By Joanne Milne: Senior Business Change Manager.

– The realities and risks of analysing readiness for DevOps 

– How to future-proof the culture for DevOps

This three-part series is a journey through time, exploring how organisations have evolved, and continue to evolve, from the earliest times of industrialisation to now, most of all showing how highly effective DevOps and digital transformation rests on people .. far more than technology .. ha!!

It examines the interconnectedness of everything (very DevOps!), showing how the steps to getting here are as important as the destination .. and being mindful that there is no destination. Organisations will continue to evolve, with new technology stimulating beliefs and behaviour change and shifting beliefs stimulating new behaviours and technologies. 

I will explore how we as individuals and as organisations are coping (or not) in this relatively new and increasingly digitally-driven world, including how organisations are transforming and people adapting. 

When change management is unstructured, change to DevOps is often a messy experience with poorly understood but much-needed culture change missed. This is recognised as a major impediment to DevOps’ chances of success.  As a change professional, I’ll be exploring the main barriers to change and what organisations can do to overcome them.

It is becoming more clear that we have entered an increasingly volatile period of change, one that is being described as ‘hyper-digital’, ‘hyper’ as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically changing our reliance on and so our uptake of digital tech. Products that used to take months to launch are now taking a fraction of the time. 

The race is on and organisations and individuals are being further challenged to keep up. 

In some of the more slow-moving, more culturally-entrenched organisations, this can often be met with the suspicion deserving of an assassin, or as I was once told on arrival, 

‘you people are like the smiling assassins!’

This dim view of change management bothers me, but I understand why it exists. My response is always .. maybe unsurprisingly .. absolutely not! Good change managers can help change the world! We can help people cope with and respond to the need to change, not only creating a smoother transition to quite different ways of working and behaving, but also through providing the concrete steps to take and support needed to get there. 

Much of the work I’ve been engaged in has been in embedding a safety culture or ‘Just’ Culture, in workplaces where injury rates had been high and at times fatalities experienced. Stopping this from repeating was finally recognised to be a cultural intervention, after the systems, protocols and processes had all failed to deliver the desired impact. Changing outcomes required placing people and their wellbeing, as well as that of the environment, at the heart of change, in a way that eliminated fears but elicited real operational change benefits. As such, in a relatively short time, this developed a far more rewarding as well as a productive place to work.  

Any manager leading change must be able to believe in and communicate a bigger and more positive purpose that resonates to all. This is an important key for change. 

Being viewed as a smiling assassin is now mostly a legacy perception but still an important one to overcome for any manager tasked with digital transformation, particularly when engaged in the ‘dark arts’ of culture change! 

In this series, I will begin by exploring why the perception exists and where it has come from, providing examples across history. Throughout the series, I will highlight how to embed important DevOps principles, organisation and culture, while helping people feel in control of their lives and identities as they go through, for some, quite profound changes in practice as well as leadership and management style. A key organisational benefit this will highlight is through making the experience of change far less painful, it is far less prone to disaster or derailment. When done poorly (or not at all!), change management gets a bad rep and deservedly so – not only as a smiling assassin. This series will explain to the reader how to avoid becoming part of the most commonly quoted statistic (McKinsey consultants) …

 70% of change programmes fail to deliver expected value…

… and understand why this failure is so common. In the words of a 2019 6000 organisation-strong survey, conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), 

only 15% of organisations employing more than 1,000 people rated their efforts at culture change as ‘highly’ or ‘very highly’ successful.

Change Management can be, and must be, a force for good. Good change managers should be viewed as the opposite end of the spectrum to smiling assassins – as trusted business partners and at times organisational counsellors even, something I have touched on as a qualified coach and psychotherapist. 

Parts I-III Summary:

How to avoid being viewed as the ‘Smiling Assassin’ but get your people ready for DevOps

For ease of reading, this series has been divided into three parts, with a summary of each as follows:

Part I: 

Take a journey through history to understand how beliefs, behaviour and thereby culture will impact organisational performance. This will provide the reader with an understanding of how these theories have shaped organisations and also underpin DevOps practices. It will also provide an appreciation of where the organisational ‘smiling assassin’ was likely first conceived and why it continues to prevail today! Key DevOPs tenets will be referenced against various theories throughout.

Part II:

This is an exploration of how to build organisations based on trust, collaboration and empowerment, all key in managing change and in building a DevOps culture, explaining their importance for achieving continuous integration, continuous delivery / deployment (CI/CD) and full automation; and highlighting why managing (and accepting) complexity (and at times Chaos) is so important. What is simple can often quickly become more complex. For most people the experience of going through change is never simple nor predictable! DevOps principles have been constructed from the organisational learning and continuous improvement principles driven originally by the Quality Management movement including Lean manufacturing and more recently lean service. 

Transformational leadership for culture change will also be considered, a critical and often missed element essential for openness to failure (‘failing forwards’ quickly), a no-blame and psychologically safe environment.

DevOps presents particular challenges and possesses certain characteristics and traits, so what these are, who the leaders in the field are (FAANG) and what the behaviours and practices that are commonly understood as necessary to ‘be DevOps’ (highly agile, continuously improving and consistently innovative) will be explored in more detail. 

This part will discuss in detail these characteristics in relation to the big tech market leaders and highlight some of the key practices as well as the underpinning theories.

Part III:

An introduction to Automation Logic’s evidence-based DevOPs Operating Model and capability assessment toolset which rests on these DevOps principles and organisational change best practices and underpinning theories. 

Learn how we apply this and develop the understanding and mindsets with our clients to drive the desired improvements and transformation, placing people at the heart of change.



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