The CEO of ‘Waterfall & Silo’ walks into the meeting room and asks his three internal advisors: How are we progressing with our enterprise transformation towards DevOps, business agility and simplification? 

The well-prepared advisors, who had read at least a book and a half about organisational transformation and also watched a considerable number of Youtube videos, confidently reply: We are nearly there. We only need to get one more team on board. We have the first CI/CD pipelines established, and the containers are already up and running.

Unfortunately the advisors overlooked some details.

Two weeks later, the CEO asks the same question, and this time the response is: We only need to get two more teams on board, agree on some common tooling, the delivery methodology and relaunch our community of practice.

A month later, an executive decision is made to go back to the previous processes, tooling and perceived ‘customer focus’.

Two years later, the business closes its doors whilst other competitors achieve record revenues.

What has gone wrong, and why does this happen so often?

To answer this question, let’s have a look… 

Why do you need to transform your business?

Without transforming your business, you will run the risk of falling behind because you are potentially: 

  1. Dealing with the drag of outdated processes and ways of working. Therefore your organisation cannot react swiftly to new business opportunities and changing market trends.
  2. Wasting a lot of time and money on Undifferentiated heavy lifting (UHL). These are tasks that don’t differentiate your business from others but can be easily done better, faster and cheaper by someone else, for example, providing cloud infrastructure. Every minute you spend on UHL distracts you from focusing on your customer.
  3. Not focusing enough on what your customers need. If you don’t have sufficient data insights or experiment with new customer features, you will probably mainly focus on your competition. That makes you a follower. Customer-focused organisations will figure out earlier what works for them and what doesn’t. They will take the lead. 

How do you get started?

The biggest enablers for your transformation are the people in your business. If they work together in a collaborative way, they can leverage synergies and coach each other. This will ultimately motivate them. Delivering customer value is like in a team sport: not the team with the best player wins, but the team with the best strategy and overall team performance.  

How do we get there?

Establishing top-performing DevOps teams

Moving towards cross-functional DevOps teams, also called squads, helps to reduce manual hand-offs and waiting times in your delivery. It is also a very scalable model that is used by many modern organisations that have a good customer experience at their forefront. This applies to a variety of industries, from financial services to retail and professional services. Squad members have different skills and work together towards a shared outcome. A top-performing squad that understands the business goals will not only figure out how to deliver effectively but also how to simplify the solution and reduce Undifferentiated Heavy Lifting. A mature DevOps team will always try out new ways to solve problems. The experimental aspect is crucial for continuous improvement, and it keeps the team excited. Regular feedback in the form of metrics and retrospectives will make it easier for the team to know that they are on the right track.

Understand your customer needs and value chain

There are different methodologies to identify customer needs. Amazon has the “working backwards from the customer” methodology to come up with new ideas, and Google has the “design sprint” methodology. Identifying your actual opportunities and understanding the landscape you are operating in are big challenges. It is easy to get lost in detail and head in the wrong direction. Getting the strategy right is only one aspect of the bigger picture. You also need to get the execution right, experiment with new approaches and establish strong feedback loops between execution and strategy. 

This brings us to the next point that describes how we link those two aspects.

A bidirectional governance approach

DevOps teams operate autonomously and figure out how to best work together within their scope. They do not necessarily know what capabilities are required across the business. Hence you will need a governing working group that has complete visibility of this. That way, you can leverage synergies organisation-wide and not just within a squad. It is important that this working group gets feedback from the individual squads who are closer to specific business domains. One size does not fit all, and for some edge cases, you might need different technologies or delivery approaches. A bidirectional feedback loop will make sure you can improve customer focus and execution across the business.

Key takeaways

Establishing a mature DevOps model is a journey, and it may take some time. Each organisation and industry deals with different challenges, and therefore the journey does not always look the same. It is important to continuously tweak the approach and measure progress to make sure the customer focus can improve.

But if you don’t start the DevOps journey, you could turn into another ‘Waterfall & Silo’.