A few weeks ago the DevOpsGuys and HPE hosted a joint breakfast briefing entitled DevOps at Enterprise Scale. We were joined by a good selection of household names from a variety of sectors: telecoms, retail and financial services. The over-riding questions were: how to get started with DevOps transformation and issues to avoid when applying DevOps principles at enterprise-level.
For me though, the highlight of the event was the presentation given by one of our customers Raj Fowler, who is Head of Product Delivery at BAE Systems. Raj is approximately 18 months into his DevOps Transformation and was inspired to start his journey after reading The Phoenix Project.
Raj began his presentation by giving us an overview of BAE Systems, its products and heritage as well as the evolutionary history of the organisation. Raj stated that the defence market was changing, just as in other sectors, which requires BAE Systems to increase pace, reduce costs and deliver value the customer whilst maintaining quality. Just as in the beginning of the Phoenix Project, BAE Systems needs to respond and adapt to a changing market place.
As a result, BAE Systems are embarking on the DevOps movement with a view to increasing the delivery of business value from enterprise systems. With help from literature, conferences and coaching, Raj is focussing his efforts on the cultural changes needed to deliver improved business results.
Using this collateral Raj has initiated two key strands of work. Firstly, he has restructured the organisation around Products, bringing the Plan, Build and Operate silos together. He has also initiated a structured education and coaching programme to redefine the rules they work to with a new focus on Value, Flow and Quality rather than Time, Cost and Scope. What he is now seeing are the ‘green shoots’ of progress. The foundations have been worked on, the seeds have been planted and an environment created to nurture a ‘new’ culture. Office walls (and windows) are being filled with Post-It Notes; huddles of people are forming, ‘talking’ about the work; individuals are becoming teams; language is changing with a focus on business value, delivering early and often and getting fast feedback; difficult organisational and customer conversations are being had to break down the ‘real’ barriers to progress and the departments performance indicators are slowly but surely starting to improve – all signs of small incremental cultural transformation.
Raj has underpinned these changes with education, which has been delivered by DevOpsGuys. We’ve worked with Raj to develop an education programme that supports his colleagues’ transformation and our approach has been to educate the department systematically focussing on the ‘why change’ and ‘why agile’ – it’s not just about knowing what to do, it’s about knowing why across the whole team.
Raj strongly believes his colleagues need to understand Why they are doing something, not just What they are doing. Therefore, we have coached rather than trained. Raj commented during his presentation, on how we have asked questions rather than provided answers, forcing his teams to really think about what they are doing. He wants to ensure he transforms his team in a way which really works for BAE Systems rather than copying a documented methodology verbatim. The benefits are being seen already.
Since embarking on his journey, Raj has observed increased customer satisfaction, seen an increase in staff motivation and of course, he’s starting to see change delivered faster. For instance, one of his teams is delivery weekly releases with cycle times reduced to around 2 weeks down from months. Raj maintains though, it’s not all about speed. It’s about flow. After all, there would be little benefit in him speeding up the delivery of change if no one in the business could accept the change.
After what felt like a difficult start, Raj is now seeing the rate of learning and adoption of these principles accelerate. Raj’s team are able to deliver software changes faster and the constraints are starting to move to the wider organisation (creation and approval of new work and business change). He is now starting to work with the wider business to increase the flow of work for the end to end system – from idea to user.
Raj’s transformation is also beginning to gain interest and positive feedback from the wider business, and he firmly believes the principles he’s used to improve the flow of work through his team can be applied to any area of a business, not just IT.
However, the most crucial lesson to be taken from the BAE Systems transformation is that in 18 months, they are still yet to automate anything. Instead of treading the path most other organisations follow, by starting with automation, Raj has pursued a path of education and transformation, choosing to leave automation until after all other process constraints have been removed.
And finally, to quote Raj: “This is not easy. It’s about people – creating the right environment, educating your organisation, stimulating collaboration, new practices and experimentation are essential ingredients to improving business performance.”