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The Trading Mesh

Roundtable Report - Reaping the benefits of DevOps: Elements of success

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 02:19:00 GMT           

On 12th October 2017, The Realization Group, together with change management consultancy Certeco, hosted a round table to explore the ways that companies can take advantage of a DevOps approach to development.

There are increasing numbers of firms that have recognised the value of DevOps and been able to show large gains in productivity and operational quality as a result, gains that have made a direct impact on the bottom line. Yet there are still many more that may have heard about this development method and even been intrigued by it, but have been daunted by the prospect of engineering large-scale organisational changes. Colin Slight of The Realization Group facilitated a discussion featuring Jane Such, Head of Assurance at Certeco, Steve Marshall, Change Delivery Manager at Nomura International, Helen Beal, whose title is DevOpsologist at Ranger4 Limited, Bob Appleyard of SunGard Availability Services, and Martin Moore, Business Integration Gateway Platform Owner at Royal Mail Group. Together they identified some of the essential elements that make for a successful start down the DevOps path. A focus on creating the right environments, a readiness to break down silos, an understanding of the importance of including the business and a degree of patience are all part of the mix. But the most important ingredient: leadership.

Top down and bottom up
While different firms will approach DevOps in different ways, the essence of the method involves having the right people in the room at the same time so that efficient and effective collaboration can take place. Getting to that point, however, requires much more than instructing teams to do things differently. Jane Such of Certeco sees a big distinction between a command-and-control style of running a company and the kind of leadership that can allow DevOps to work.

“I think the leadership is the key here,” she says. “Finding that buy-in for that leadership and having the right leaders, they’re the ones who are going to succeed.”

For instance, one round table participant spoke of how there were pockets within his firm where DevOps methods were starting to be used. Such a bottom-up approach has found favour in numerous firms because it has the benefit of allowing companies to start small. At the same time, it has limitations. “It’s almost like, a team’s been given some sort of permission to do something, but they can only go so far,” Such says.

Small teams can demonstrate the value of DevOps and that can lead to buy-in from senior management. But Such says that culture is such a thorny issue that a firm will only ever have pockets of DevOps if leaders don’t seek to change the corporate mindset.

In other words, there needs to be a degree of top down leadership to go with the bottom up pocket-sized approach. Once that starts to take place, DevOps can generate value beyond individual projects and show the kinds of improvements that DevOps devotees have reported.

Bringing in the business
Steve Marshall of Nomura emphasises the need to involve the business within any DevOps-based work.

“When you’re going to build a goal or a vision, who do you bring into the room? You need to bring the business, development and operations,” he says.

Bringing in the business becomes all the more important if a project involves building an architecture, Marshall adds. Companies cannot build architectures without understanding how they will run through life, and to understand that requires insight from operations. All of the integrated code, environments and configurations that come together need development and operations to sit together, working out how they will take it into production and ultimately running it.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the key to getting all of that creativity to occur is to introduce a high degree of structure and order. “You’ve got to put a very tight framework in place to allow people flexibility. So you don’t just have any software development, anything happening anywhere. But in creating that stability, you actually create something, a place for people to be creative,” Marshall says.

Changing behaviour
Another challenge comes from moving beyond the traditional way that companies have undertaken large projects.

“Everyone is very used to thinking about these huge programmes,” says Martin Moore of Royal Mail Group. Such programmes tend may involve spending extended periods of time gathering requirements before the project gets off the ground. Then there may be another 18 months or longer of development, and all the while management will be expecting guaranteed outcomes with 100 percent of the requirements being met.

“Changing that into more incremental delivery with some unknown requirements and trying a few things is a hell of a challenge,” Moore says.

What is needed, says Such of Certeco, is patience. “One of the painful things about that is that it does take years,” she says. For many companies, business plans demand more immediate returns on investment. Taking a longer-term strategic view where the payoff may be later but will ultimately be much bigger is not something that every executive has been willing to do.

Moore believes Royal Mail Group is on the right track. He has been introducing DevOps and agile working methods to one of the group’s six main platforms. The company has begun automating testing and doing automated builds. Wherever it can, his team is applying DevOps methodologies for solutions.

Not all that new
Change management experts will readily acknowledge that in many ways, DevOps is not really new. While the term was coined relatively recently, the underlying concepts have been used by some firms for decades, only now there are new tools and perhaps a better understanding of organisational dynamics. As a result, for Such the success of DevOps comes down to learning from the past as much as changing for the future.

“We still seem to, in our industry, make the same mistakes today that we were making 30 years ago. And what is it about us that we can’t continue to improve, and get better and better?” Such says. “For the first time, it seems that we can."

Read the accompanying Financial Markets Insights document - The DevOps Journey: Winning the battle of hearts and minds

This article was first published by Certeco (a client of The Realization Group) - Reaping the benefits of DevOps: Elements of success