Seven DevOps Tips for Managers in ‘Donkey’ IT Organizations

There are three types of IT organizations, according to Michael Coté, director, technical marketing, Pivotal Software. Unicorns are the rare few that fly and perform magic. Then there are the horses, who have a lot of resources and will power to make things happen. But the majority of IT organizations are donkeys. Donkeys are charged with doing more with less and are genuinely “hard working beasts of burden,” Coté says.

Chances are good your organization falls into this last category and, as such, has struggled with DevOps. In his presentation The Land of the Living Donkeys, Coté offers seven DevOps tips for managers:

DevOps Tip #1: Make continuous delivery your goal.

“Think of DevOps and continuous delivery as the same thing,” says Coté. “Now obviously they aren’t the same thing, but they basically go together hand-in-hand. If you’re doing DevOps and you’re not doing continuous delivery, it seems like a lot of work for not a lot of benefit, and if you’re doing continuous delivery it’s really not going to work unless you’re doing DevOps stuff as well.”

Coté explains that a feedback loop is built into the continuous delivery pipeline. It’s important to use that feedback loop because that’s what’s going to allow you to improve your software.

DevOps Tip #2: Don’t believe the myth of the talent shortage.

“You have all the people you need in your organization to accomplish what you want,” Coté says. You simply have to give them the context and training they need to be successful.

“People are actually pretty pliable, plastic things if you just know what to do with them. They’re not unruly like software,” Coté says.

DevOps Tip #3: Plan your platform.

Oftentimes organizations end up with what Coté calls an “accidental platform.” They don’t plan out their platform ahead of time so they end up “building a huge stack of stuff.”

“At the end of the day,” he says, “it’s still software. You still need to run it somewhere, manage its configuration, monitor it, integrate it, etc.”

Coté advises organizations to be aware of what they have, determine their requirements and start thinking about what platform they want to have in one place. “Don’t be myopic and focus on one piece. Make sure you have all the bases covered because that’s the way you’ll deliver better software,” he said.

DevOps Tip #4: Managers: You are the dungeon master.

According to Coté, management’s job changes in the context of DevOps. Like the dungeon master in Dungeons and Dragons, management creates the game.

“Management’s role is a dungeon master. They’re creating the game and the constraints and guiding people along. But they also need the players or the employees who have the skills and who are going on the adventure or mission and acting it out. It’s the combination of those two folks working together that makes an enjoyable game,” Coté says. “And similarly, when you’re trying to be innovative and come up with new software and inject software into your company, you need management to provide that structure for you.”

However, management should be engaged on a tactical level because the team won’t have the visibility to do all of the problem solving. “Management has to step in and start leading change management and getting their hands dirty with the actual work and help out instead of just figuring that the team will handle it,” Coté says.

DevOps Tip #5: Actively manage your portfolio.

Management also has to begin managing the organization’s portfolio of applications and services. Most companies have legacy IT, which consumes a lot of time and effort to maintain. “If you don’t have a way to manage the portfolio, you probably won’t have the capacity to do the new and innovative stuff,” Coté says.

DevOps Tip #6: Start small.

Don’t start with a gigantic project. Instead, start with as small a project as possible. Chances are you have no idea what you’re doing. You’ll need to fail at it so you can learn, and small failures are easier to dust under the rug, Coté explains. In fact, he says, “Start thinking about failing and learning as the same thing.”

DevOps Tip #7: Map your organization according to business value.

If you want to be an organization that’s defined by the software it delivers, then the organization should be structured as a funnel, Coté says.

The resources at the top of the funnel should have the most business value. They are business capabilities, the things that are being used and that generate the most money. This is also where you’ll find the DevOps team.

Underneath that you have your (accidental or purposeful) platform and the people who manage it. These folks are sometimes given the title Site Reliability Engineer. They’re responsible for keeping things up and running. However, the platform should take care of much of the work so that people aren’t stuck in meetings to plan out and provision services.

Finally, at the bottom of the funnel, you have the people who are responsible for managing the data center, the hardware, etc.

Do you have any additional DevOps tips? Let us know. Share your thoughts below.