Removing the Friction of Silos to Smooth Out the DevOps Journey

Bob Davis, CMO at Plutora, argues that DevOps doesn't equal automation, why firms need to break free from traditional thinking, and more.

The State of DevOps Report from Puppet is the longest-running and most widely referenced DevOps research in our industry, having collected responses from over 40,000 technology professionals worldwide over the past ten years.

The latest 2021 Report, marking a decade of the research, “invited an illustrious group of DevOps experts to respond to the data and provide recommendations for companies seeking to evolve their DevOps practices”. And the findings proved very interesting.

Organisations that responded to the survey were split into three groups – high, mid, and low performance. Each of these categories represents a significant difference in the organisations’ software delivery and the value it provides. The 2021 research found that 4% of respondents identified as low performers, 78% as mid, and 18% as high. This balance hasn’t changed much for the past four years of research, which leads us to ask – why? Why are so many businesses stuck as mid performers?

The biggest reason for this stagnation is likely because many organisations have – understandably, but incorrectly – assumed that DevOps equals automation. While the concepts are similar, it’s inaccurate to suggest they are one and the same. This misconception can cause handoffs between teams to become inefficient, as individual teams lack the visibility they require into the full process, making it difficult to see where something has gone wrong. The 2021 State of DevOps Report findings reflect the lack of progression that this has caused.

Breaking Free from Traditional Thinking

To understand this in more detail, we need to consider the characteristics of the mid performers. The majority of organisations in this group work towards automation with a mindset of ‘tools first’. This typically produces one of three outcomes:

  1. They automate activities and processes based on their legacy operations
  2. They automate a style of test that isn’t sustainable
  3. They implement a compliance process that isn’t sustainable

Otherwise, the alternative is they don’t do anything, and end up hitting against a wall when they have fast deployments but inevitably get held back by the change advisory board approval process.

What makes this approach even trickier is that often there are so many different silos that you can get caught up in. It’s not unusual for the release team and the dev team to clash, for example. Patrick Debois, who originally coined the term “DevOps,” later refined his definition of the word: “It’s whatever you do to bridge friction created by silos, and all the rest is engineering.” This “friction” from the silos simply adds to the performance-limiting mindset of the mid performers group.

Lessons to Take from a Value Stream Management Approach

As organisations worldwide have attempted to free themselves from where they’ve become stuck on their DevOps journeys – ideally by reducing the friction that Debois refers to – some of the more successful ones have benefited from considering the Value Stream Management (VSM) Implementation Roadmap.

Let’s provide some context before we dive into what this roadmap can teach organisations. VSM, according to Forrester, is defined as “a combination of people, process and technology that maps, optimises, visualises, measures, and governs business value flow through heterogeneous software delivery pipelines from idea through development and into production.”

Part of what VSM delivers is the ability to remove operational silos and in their place, build effective connections between crucial processes, teams, and tools to ultimately produce better software. The VSM Consortium’s State of Value Stream Management 2021 Report reveals how VSM implementation is now more commonly found amongst higher performing organisations – and therefore the roadmap to get there is a useful resource in determining how to get your organisation out of the mid performance group.

The VSM Implementation Roadmap (found on page six of the report) “illustrates the steps for adopting VSM to actively manage digital value streams with the ultimate goal of improving organisational performance”. One of the key stages outlined here is ‘Inspection’. It’s important to identify any inefficiencies in the existing processes so that teams can make changes to their automated workflows and then integrate them into their orchestration tools. This enables teams to remove friction from the process because by following this approach, every team is organised by how customers see value. In doing so, organisations progress from standing still in the mid performers group, to delivering increased benefits and having the metrics data to prove it.

Regardless of whether you belong to the leadership team or one of the specialised product teams, the Consortium’s roadmap enables everyone to work together to optimise the development process, and thereby bring the organisation as a whole closer to its customers and meeting their needs. As Puppet’s 2021 State of DevOps Report reinforces, many teams that are achieving success through DevOps wouldn’t even think of themselves as doing DevOps – it has simply become how they work now. And that’s the level that we in the industry aspire for all organisations to reach.

By Bob Davis, CMO at Plutora.

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