • Security
  • Velocity
  • Productivity
  • Quality
  • Collaboration
The final objective is therefore to reach a co-designed collective and accountable management structure, whose mission can be facilitated through industrialising production.

3. Move towards full transformation

Once collective governance has been initiated, it is vital to get on with building the new organisation straight away. The co-design decisions taken must come with solid and visible results: this is crucial for adopting change at all levels within in the company.
 
DevOps experts design the DevOps transformation roadmap.  This is divided into:
 
  • 7 levers for action: management, training, coaching, tools, KPI, communication, and documentation management;
  • 4 phases: spread out over an average of 9 months and systematically opened up to a pilot roll-out.
This makes it possible to prove the viability of transformation and its advantages for teams, and is a great way of getting them to adopt change. It also makes it quicker to detect problems that will appear on a larger scale deployment.
 
  • Phase 1 – prepare pilot project launch. The Core Team members as well as the pilot manager are chosen and trained. They will collectively define (co-design), the performance indicators that the pilot will be assessed on. At the same time, the group becomes more aware of DevOps.
  • Phase 2 – pilot launch. This focusses on good organisation practices and includes the deployment of shared IT toolkit. A dedicated team is responsible for its governance, in particular measuring its performance from the first few weeks.
  • Phase 3 – Pilot evaluation. The objective is to examine its roll-out and to validate the recurring elements that will be used to for a large-scale deployment. The most relevant indicators will also feature in the balance scorecard, the DevOps transformation dashboard.
  • Phase 4 – Deployment. Specific practices, as well as new toolkits and indicators, will be included in the process depending on the context.
The transition is a delicate one. Despite useful pilots, many companies fail to make their whole company agile. To avoid evolution at surface-level only, DevOps project managers not only tackle the organisation but also the culture of large companies. All along the roadmap, the company initiates its change in the cultural paradigm. The evolution towards a coaching-inspired horizontal management style is a third key factor for success by DevOps experts and complements collective governance. To bring them both together, it is crucial that company management respects collective decisions and is involved in putting them into action.
 
Horizontal management is also one of the main factors in the resistance to change. It involves several middle managers, and senior managers are essentially calling into question their managerial skills, making them obsolete in the new organisation. These team members must benefit from close guidance, and be offered new perspectives for  professional fulfilment.
 

In the wake of agile methods, DevOps is opening up big business to collective management. It delivers quick results and fosters a continuous agile transformation; it is a matter of radical paradigmatic change. For this change to take place completely, it is crucial that teams benefit from expert and dedicated guidance; personalised DevOps that responds to their issues. These suggestions will lead employees to think about the solution collectively across four different areas: the DevOps vision; the organisation model and governance target; performance management through the establishment of KPIs; tool sharing and driving change.

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