DevOps Q&A with Gene Kim

We’ve recently welcomed two new additions to our Advisory Board – with Nicole Forsgren and John Willis joining Gene Kim and Gary Gruver as Electric Cloud’s strategic advisors.

As we set to work with each of the advisors, we also took the opportunity to pick their brains about all-things-DevOps. We’re excited to share the tips and insights from these DevOps luminaries in the third installment of this short Q&A series – this time with Gene Kim! (you can read the previous Q&A posts with Nicole Forsgren and Gary Gruver.)

DevOps Q&A – with Gene Kim:

Gene Kim is a multiple award winning CTO, researcher and author. Gene was founder and CTO of Tripwire, he is the founder of IT Revolution and co-author of three books, including “The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win”, “The Visible Ops Handbook” and “The DevOps Handbook”. Gene has been studying high performing technology organizations since 1999. He is a huge fan of IT operations, and how it can enable developers to maximize throughput of features from “code complete” to “in production,” without causing chaos and disruption to the IT environment. He has worked with some of the top Internet companies on improving deployment flow and increasing the rigor around IT operational processes. Electric Cloud partnered with Gene and IT Revolution to found the DevOps Enterprise Summit – which has become the premier industry event since its launch. Gene has also been part of the team behind Puppet State of DevOps Report for four years, along with Jez Humble and Dr. Nicole Forsgren.


Q:In your experience, what is the biggest challenge for adopting and scaling DevOps in the enterprise?

Going into the fourth year of the DevOps Enterprise Summit, one characteristic that seems to consistently emerge is finding an appropriate scope for transformation. If the scope is too small and doesn’t solve big enough business issues, the initiative will get dismissed as merely a hobby project. If the span of transformation is too large, however, the transition can jeopardize organizational performance, and quickly (and maybe rightly) be killed by the organizational immune system.

The sweet spot is somewhere in between— where DevOps is introduced to solve a very specific business problem with clear, anticipated benefits, like shorter lead times or increased reliability, where the value is quickly recognized as creating genuine organizational value.

Q:What are the top 3 things we MUST have when setting off on a DevOps journey in the enterprise?

  1. Courage. I see this over and over in our experience report presentations across all industry verticals at DevOps Enterprise Summit. The leaders have some degree of upper-management support, but they’ve all at some point in their journey exceed the air cover they were given, sometimes putting their careers and livelihoods in jeopardy. However, this courage is rewarded — more than one quarter of previous conference presenters have been promoted, many more than once. Often, because of organizational value they’ve created, they’re being asked to move beyond their own business unit and scale their DevOps transformations throughout the entire organization.
  2. High Trust. Culture is so important to a successful DevOps transformation, that it ranks as one of the top three predictors of DevOps performance, throughout several years of published findings in the State of DevOps Report. Collaborative and information-sharing cultures are always going to succeed over power- or rule-oriented cultures.
    The most successful DevOps organizations exist in cultures of high trust, and those cultural norms set the tone required to enable knowledge sharing and blamelessness among teams.
  3. Leadership. The prominent role of leadership in DevOps transformations is one of the themes from DevOps Enterprise Summit, especially from middle management. I highly recommend Mark Schwartz’s upcoming book “A Seat at the Table,” which includes contemporary management ideas for IT organizations within enterprises. CIOs play a key role in removing obstacles and setting up DevOps teams for success. Also, I have been so fascinated by the research findings on transformational leadership in this year’s State of DevOps Report.

Q:What roles and IT skills in the organization most drive DevOps transformation?

The common narrative is that DevOps is often being led by rogue Dev managers, frustrated of how long it takes to get what they need from their Operations groups. The evidence from DevOps Enterprise Summit speakers shows a different narrative, as measured by the frequency of the speaker roles. The top title is Director of Operations, followed by Chief Architect, followed by Director of Development.

Q:What is the most revealing DevOps stat you’ve heard recently, and why?

During my research on the 2017 State of DevOps report, we discovered that the characteristics of transformational leadership — vision, inspirational communication, intellectual stimulation, supportive leadership, and personal recognition — are highly correlated with IT performance. A good leader affects a team’s ability to deliver code, architect good systems, and apply lean principles to how the team manages its work and develops products. All these things then have a measurable impact on an organization’s profitability, productivity, and market share. This was one of the most fascinating findings for me personally. High-performing teams reported having leaders with the strongest behaviors across all dimensions: vision, inspirational communication, intellectual stimulation, supportive leadership, and personal recognition. In contrast, low-performing teams reported the lowest levels of these leadership characteristics. The differences we found were all at statistically significant levels.


More from Gene Kim:

Diving Deeper into DevOps Deployments

Gene Kim recently joined Electric Cloud’s CTO, Anders Wallgren, to share tips for overcoming the challenges of DevOps and CD at scale, and how automated deployments tie to DevOps success.

Gene and Anders discuss how to eliminate “deployment anxiety” and increase business agility, lessons learned from large scale DevOps transformations, and more.

Watch the Webinar »

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Electric Cloud is the leader in DevOps Release Automation and Continuous Delivery. We help organizations like E*TRADE, Gap, HPE, Intel and Lockheed Martin deliver better software faster by orchestrating, automating, and accelerating application releases.
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