From DevOps Big Things Grow: Why starting small with DevOps can be best

Tim de Boer
Posted by
Tim de Boer
June 30, 2020

Over the years I've been part of several DevOps transformations. Some with good planning, and some a little more adhoc. All successful endeavours however, were powered by the ability of DevOps to grow like a living organism into the business.

Starting small and providing the right support not only works well but I’ve found over the years it’s often the best way to work. Whilst top end planning and thinking can certainly help it can also often:

  • Be overwhelming and lead to paralysis.
  • Lead to tensions and resistance due to the magnitude of change these plans surface.
  • Done incorrectly (and it often is) - actively work against the grassroots support that complex endeavours such as DevOps demand [1].

Better, I’ve found, is to plant DevOps seeds, then nurture and monitor them over time and note how organisations often willingly absorb these into their existing processes to create digital brilliance.

So why does this work? Why does a properly supported DevOps effort behave like this? I believe there are several factors at play:

  • The very nature of DevOps – small iterations with strong feedback loops – follows the rules of evolutionary systems. These systems are what have been termed “anti-fragile” – the more you hit them the stronger they grow. Aka the rise of intelligence. There’s a good discussion of this principle here[2]. With the right support, DevOps is a stubborn mule that refuses to lay down and constantly demands growth.
  • That same evolutionary quality of feedback-driven-growth ensures DevOps ultimately aligns with the organisation. This of course benefits from a clear organisational vision and strategy but that’s not just a DevOps need. And sometimes, even if you feel that grander vision could be clearer, there are often “micro visions” throughout the organisation that will get you quite a way there. However you paint the picture, the ability for DevOps to steer toward vision driven feedback is quite remarkable.
  • DevOps' insatiable need for rapid iteration and feedback quickly exposes issues in the value stream’s surrounding processes. If you’re part of the value stream and in the way of the next level of rapid feedback then stand by for some change. Fortunately, the areas in the way are then provided a vehicle on which to converge (see my next point). Like the Borg. One silo at a time. You will be assimilated. Ideally this is mapped out ahead of time, but I’ve seen the “just in time” approach work too (though it can admittedly result in a few frustrated CIO’s when not communicated correctly!).
  • The pipeline’s ability to galvanise and breed collaboration: for many years, technology delivery has consisted of a disparate set of Dev, Op, Biz, Sec and all the other 3 letter acronym artifacts and processes tucked away in silos with little understanding of how they come together. Pipelines bring these out into the open and provide a tangible guide on which gaps are exposed and which activities must now converge. Those gaps galvanise and that convergence breeds collaboration.
  • Finally – and this is the part I most like – the ability of DevOps to empower both the consumers and producers of technology creates a trust and energy that acts as a powerhouse for change and transitional leadership at the grassroots level. In my very first encounter with DevOps over ten years ago, I remember the CEO spending some time with us once during a sprint planning session. This was not long after the DevOps magic of virtually instant delivery on our million-line trading system had dawned on all of us. “I don’t quite get what this is all about yet Tim. But I’m loving the energy.” This was all before the first continuous delivery book was written so I was finding it tough to explain to him. But that energy alone was enough to keep him on the hook for the duration.
Plant the DevOps seed…

In a time where shuttered retail shops on our city walk to work remind us to embrace digital or die - it’s important you not let DevOps become a problem too big or scary to solve. For many the option to start small, support and grow is not only viable but preferable.

Our new Azure DevOps service and fixed price Kickstart Program are designed to help you take those first steps.

Check out our service page to read more or book a free one hour consult to discuss what DevOps seeds you might plant.


[1] For a great explanation of the importance of grassroots and danger of command and control in complex endeavours read Turn the ship around by David Marquet


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