March 3, 2015

3 Focus Areas for Leaders in DevOps Transformations

In today’s application economy, business is moving faster than it ever has before. To capitalize on ever-shortening windows of opportunity to address current market trends, the business is increasingly looking to IT to be the strategic asset that can deliver value to its customers faster than the competition. IT, in turn, is responding by investigating and implementing Agile methodologies and DevOps practices which allow for products and services to be delivered in shorter, iterative release cycles. Much of the discussion around the business benefits of adopting DevOps practices has focused on those elements of positive reinforcement, like increased collaboration among IT and the rest of the business, more efficient processes, and faster times to market, but in a recent article on VersionOne’s Agile Management Blog, Stacey Louie, CEO of Bratton & Company, a consultancy focused on Agile transformation, discusses an element of negative reinforcement that doesn’t receive as much attention – DevOps helps reduce the potential for the kind of mistakes which lead to negative headlines, lost revenue, and devaluation of the company’s market capitalization.

“A company system outage is comparable to cutting off blood flow to the brain. When the system is down, there’s no cash and the business starts to die. No matter the size or stature of a company, technology leaders constantly carry the fear that even the smallest system outage could seriously damage their work. While this fear is hidden deep inside the psyche, it’s a reality that all tech leaders learn to live with.”

There have been a rash of headlines in 2015 that drive this point home – a suspected configuration error that brought down the NYSE trading platform recently, another that grounded United Airlines’ flights across the country, etc. Besides the brand damage that comes from these headlines, these companies lost significant amounts of revenue during the period when their systems were down. According to Stephen Elliot, an analyst with IDC, “For the Fortune 1000, the average total cost of unplanned application downtime per year is $1.25 billion to $2.5 billion,” adding, “The average cost of a critical application failure per hour is $500,000 to $1 million.” And to add insult to injury, these types of events further damage the company through devaluation of the company’s stock as investors lose faith in the company’s ability to successfully execute operations. Louie provides an example of this phenomenon experienced by eBay due to a system outage in 1999. “That outage cost eBay $5 million of transaction revenue,” but “it was nothing compared to the $4 billion drop in the company’s market value as a result of the outage.”

Executives want inoculation against these types of events, and DevOps is a prescription that will fit that bill. But DevOps is hard to implement successfully. It’s technically challenging. It represents sweeping and sustained change to the IT organization in the way it thinks about the work it does. It requires the business to adjust the way it operates to coincide with IT’s new way of working. It requires time, focus and investment. According to Louie, successful implementation of DevOps “requires disruptive leadership,” and to help enable that success, she provides three areas executives should focus on during a transformation.

Executive involvement

DevOps isn’t an IT initiative, but rather a business transformation, and leaders, “including the CTO and the CEO, must work together to make DevOps a strategic priority.” This means that top-level executives must work to convince their business counterparts of the strategic value of DevOps to the business in order to garner their support and participation in making the transformation a success. Louie writes, “With the DevOps’ unification of the technology value stream, it becomes a unique strategic capability that enables faster innovation and faster time to market.”

Organizational design

To successfully implement DevOps requires an entire organization, not just IT, focused on value delivery, which is more than likely going to require some kind of organizational redesign. “Separate organizational silos split by domains may be tradition; however, they are no longer effective,” observes Louie. Conversely, “Many organizations, particularly those using Agile, are experiencing success by building cross-functional teams.” Cross-functional teams make IT a team-oriented sport, rather than the “us vs. them” mentality encouraged through departmental silos.

Synchronization between product planning and DevOps practices

Including more stakeholders, like architects and infosec, in the product planning process “results in a higher degree of coordination in the product development cycle.” “Aspects of security, scalability, reliability, are baked into the solution from the earliest stages of planning,” Louie argues, “Moreover, by tying together areas of release management practices at the beginning, the organization’s ability to coordinate product delivery matures faster.”

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