WinOps 2018: A look at the DevOps journey of BAE Systems

Raj Fowler talking at WinOps 2018

WinOps saw a range of organisations reflect on their digital transformation journeys, and BAE Systems happened to be one of them.

Since implementing DevOps, it’s realised a 35 per cent improvement in service performance, a 300 per cent increase in deployment frequency, higher customer satisfaction, and greater employee morale.

Before joining DevOpsGroup as Principal DevOps Consultant, Raj Fowler worked at the aerospace giant and led its DevOps journey. Raj delivered the second keynote speech at the conference, reflecting on the steps he and his team took to modernise the century-old organisation.

An immersive experience

In a conference hall packed with over a hundred technologists, Raj managed to make his talk an interactive experience. He began by playing a simple question game, with people having to stand up if the answer was yes and sit down if it was no. First, he asked if people worked in an Agile and DevOps environment, and most of the audience ended standing up.

The next question was whether people worked in, or with, product teams and released multiple deployments per week. Suddenly, there were less people standing up. Raj’s penultimate question was if anyone had released multiple deployments per day, although only two people remained. Everyone clapped and commended them, but you were left with the sense that this is something you should be striving to achieve.

The main observation was that very few people were not working in an Agile environment, and the DevOps movement and its associated benefits were wide across the audience. DevOps is more mainstream than we think.

A new revolution

To illustrate the vast size of BAE Systems, Raj provided delegates with some interesting stats. Globally, BAE Systems has over 90,000 employees – with 40,000 of them working in the UK. And it’s famed for building military marvels such as the Typhoon and F-35 fighter jets, Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, and Astute submarines.

However, the firm has witnessed great changes in recent years. Raj’s belief is that we’re entering a new industrial revolution, underpinned by digital technology. BAE Systems may be an established business with a 100-year-old legacy, but it’s had to change with the times. Its military equipment is enabled by technology and based on the same engineering approaches as software, according to Raj. “We’re In the age of software and digital. The Amazons and Facebooks of the world are changing the way we live and work,” he said.

Today, IT performance is synonymous with business performance. To succeed, businesses must be investing in technological capabilities supported by culture and collaboration. Raj made clear: “IT is not just IT anymore – it’s a core part of the business and a value centre.”

Achieving DevOps success

Before transitioning to DevOps, stability and change were a trade-off for BAE Systems and its IT teams. After reading The Phoenix Project (written by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford), Raj decided that things had to change, and so he helped to start a digital transformation journey.

He admitted that this isn’t easy, though. At the beginning, you’ll experience feelings of denial, blame, and uncertainty. But you can overcome these things by getting the right help and education, leveraging the support of mentors, and being patient throughout the journey. He made it clear that anyone can succeed here – it’s just a matter of getting started.

When it comes to kicking off a DevOps journey, Raj said organisations need to give teams the time to adapt to change and understand what’s required of them. This is where leadership is paramount: staff require alignment and empowerment to become effective change makers.

Want to find more great books like The Phoenix Project? Check out our reading list.

To develop leadership skills for the digital age, Jim Collins’ Level 5 leadership characteristics and DORA’s five transformational leadership characteristics (vision, intellectual stimulation, inspirational communication, supportive leadership, and personal recognition) are a good starting point. Leaders must also protect knowledge sharers through psychological safety.

Echoing similar points made in ASOS’ keynote, Raj spoke about the importance of product versus project ways of working. Organisations succeeding in the digital age are led by product teams and bring the work to them. People should come first, and they need the right tools to do the best possible job.

Other great tips from Raj included understanding each pillar of the CALMS model, implementing the Agile Manifesto, and putting the customer at the centre of the business. More than anything, organisations should be customer obsessed and engineer focused – and view DevOps as a new way of working.

His final remarks were that the industry has been disrupted where technology-led companies are taking market share; there is a new way of working enabled by the right leadership, culture, and practices; and everyone should think about their legacy. “Leave the Jersey in a better place,” concluded Raj.

To learn more about how DevOps transformed BAE Systems, check out this blog.

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