CIO Guide – Leading Change in Enterprise IT with DevOps

Contrary to what a recent Wall Street Journal post suggests, I believe the CIO is needed more than ever. Increasingly, IT is at the heart of every business and with that the CIO becomes a key player – again. Traditionally, the CIO and his operations teams have been identified with phrases like “keeping the lights on” or “server hugging”. Or worse, they’ve been associated with preventing change and progress. Often enough, many CIOs have been turned into (handsomely paid) glorified managers. Those days are over. The CIO has been hired to lead and demonstrate the value of IT to the business—an objective that’s been forgotten by many over time.

So what are the key factors for a CIO to consider when leading a transformation from traditional IT to an agile, business driven IT organization? Let’s explore what I call the soft factors of DevOps in the enterprise. Rather than diving into the technology involved, I want to a look at DevOps from a change leadership perspective.

Enterprise IT at the Crossroads

Every CIO is critically aware that things have changed in business and IT, and change is continuing at the speed of photons. This is a prime opportunity for CIOs to be invited back to the table of the decision makers. Their opinions and guidance are needed to make the right decisions in support of the business. And it’s the CIO’s responsibility to lead any change that’s required of IT in order to support the continued success of the company.

Keeping the lights on and business as usual is no longer enough. Any notion along those lines will only marginalize IT, eventually making it irrelevant. Instead, look at the startup business, where you see a far more agility and flexibility in response to customers’ demands (internal as well as external) and changing market requirements.

“Despite what some people seem to think there is more to DevOps than just Continuous Delivery and Infrastructure Automation with Puppet, Chef or Ansible.

To me, DevOps is ‘an alternative model for the creation of business value from the software development life-cycle that encompasses a product-centric view across the entire product life-cycle (from inception to retirement) and recognises the value in close collaboration, experimentation and rapid feedback’”.

The reason for their success could be attributed to the existence of small teams comprised of developers, operations people, even business and marketing staff, who regularly collaborate on solutions. Communications within these teams is easy; in many cases they share the same office space. And there’s a strong sense of shared responsibility when things fail. Equally, any success is a shared success.

Contrast that to traditional enterprise IT where you find silos of teams, each of which is working on their individual aspects of a project, almost always lacking the required agility, especially in operations. Further, project hand-offs between teams (read: silos) are time consuming and communication is scarce. Driven by different objectives or agendas than their colleagues in operations have, many developers have adopted a more creative and flexible style of building solutions. They are used to a growing variety of tools and platforms. This, in turn, creates a lot of pressure on the operations side of IT to follow a similar agile approach, while still locked into the “old” toolset and mindset.

A very tangible, negative side effect of this situation is Shadow IT, where developers create their own ways to deploy and run their solutions, in order to maintain the required speed of change and flexibility, and to respond to ever growing demands. One example of this is cloud technologies with easy-deploy options and pay-as-you-go offers foster Shadow-IT, which frequently leads to the drifting apart of development and operations teams, leading to a Shadow-IT scenario.

CIOs have the responsibility to prevent this gap from widening and to bring together developers, operations and other stakeholders. It could be the first time in a company’s history, but the modern DevOps approach lived by startups and smaller companies can do the magic.

And herein lies the huge opportunity for the CIO. While there might already be pockets of DevOps happening within a company, transforming IT as a whole requires leadership. The CIO is in a prime position to lead this change for the company’s IT, and if he succeeds he’ll have saved his own bacon in the process. As with any change, it will hurt at times and many challenges, old and new, will (re-)appear along the way. Among the many challenges CIOs face, three main tasks emerge:

  • Keeping the lights on, supporting the current business and preventing the company from falling behind.
  • Helping the company become more agile and innovative than the competition, with little to no growth in resource or funding.
  • Leading the fundamental transformation of IT and operations, one step at a time.

DevOps is here to the Rescue

We are talking enterprise, so everything has to be top of mind for the CIO. If he’s not keeping the current IT running, job security is the least of his problems. Not addressing the necessary change required to stay competitive will get him fired fairly soon. With little to no options left, he will only succeed by leading a transformation of IT.

“Any IT leader worth his or her salt is going to be constantly thinking about whether they are staying relevant to the business. Operating according to the status quo doesn’t cut it any longer -- not with constantly nagging trends like instant access to cloud computing resources and user-friendly mobile apps designed for addressing business needs.” Enterprise Project

During the past 8-9 years, innovative CIOs have discovered and embraced the opportunity that DevOps provides for the business and for their careers. There are as many definitions for the term DevOps and as many interpretations as companies that embarked on the journey to transform their IT.

One thing for certain is that DevOps is not a product, nor is it a certain process. Rather, DevOps aims at achieving better results faster through close collaboration between all constituents involved in the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC). (For more details about my take on DevOps check out earlier posts on our blog here and here.)

DevOps is a unique opportunity for the CIO to do what he likes most in his job—leading. And while leading the DevOps change for a company’s IT can be the most challenging opportunity in a CIO’s career, it can also be the most rewarding.
Don’t tell anyone, but when done right, leading this transformational change will bear manageable risk, increased job satisfaction, and potential stardom (for some, at least).

DevOps like there is a Tomorrow

As with any change, the CIO must take careful steps to implement change. And because there is no one-size-fits-all approach, he needs to carefully pick his first target. Some selection criteria to consider include:

  • It does not ever negatively influence the overall performance of the IT organization
  • It has a high likelihood of succeeding
  • It has a high visibility within the organization, ideally the company as a whole

There is plenty of good reading material available about choosing the right products and how to develop good processes when implementing DevOps. But without looking at these more technological details of the implementation, how should a CIO lead the transformational change that DevOps will bring to people, processes, and products?

Leading the Change

When it comes to leading change in an organization, one of the books I’ve been most impressed with is Dr. John Kotter’s “Leading Change”. His book was published in 1996, so I’m sure that most of you have read it or at least heard about it. Even so, here is my interpretation, applied to a DevOps transformation:

  1. Create Awareness - In the first phase you make your case for DevOps. Show your people and your leadership why changing the status quo is required and why DevOps can be the right model. (Read more ...)
  2. Build the Foundation - Find and build the right team. No way will you be successful without careful evaluation of the skills you need on the team.
  3. Have a Vision - Your team and you need an aspiring vision. The vision should be easy, clear, very directional, and achievable.
  4. Communicate like never before - In DevOps there is no under-communication. Progress, failure, success, key findings, everything is important. Communication inside among the team members and across the organization.
  5. Empower your Team - Your team must to be allowed and enabled to define and decide about most if not all of the processes, the tools they prefer, the risk they are willing to take and more. You must empower them.
  6. Winning - Celebrate little successes within the team. Go broad in communicating a bigger break-through. Reward your team members appropriately.
  7. Tenaciously Stick to It - You may need a long breath. Things will change during the project. The team might change. Reinforce the vision again and again. And adjust.
  8. Evangelize - Take what your team and you learned and help others to turn it into a success for their projects to transform all of IT for the benefit of the business.

Over the following weeks let’s take a look at each of the 8 steps in more detail. In the meantime, please join the conversation and share your thoughts!

Have fun