Kanban boards can improve visibility of work in process as well as create awareness across your team.
Kanban boards and small multidisciplinary teams. Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

The DevOps Mindset Will Revolutionize Your Entire Business

Defeat your competition and inspire your team with a cultural change. DevOps culture allows companies to:

  • be more collaborative
  • gain footing in the marketplace
  • allow businesses to change faster and accelerate growth

Over the past three years I have been moving my teams at MePush to a DevOps culture, which has fostered increased engagement and brought around huge growth in revenue as well as team and individual accomplishments. After reading Gene Kim’s book, The Phoenix Project, and Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s book, The Goal, DevOps seemed like the obvious change needed at MePush. We needed to get out of “fly by the seat of our pants” IT and manage it tightly, and we needed to develop our people, processes, and tools to be able to get better.

An interesting thing happened as the cultural wave rippled through our teams: it became more of a business effort than an IT effort. We found that DevOps principles started to revolutionize our entire business. From sales to billing and from support to leadership, all of our company began to understand the ideas about the flow of work, feedback, and continuous improvement. Our entire business started improving. Once that momentum of change started, we became an unstoppable little company.

Call your version whatever you want: BizOps, SalesOps, *Ops. You can brand it however makes sense for your company, but DevOps principles are what you will want to claim for yourself.

What is DevOps?

If you are in the software development or tech community, you have probably heard of the DevOps movement: the joining of software development and IT operations into a lean and nimble practice that allows companies to bring products, features, and fixes to production very quickly. DevOps uses a lot of principles from other management practices and industries, including:

  • Lean management
  • Theory of constraints (TOC) (Goldratt, 1984)
  • Toyota Production System (TPS)/”just-in-time production” (developed by Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno between 1948 and 1975)
  • W. Edwards Deming’s work on Total Quality Management (TQM) and systems management
  • Agile software development
  • Reliability engineering and safety engineering

There is a lot to learn to understand DevOps concepts, but it is important to discuss how and why DevOps philosophy and culture should be applied to your business.

What can DevOps culture do for my company?

DevOps culture is a growth culture. It is crucial for your IT and development teams to grasp onto DevOps, but it is equally important for DevOps culture to permeate every team and process in your company. By removing barriers between departments, DevOps culture allows your company to be aggressive about bringing products to market, making changes, and improving processes.

DevOps culture throughout your entire business means that you can outperform and outmaneuver your competition. It means that you can go to market in a just-in-time approach rather than scrambling behind more agile businesses.

The 6 things you need to revolutionize your company

1. Empowered and engaged employees

2. Small, multidisciplinary teams

3. Work that is performed in small batches

4. Work that is visible to all

5. Fast feedback loops

6. Continued experimentation, learning, and improvement

How do I bring DevOps culture through my company?

It starts with people who get excited by the DevOps culture, concepts, and philosophies. Those people are your visionaries and early adopters. These people will become the zealots in your company and will help drive the movement through the ranks. Upper executives NEED to get excited about DevOps or your company will be fighting an uphill battle. You get bonus points if you can get a thermostat (someone who sets the ‘temperature’ of the team, regulates, and corrects them) in each of your departments to become a zealot, as those people will be your biggest agents of change. Thermostats are influential leaders and people listen to them, even if they are not in a senior leadership role.

At MePush, we made The Phoenix Project and The Goal required reading for all leaders and suggested reading for the rest of the company. We revised our vision, mission, and values statements around not only who we are and who we want to become, but around these philosophies which we have adopted. All our strategic goals were then written through the lens of our vision, mission, and values. This kept the DevOps philosophies close at hand as we sculpted what our future would look like.

Empowered and engaged employees

Survey your staff and ask them whether they have the ability and power to make decisions that improve customer experience, resolve problems, and improve the bottom line. In many companies, employees feel like they are just a cog in the works with no ability to contribute in a meaningful way. If an supporting employee was faced with a client issue that could cost a multi-million dollar contract, would they look the other way, knowing that they have no idea how to fix the problem, or would they take action and corrective measures, owning the problem? If they made a decision and acted on it, would they face disciplinary actions from the layers of management above them?

Related: Do your employees know what is important to the business? Do they understand the vision, mission, and values of the company? Do they know the company’s goals and how those relate to their own goals and tasks? If they don’t, this is your starting point!

Small multidisciplinary teams

Small, interdisciplinary teams allow you to be agile and improve faster than the competition.
Mix departments to build new teams. Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Small, multidisciplinary teams are formed to eliminate barriers to productivity. Is there a good reason why sales, procurement, project management, and billing cannot be a 4-person strike force in your business? In bigger companies, several of these 4-person strike forces could focus on certain projects, products, or sales regions. There is little reason to have big corporate barriers between huge departments anymore. Billing people can still be under a corporate hierarchy that labels them as the billing department while they actually work and live in a small, interdisciplinary team.

Another team might be a salesperson, a marketing specialist, a product manager, a content creator, and a graphics designer. This would enable feedback from the salesperson to go directly to the product manager and marketing team so that changes can be made on the fly. The salesperson receives feedback from clients that a product needs some component. The salesperson discusses it immediately with his/her teammates. The product manager changes the product and the marketing team changes the marketing materials and web content. Depending on the just-in-time capabilities of the product engineering team, the company can have improvements in the market in hours or days.

Batch size matters: Keep work in progress from piling up

Work is performed in small batches, as close to single piece flow as possible in order to keep work in progress down. Picture an assembly line. Regardless what industry you are in (accounting, sales, etc), you want to make your work resemble an assembly line.

Have you ever been so busy that you get nothing done at all? That’s exactly what we are talking about. This picture is from The Phoenix Project, Chapter 23 (Kim, 2013)

What does this mean for your company? It means that you need to stop multitasking. Keep work in process down. As WIP amounts increase, due date/deadline performance decreases. This means that when people have too much on their plates, they struggle to complete tasks quickly. Keeping batch sizes and WIP down can be integrated with making work visible. This means that someone or some signal will need to control the flow of work into the system.

Keeping work visible

Kanban boards are a common tool to improve visibility.
Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Work is visible to all to eliminate conflicts between teams and create transparency between teams. This is analogous to the first way in The Phoenix Project, a book written to describe the DevOps revolution (Kim, 2013). All work done should be visible, and work should only flow in one direction through the system, minimizing rework and improving quality. Some companies perform value stream mapping and then build queues to track jobs through business processes. Some companies use Kanban boards to visualize the flow of work through processes until they are done.

At MePush, we have adopted two principles to keep work visible. First, all work we do, whether an administrative task, internal project, training, sales activity, or billing activity, goes into our ticketing system along with our support tickets. This allows us to track time on tasks, figure out takt time (time between process start times; this is process time plus any task-switching time), and most of all: see what people are doing. A glance at the calendar shows who is utilized on what things. Second, each team uses Kanban boards to gain visibility on projects and tasks.

Building fast feedback loops

Feedback from employees and customers is the fuel for improvement. Fast feedback loops also tie directly to the second way in The Phoenix Project (Kim, 2013). There needs to be immediate feedback when a change is made. If a customer does not like a feature or finds a problem, is there a way to get that fixed immediately? If a salesperson learns that the widget is now obsolete, is there a fast feedback solution through marketing and production to change that product immediately without waiting months?

For instance, marketing already uses Google Analytics, and is hopefully doing A/B testing and marketing experiments in real time with your market using email campaigns, phone calls, and your website. Marketing needs to have immediate analytics on products and desired features, and those analytics should feed the rest of the business. Manufacturing operations, developers, and product managers need to be able to plan design, resource allocation, and scheduling based on actual analytics from marketing. When a developer changes a piece of code affecting the website or the product that is sold, does marketing have immediate insight on the effects of those changes? Is telemetry available to everyone?

Building a learning organization

Many of you remember an article from the Harvard Business Review called Building a Learning Organization which calls a learning organization an “organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” (Garvin, 1993). This was not an original thought, as Peter Senge and others worked on it earlier. Peter Senge said a learning organization is “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”

Training and learning should be continuous. Companies are encouraged to provide unlimited training and certification.
Training and learning. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Companies that experiment, fail fast, and learn from their mistakes are able to develop better products and solutions, better marketing, better organizations, and win in the marketplace. Continued experimentation, learning, and improvement are the third way in The Phoenix Project (Kim, 2013). Many companies already have a continuous improvement process in their manufacturing team. It is time to implement that methodology to the rest of the organization: from the IT team to finance and customer service.

Learning and experimentation should be individual as well as embraced by the organization. Corporate-funded experiments, conferences, and training is not wasted money. Offering unlimited training and certification is a good method. After all: if your people are willing to put in the time to learn, why not pay for it? It only helps the organization.

At MePush, we pay for training materials and unlimited certification tests for all of our employees. Then, we incentivize by giving raises based on learning and certification done. If a project manager takes an EdX class in project management, he gets a raise. If a tech passes the Cisco CCNA, Azure, or Microsoft 365 series of certifications, that tech gets a raise. We found that individual learning and continuing education, for us, is the biggest way to move our organization forward.

DevOps wins by making the business win

Through creating organizations of empowered and engaged employees in small, multidisciplinary teams with visible/transparent work that is performed in small batches, with fast feedback loops and an environment that encourages continued experimentation, learning, and improvement, you create a quickly evolving corporate culture that is designed to be extremely agile and productive. Now that you have the people and culture, you need to steer the ship and make sure that the organization has a clear set of goals and strategy that is clearly communicated to the entire company.

If you do not communicate the high-level business goals of the company to your teams, they will quickly reinvent the wheel and start marching by a set of values that they create on their own. This may be beneficial, depending on your organization. These high performing teams might create a new vision, mission, values, and goals for the company on their own, and they may be better than the original. That sounds like a great experiment that would make an incredible company! Stay involved through this revolution and let the organizational organism succeed without getting in the way too much.

References:

Garvin, David. (1993). Building a Learning Organization. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/1993/07/building-a-learning-organization

Goldratt, Eliyahu M. (1984). The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. Great Barrington, MA: North River Press.

Kim, Behr, Spafford. (2013). The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win (1st. ed.). IT Revolution Press.

Smith, M. K. (2001) ‘Peter Senge and the learning organization’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. Retrieved from https://infed.org/mobi/peter-senge-and-the-learning-organization/

Art Ocain is the President & Chief Operating Officer at MePush, Inc. a managed service provider that serves IT architecture, operations, and cybersecurity needs across all verticals. Art has been in IT for over 20 years and has been a tech in the trenches as well as a manager in web hosting, internet service providers, enterprise IT, as well as services for the SMB market. You can read more on his LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/artocain/

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Art Ocain

Art Ocain

Art is the President & COO at a managed service provider called MePush. He is experienced at leading IT operations, cybersecurity, and architecture teams.