Author Archive

Keep CALMS and do DevOps!

In order for any sort of process, framework or methodology to succeed in the IT world, it absolutely must involve a large number of acronyms. And devops is no different. In the devops world we like to say that there are five underlying principles of devops, and they’re represented by the acronym CALMS. As with any good IT acronym, you start with the acronym itself and then work backwards from there. The main reason why the CALMS word was chosen for the devops world was because of the unlimited marketing oportunities it offers. For instance, you could use the “Keep CALMS and carry on” slogan and plaster it all over anything that you can actually print onto, like T-Shirts, mugs, foreheads, powerpoint presentations etc and so forth.

img_20150624_131537_720 keep-calms-and-do-devops img_20150623_154452_360

The next trick was to work out what the CALMS should stand for. This was the hard part, and required the input of some of the smartest minds in the devops world to come together and use their collective brainpower to think of some devops words that would conveniently fit the CALMS acronym. So, in May 2013 or something (lets say), some people with names like Gene, John, Jeremy, David, John and Adrian all got together at the top of a mountain in North Wales and meditated on the CALMS acronym. That didn’t work, so they all got really drunk and that’s when they came up with what we now know as the five pillars of devops:

C and S stand for Cats on Skateboards
As everyone knows, the vast majority of the internet is made up of billions of pictures or videos of skateboarding cats. That’s why the internet is so big (and that’s also where the term “BigData” comes from). Devops is all about deploying pictures of skateboarding cats to the internet, in order to satisfy the world’s seeemingly endless desire for more and more pictures of kittens doing cute things. The better you arer at deploying skateboarding cats, the better you are at devops. Simple as that.


A stands for Agile
Devops was invented because sysadmins felt they were missing out on the whole agile party. So devops is just agile plus sysadmins. AMIRITE?


L stands for Letters
Acronyms are nothing without letters. Letters are very much the key ingredient of a good acronym. The trouble with acronyms though is that the letters don’t always lend themselves to a word that’s relevant to your topic. One way around this is to think of a world beginning with that troublesome letter, let’s take the letter L for example, and let’s randomly pick the word “Lean”, and then simply write a book which demonstrates how “Lean” is actually quite relevant and applicable to the topic of devops. It’s a clever one this, because you can then use it to help flog copies of your book.


M stands for Money
Doing devops will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. A recent survey has discovered that firms with high performing IT functions are less likely to suck ass than one’s with crappy IT teams. It only takes a medium sized leap of faith to believe that this has anything to do with devops. So it’s crystal clear then – doing devops means your organisation will outperform your competitors and we’ll all be sipping cocktails on a beach somewhere by this time next week.


So what are you waiting for? Go deploy those skateboarding cats and I’ll see you on the beach!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Upcoming DevOps & Agile Events

May 21, 2015 2 comments

London Puppet User Group Meetup
London, Thursday May 21st, 2015

DevOps Exchange London – DevOps & DevOps
London, Tuesday May 26th, 2015

London Agile Discussion Group – Should DevOps be a person or a team-wide skill?
London, Tuesday May 26th, 2015

AWS User Group UK – meetup #15
London, Wed May 27th, 2015

Chef Users London – Microsoft Azure / Chef Taster Day
London, Friday May 29, 2015
9:00am to 5:00pm

DevOps Cardiff – Herding ELKs with
Cardiff, Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Agile Testing – Visual Creativity: Using Sketchnotes & Mindmaps to aid testing @ #ltgworkshops
London, Thursday June 4th, 2015

ABC (Agile Book Club) London – Review Jeff Patton’s User Story Mapping
London, Thursday June 4th, 2015

Agile Testing – Hooking Docker Into Selenium @ #ltgworkshops
London, Thursday June 4th, 2015

UK Azure User Group – Cloud Gaming Hackathon
London, Saturday June 6th, 2015

London DevOps – London DevOps Meetup #10
London, Thursday June 11th, 2015

Kanban Coaching Exchange – Continuous learning through communities of practice – Emily Webber
London, Thursday June 11th, 2015

Lean Agile Manchester
Manchester, Wednesday June 17th, 2015

London Lean Coffee – Holborn
London, Thursday, June 18th, 2015

UK Azure User Group – Chris Risner
London, Thursday June 18th, 2015

Jenkins User Conference – Europe (London)
London, Tuesday June 23rd – 24th, 2015
2 days

BDD London June Meetup
London, Thursday June 25th, 2015

Automated Database Deployment (Workshop – £300)
Belfast, Northern Ireland, Friday June 26th, 2015
1 day course

Database Continuous Integration (Workshop – £300)
London, July 8th, 2015
1 day course

Database Source Control (Workshop – £100)
London, July 8th, 2015
1 day course

London Lean Coffee – Holborn
London, Thursday, July 16, 2015

Agile Taster – a free introductory Agile training course
Cardiff, Saturday 18 July 2015
10am – 3pm

AWS User Group UK – meetup #16
London, Wed July 22nd, 2015

What does devops have to do with agile?

One of the questions I commonly get asked at the workshops we run is “What’s the connection between Agile and Devops?” or vice-versa. My usual tactic is to let the workshop attendees argue that one out amongst themselves. Firstly, because it’s quite an emotive question, so it gets people chatting, and secondly because I’m always keen to hear what other people’s opinions and experiences are.

Here are a few of the things I’ve heard from the workshop groups:

  • “Devops is an evolution of Agile”
  • “Devops is the missing link between agile development and operations”
  • “Devops is a subset of Agile”
  • “Agile is a subset of Devops”
  • “What time are we having lunch?”

I’ve heard strong arguments in support of each one, and I’ve also heard people say there is no link between agile and devops (again, with a strong argument to support this opinion).

For me though, I like to think of devops and agile as complimentary. I also think devops is a key enabler for enterprise agility, and this is where things get a little murky. I don’t want to get into any great yak shaving exercise, but before we can describe the relationship between agile and devops, we really need to define what we mean by “agile”.

Agile development vs Organisational Agility

Agile development comes with many different frameworks, some more prescriptive than others, but they all share a certain number of core “agile“ features in common – namely that they embrace change, and are able to comfortably respond to it (ok there are plenty of other features in common, such as focus on customer value and working software etc, but I’m going to concentrate on the responsiveness to change for now).

The agile manifesto "values"

The agile manifesto “values”


Scrum, on the other hand, is a framework for helping you do agile software development, it has clearly defined team roles and a few rules you need to follow. But let’s be clear – Scrum is NOT agile. Don’t confuse the two!

Scrum is a framework for helping you do agile software development, doing agile software development helps you become agile

Now let’s take a deeper look in to what being “agile” is all about. It’s about being able to respond to changing conditions, changing market forces, changing requirements, and not only survive, but to succeed. “Change” is the arena in which agility thrives. So, to be agile you need to be able to react and respond to changes quickly. This is where the agile world and devops come together. Devops encourages closer and more meaningful collaboration between the business, development and operations, to help organisations deliver higher quality applications that can be deployed quicker, be maintained and monitored more easily, and provide fast and accurate feedback to the business. Without these key enablers, you’d be hard pressed to respond or react quickly to anything, let alone changing requirements, changing markets and changing technologies.

So in a nutshell, agility is all about the ability to embrace change, and succeed in a changing environment. Devops is one of the key ingredients to helping you achieve this.

Can you do agile software development without doing devops? Yes, of course you can, you could do Scrum, for example. But doing agile software development and being agile are two very different things.

So, now for the harder question: Can you “be agile” without doing devops?

Some might argue that this must be possible, because organisations have been agile for longer than devops has been around – to which I would respond by saying that the term “devops” may be relatively new, but the ethos behind it has been around for as long as agile has.

I imagine that under certain circumstances it may be possible to be highly agile and yet have an anti-devops culture, where there’s very little collaboration between the business, development and operations, but I’ve not actually come across it, if it does exist. In my experience, highly agile organisations from start-ups through to large enterprises, are embracing the principles behind devops whether they know it or not.

In summary, agile is NOT about sprints, it’s NOT bout stand-ups, it’s NOT about retrospectives or any of the following:

  • Velocity
  • Points
  • Planning
  • Stories
  • TDD
  • BDD
  • Automation
  • Demos

You can’t do agile, you can be agile, but you can’t DO it. You can “do” scrum, XP, Devops, TDD, BDD etc – these are explicit activities, unlike agile, which is more of a set of values and principles. You can perform all of the individual activities listed above, independently of any other. Sure, they certainly complement each other, but they can be done separately. The same can be said of agile software development and devops.

The relationship between devops and organisational agility is that one is an enabler for the other. The relationship between devops and Scrum, for example, is simply that they are both enablers for organisational agility, but they can also exist independently of each other.

Categories: Agile, DevOps Tags: , , , , ,

Continuous Improvement – 10 Ways to Help Your Team Learn (plus 6 more)

April 30, 2015 1 comment

Not long ago I went to one of the Agile Coaching Exchange’s meetups in the lovely asos offices in London. Speaker for the night was none other than Rachel Davies who I worked with about a decade ago when she was a freelance agile coach. My god that decade has gone quickly. Anyway, her talk was about the techniques that they use at unruly to encourage learning in the workplace, and as you’d expect, it was really interesting stuff. So, I decided to take some notes and even give some of her ideas a go. Here’s what happened:

Learning Techniques

At one point Rachel asked us, the unsuspecting audience, to come up with a list of different learning techniques we’ve used in the workplace. It was a trap. No matter how many I thought we’d covered off, we were nowhere near the list that Rachel came up with. Basically we’re just not as cool as those kids over at Unruly, that’s what I learned. Anyway, keen to learn more about learning (woah, Learning Inception!) I decided to list the learning techniques I liked the sound of, and I’ve added a bunch of others that hopefully you’ll like the sound of as well (because, you know, lists are way cool):

  1. Workshops
  2. Attending meetups
  3. Pairing
  4. Retrospectives
  5. Mobbing
  6. Hackdays
  7. Devdays
  8. 20% Time
  9. Tech Talks
  10. Book clubs
  11. Coding Dojos
  12. Team Swaps
  13. Rotation
  14. Tech Academy
  15. Blogs
  16. Conferences

Workshops – I use these a lot in my work. I mostly try to keep them hands-on, encouraging the attendees to physically get involved. If I was any good at marketing I would probably describe them as “Interactive”. If necessary, I’ll use hand-outs, but I’ll never just stand there talking through a bunch of slides – that’s seriously uncool and you’ll never get into the Secret Inner Sanctum of the Workshop Magic Circle if you do that. The objective is for the attendees to be actively involved in the workshop, rather than to simply be an observer. I run workshops on Agile Product Ownership, Kanban, Flow (Theory of Constraints), and Sprint Planning & Estimating. Remember, using the term “Workshop” isn’t just a way of making a 4 hour meeting sound more interesting :-)

Attending Meetups is not only a great way of learning from whatever the speakers are talking about, but also from chatting with the other people at the meetup. I regularly attend the London Continuous Delivery Meetup group (where you get the chance to pick the brains of people such as Matthew Skelton, Steve Smith and Chris O’Dell), the London Devops Exchange, the London Devops Meetup (where you can casually run your devops problems by Marc Cluet and Matt Saunders and then listen while they give you a solution) and the Cardiff DevOps Meetup (hosted by the DevOpsGuys, so you can be guaranteed some top-notch speakers as well as the best beer in the business – I kid you not, at devopsguys we have our own beer!)

Yep, it's called DevHops

Yep, it’s called DevHops

Pairing – Like other programmers of my particular skill level (pisspoor), I get very self-conscious whenever I’m pairing. Not only when I’m the one driving, but also when I’m observing, because I ask stooooopid questions. Below is a picture of me pair programming with my son, who, despite being unable to speak yet, is clearly getting annoyed at my stupid questions (I think I just asked him what nested ternary operators are). However, there’s no denying it’s a fantastic way of learning. The technique we’re trying below involves me writing some ruby function, and then my son will refactor it and embarrass me.



Retrospectives are a way of reflecting on your latest sprint or release, and talking about what you did well, as well as what you didn’t do so well. The trouble is though, that you have to actually take these lessons on-board, and start implementing changes if necessary. It’s all very well reflecting on your performance, but it won’t improve unless you actually do something about it. This could be a whole blog post of its own, bust basically I’m seeing a lot of people in this situation where they rigorously do retrospectives, but nobody every implements the lessons learnt. Quite often it’s because there’s no agile coach involved with the team (and without the agile coach, nobody else has the time to implement the relevant changes themselves, let alone feels responsible for doing so).

Mobbing – Another picture coming up. This time another member of my family is joining in a mobbing session, which is basically a bunch of people all working on the same problem simultaneously (usually around the same screen). Like pairing, it’s a great learning technique. In fact I think it’s superior to pairing, because there are more people and therefore more minds on the job. But of course it can be costly to tie up multiple people on the same task.

Mobbing with my son and Tygwydd

Mobbing with my son and Tygwydd

Hackdays are like a geek-off for devs. I once spent the first 4.5 hours of a hackday trying to install LAMP before basically throwing my PC out of a window. Hackdays are where you get a bunch of devs together and give them all a problem to solve, or some objective to reach (you can be a specific or as vague as you like – often the more vague you are, the more creative your devs will be). 24hrs and a lot of pizza later, you’ll have a bunch of interesting creations – some more complete than others, but all of them creative, geeky, and in their own way very cool. I guarantee you’ll never see a passionate software developer work harder than during a hackday. What do you learn from a hackday? As a dev, you learn how to concentrate after 8 cans of Red Bull, and if you’re in a team then you learn how to work as a team under a high-pressure environment.

Devdays are something I really like to encourage within my teams. The idea is that for at least one day a sprint, 1 or 2 of your delivery team can work on something outside of the sprint commitments. I would aim to make sure everyone gets to take a devday at least once every 3 sprints. Of course, it needs to be relevant work, and it needs to be scheduled ahead of time (get into the habit of asking if anyone’s planning on taking a devday during sprint planning). If your team aren’t doing devdays, it’s a sure sign that you’re either too busy (and will end up experiencing burn-out) or your devs are disinterested. Devdays are a great opportunity to learn a new tool or to start spiking a new idea, perhaps using a new language.

20% Time is fairly similar to the devdays concept, in that people are encouraged to spend up to 1 day a week working on something that’s not on the backlog. I think the idea came from Google, but I’m not sure if they still practice it. Basically devdays, gold-card days or 20% time, call it what you will, are all designed to encourage learning and innovation and keep people feeling fresh and engaged. During her talk, Rachel spoke a little about Gold Cards, which I’d love to tell you more about, but I had to go and take a call just as she was talking about them, so you’ll just have to go and read more about them here.

Tech Talks are like little mini meetups, usually within an organisation, but companies like Facebook also do public tech-talks as well. Great for learning and eating free pizza and doughnuts. As a general rule, if there are no free nibbles, don’t go. Facebook had exceptionally good nibbles at their tech-talk. Just like at meetups, they’re a great place for tapping into the brain power of your fellow attendees as well as the speaker/presenter.

Book Clubs are one of the most underrated and under-used tools for learning, in my opinion. I ran a book club last year in an organisation that was trying to transition to Agile. The book I chose was called The Agile Samurai by Jonathan Rasmusson, which was a big hit with everyone who joined in. The format I use is for the group to read a couple of chapters of a book over the course of a week, and then have a review session where we all discuss what we’ve learnt. It’s a great way to share what we’ve learnt (which helps to make sure we’re all on the same page) and it also ensures that everyone is progressing at a reasonable pace.


Coding Dojos – These are coding-centric programming clubs, basically. They involve a bunch of eager coders getting together and working (usually on their own laptops or in pairs) on a particular challenge, with the purpose of learning more about a particular language (Ruby, Go, Erlang etc) or technique (BDD, TDD etc). Suffice to say you usually need to have a reasonable amount of programming experience to be able to get the most value out of these, but don’t let that put you off. There are plenty of coding dojo metups available to cater for most levels, or you could of course run one yourself within your own organisation.

Team Swaps are where one team swaps with another for an entire day, or possibly longer. The idea behind this is that if you’re going to hand your codebase over to an entirely different team (and not be around to help), then it teaches you to write clean, self-documenting, simple code. On top of that, it also helps you learn more about other team’s coding styles and techniques.

Rotation – If I had to pick one concept and make it a mandatory part of software development, I would pick rotation. Here’s how it works: you take Danny the developer and put him in QA for a couple of sprints. Meanwhile, you take Tammy the Tester and put her in Dev for a couple of sprints. At a later date, Danny the dev will have to do a stint in the helpdesk, while Tammy does a couple of sprints working with the BA or Product Owner. Until eventually, everyone in your sprint team will have done stints in each of the following teams: Dev, Test, Helpdesk, Infrastructure/ops, Architecture, Product (Product Management, BA or whatever you have in your org), and possibly even Sales. It can take up to a year to complete the full set, but the amount you learn is invaluable. It’s not just skills that you pick up, but most of all it’s the different perspectives you get to see. Eventually, this experience will make you a better software delivery professional.

Tech Academies are becoming quite popular, and we’re seeing an increasing demand for help in setting these up within organisations. The idea is to create a number of internal training courses, tailor-made for the challenges that are unique to your organisation. These could be anything from Agile Coaching courses to Database Administration courses (and everything in between). It’s even quite common to see organisation-specific “certification” as well. People can enrol in one of these academies by choice, or you can make them mandatory, it’s up to you – but the key thing is to make them specific to your organisation’s needs. I think these are exceedingly valuable, and they have the added advantage over external training courses of always being 100% relevant, plus you can also ensure that everyone is getting the same standard of training!

Blogs are a great source of information, and a great way to keep up to date with fellow professionals in your technical area. But don’t just read them, write one for yourself! Keeping a team journal or a company blog is a great way of promoting the cool stuff you’re doing, and is also a great way to encourage and develop people’s technical writing skills (not to mention their written communication skills).

Conferences are a great source of free T-shirts, pens, hats, stress-balls, stickers, key-rings, laser-pointers and other things that you quickly get bored of and leave on your desk at the office. But did you know that you can actually learn stuff at conferences as well? It’s true! Some conferences have really, really clever people speaking at them, (other conferences have me), and you’ll usually find the speakers are more than happy to have a chat with you over a drink after their talk. In all seriousness, the Pipeline conference this year was brilliant – a great crowd of very smart professionals from all walks of life, an inspiring keynote from Linda Rising, and a chilled atmosphere. So, get along to a conference (even if you have to take a devday to get away with it), write down what you learn, make a blog out of it, do a tech-talk to your team about it, expand that into a workshop, maybe include some pairing and/or mobbing, and then head on out to a meetup to chat to more like-minded professionals. :-) Learning Level: Einstein!

Upcoming DevOps & Agile Meetups and Events

Here are some UK-based meetups and events in the devops/agile space that are happening in the next month or so…

Internet Performance Management & Monitoring
Cardiff, Wednesday, April 1, 2015
6:30 PM to 9:00 PM

London DevOps Meetup #8: Hackathon
London, Tuesday, April 7, 2015
7:00 PM

Continuous Delivery for Databases
Bristol, Wednesday, April 15, 2015
6:30 PM

Agile Planning & Tracking
Manchester, Wednesday, April 15, 2015
6:30 PM

HDInsight on Azure/Real-time data analysis on Azure
Birmingham, Thursday, April 16, 2015
6:30 PM to 9:00 PM

Kanban metrics at Sky – Grow your system from good to awesome!
London, Thursday, April 16, 2015
6:30 PM

London Continuous Delivery, Nic Ferrier + David Genn
London, Tuesday, April 21, 2015
6:30 PM

London PaaS User Group (LOPUG) Meetup
London, Thursday, April 23, 2015
6:30 PM

Ansible Oxford Kickoff
Oxford, Thursday, April 23, 2015
7:00 PM

Global Azure Bootcamp
TBC, Saturday, April 25, 2015
9:00 AM

Hacking Azure Security in a SCRUM cloud
London, Monday, April 27, 2015
7:00 PM

DevOps Thames Valley. Kick Off Meetup – shaping the event
Reading, Wednesday, April 29, 2015
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Agile Coaching Exchange (Lego + Agile + Nigel)*Scaling = AWESOMENESS
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
6:30 PM

DevOps & NoSQL
London, Thursday, April 30, 2015
6:30 PM

DevOps – The reluctant change agent’s guide – John Clapham
Cardiff, Wednesday, May 6, 2015
6:30 PM to 9:00 PM

London Continuous Delivery, Chris Young and Alex Yates
London, Tuesday, May 19, 2015
6:30 PM

London New Relic User Group – APM Training Session + Meetup
London, Wednesday, May 20, 2015
6:00 PM to 8:30 PM

DevOps Manchester @ IPExpo
Manchester, Wednesday, May 20, 2015
5:00 PM

Agile Coaching Exchange – Visual Artistry with Stuart Young
London, Wednesday, May 20, 2015
6:30 PM

Categories: Uncategorized

The DevOps Team Myth

August 13, 2014 1 comment

Should “DevOps” be a job title? Are DevOps teams an anti-pattern? Can you do DevOps within a single team? Were the moon landings staged in the Arizona desert? These are the sort of questions you’re never more than 5 feet away from at any DevOps conference or meetup. The answers, of course, are:

  • Yes
  • Yes and no
  • Maybe
  • Don’t be silly

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the whole “DevOps Team/Job Title” question, and I’m no different, except my opinion is this:

I passionately don’t care

Let me explain:

If you have a devops team, and their job is to encourage and develop a devops culture within the organisation, then that’s perfectly fine, surely? If that team is successful and a devops culture blossoms, then you’re definitely winning. Maybe that team could subsequently change its name, but that just seems a bit pointless and overly hung-up on semantics. In this case, I don’t care what the team is called, because it doesn’t matter.

If you have a devops team, and they don’t encourage or foster a devops culture within the organisation, then you’re doing devops wrong, as simple as that. If you’re doing devops wrong then it doesn’t matter what you call a team, you’re still doing it wrong. In this case, I don’t care what the team is called, because it doesn’t matter. 

I do understand the opinions of the anti-pattern crowd. Setting up a separate silo responsible for “doing devops” is completely wrong. It discourages other teams and individuals from adopting a devops attitude, as they’ll see it as someone else’s responsibility. But the problem isn’t with the existence of the team, the problem is the purpose of the team and the fact that whoever decided the team should “do DevOps” clearly doesn’t understand what DevOps is.

At the very core of the issue is an understanding of what DevOps actually is. If your CTO, (or Head of Technology or whoever calls the shots within the technology division) thinks that DevOps just means automating builds and deployments, treating Infrastructure as Code, or adopting Continuous Delivery, etc then you’ve already got a problem. DevOps is about these things (and more), sure, but it’s about everyone understanding the importance of them, and absorbing them into their culture.

I’ve previously posted about the dangers of having an obsession with Ownership and Responsibility and I think these factors can also contribute to a failed adoption of devops. Drawing up clear lines of ownership and responsibility is risky – if you get it wrong, you’re going to struggle. For instance, if you draw a clear line of ownership around “devops” and place it firmly in the domain of the devops team, then you’re not going to do devops. A single team cannot own and be responsible for a culture, it just doesn’t work like that. The lines of ownership need to be blurred or wiped out entirely. Nobody and everybody should be “responsible for” and “own” the devops culture.

Conclusions On The DevOps Team

Anyone who thinks that you can get something ingrained into an organisation’s culture by setting up an isolated group of people who are solely responsible for doing those things, is flying in the face of conventional wisdom. Even my experience suggests that this doesn’t work (and I always fly in the face of conventional wisdom, coz I’m stooopid). By all means create a DevOps Team, but don’t make them responsible for “doing devops”, that’s just wrong. Instead, give them the challenge of spreading the DevOps gospel, evangelising DevOps within the organisation and training everyone on the benefits of devops, as well as some of the tricks of the trade.

On The DevOps Job Title

Everyone’s a devops engineer these days. I’m a devops engineer, my wife’s a devops engineer, even my dog’s a devops engineer. It’s a booming industry and everyone wants a piece of it. I’m afraid we don’t have any control over this anymore, we’ve created a beast and it’s consuming everything!! Luckily it’s not the end of the world. Sure, sysadmins the world over are now rebranding themselves as devops engineers, but does it make any difference at the end of the day? If you’re hiring, you don’t just hire someone on the strength of their previous job title do you? No, you actually read their CV and interview the candidate. Good candidates will always shine through. Working out if someone’s a sysadmin or a build engineer is just a bit more hassle for recruitment agents, that’s all!

My dog, the DevOps Engineer

My dog, the DevOps Engineer

In a way I’m thankful for the devops job title. I honestly think it has helped to make the whole devops thing more popular and opened it up to a wider audience.

Should there really be such a thing as a “DevOps Engineer”? Probably not, but we’re far too late to stop it, and trying to stop it seems a bit of a waste of energy to me. Eventually “DevOps Engineer” will come to mean something more specific, but for now we’re just going to have to read a few more lines on CVs.



Stop Comparing Software Delivery With Manufacturing!

July 10, 2014 1 comment

A couple of weeks ago I was at an Experience Devops event in London and I was talking about how software delivery, which is quite often compared to a manufacturing process, is actually more comparable to a professional sports team. I didn’t really get time to expand on this topic, so I thought I’d write something up about it here. It all started when I ran a cheap-and-nasty version of Deming’s Red Bead Experiment, using some coloured balls and an improvised scoop…

The Red Bead Experiment

I was first introduced to Deming’s Red Bead Experiment by a guy called Ben Mitchell (you can find his blog here). It’s good fun and helps to highlight how workers are basically constrained by the systems the work in. I’ll try to explain how the experiment works:

  • You have a box full of coloured beads
  • Some of the beads are red
  • You have a paddle with special indentations, which the beads collect in (or you could just use a scoop, like I did).
  • You devise a system whereby your “players” must try to collect exactly, let’s say, 10 red beads in each scoop.
  • You record the results

Now, given the number of red beads available, it’s unlikely the players will be able to collect exactly 10 beads in each scoop. In my especially tailored system I told the players to keep their eyes closed while they scooped up the balls. I also had about half as many red beads as any other colour (I was actually using balls rather than beads but that doesn’t matter!). The results from the first round showed that the players were unable to hit their targets. So here’s what I did:

  • Explain the rules again, very clearly. Write them down if necessary. Being as patronising as possible at this point!
  • Encourage the players individually
  • Encourage them as a team
  • Offer incentives if they can get the right number of red beads (free lunch, etc)
  • Record the results

Again, the results will be pretty much the same. So…

  • Threaten the individuals with sanctions if they perform badly
  • Pick out the “weakest performing” individual
  • Ask them to leave the game
  • Tell the others that the same will happen to them if they don’t start hitting the numbers.

In the end, we’ll hopefully realise that incentivising and threatening the players has absolutely zero impact on the results, and that the numbers we’re getting are entirely a result of the flawed system I had devised. Quite often, it’s the relationship between workers and management that gets the attention in this experiment (the encouragement, the threats, the singling out of individuals), but I prefer to focus on the effect of the constraining system. Basically, how the results are all down to the system, not the individual.

Thanks Kanban!

I think one of the reasons why the software industry is quite obsessed with traditional manufacturing systems is because of the Toyota effect. I’m a huge fan of the Toyota Production System (TPS), Just-in-time production (JIT) Lean manufacturing and Kanban – they’re all great ideas and their success in the manufacturing world is well documented. Another thing they all have in common is that various versions of these principles have been adopted into the software development world. I also happen to think that their application in the software development world has been a really good thing. However, the side-effect of all this cross-over has been that people have subconsciously started to equate software delivery processes with manufacturing processes. Just look at some of the terminology we use everyday:

  • Software engineering 
  • Software factories
  • Kanban
  • Lean
  • Quality Control (a term taken directly from assembly lines)

It’s easy to see how, with all these manufacturing terms around us, the lines can become blurred in people’s minds. Now, the problem I have with this is that software delivery is NOT the same as manufacturing, and applying a manufacturing mindset can be counter-productive when it comes to the ideal culture for software development. The crucial difference is the people and their skillsets. Professionals involved in software delivery are what’s termed as “knowledge workers”. This means that their knowledge is their key resource, it’s what sets them apart from the rest. You could say it’s their key skill. Manufacturing processes are designed around people with a very different skillset, often ones that involve doing largely repetitive tasks, or following a particular routine. These systems tend not to encourage innovation or “thinking outside of the box” – this sort of thing is usually assigned to management, or other people who tend not to be on the production line itself. Software delivery professionals, whether it be a UX person, a developer, QA, infrastructure engineer or whatever, are all directly involved in the so-called “production line”, but crucially, they are also expected to think outside of the box and innovate as part of their jobs. This is where the disconnect lies, in my opinion. The manufacturing/production line model does NOT work for people who are employed to think differently and to innovate.

If Not Manufacturing Then…

Ok, so if software delivery isn’t like manufacturing, then what is it like? There must be some analogous model we can endlessly compare against and draw parallels with, right? Well, maybe…


home sweet home

home sweet home

I’m from a very rural area of west Wales and when anyone local asks me what I do, I can’t start diving into the complexities of Agile or devops, because frankly it’s so very foreign to your average dairy farmer in Ceredigion. Instead, I try to compare it with something I know they’ll be familiar with, and if there’s one thing that all people in west Wales are familiar with, it’s sheep rugby.

It’s not as daft as it sounds, and I’ve started to believe there’s actually a very strong connection between professional team sports and Agile software development. Here’s why:

Software delivery is a team effort but also contains subject matter experts who need to be given the freedom to put their skills and knowledge to good use – they need to be able to improvise and innovate. Exactly the same can be said of a professional rugby or soccer (yes, I’m going to call it soccer) teams. Rugby and soccer are both team sports but both contain very specific roles within that team, and for the teams to be successful, they need to give their players the freedom and space to use their skills (or “showing off” as some people like to call it).

2008 World Player of the Year Shane Williams

2008 World Player of the Year Shane Williams

Now, within a rugby team you might have some exceptionally talented players – perhaps a winger like former World player of the year Shane Williams. But if you operate a system which restricts the amount of involvement he gets in a game, he’ll be rendered useless, and the team may very well fail. Even with my dislike of soccer, I still think I know enough about how restrictive formations and systems can be. The long ball game, for instance, might not benefit a Lionel Messi style player who thrives on a possession & passing game.

The same can be said of software delivery. If we try to impose a system that restricts our individual’s creativity and innovation, then we’re really not going to get the best out of those individuals or the team.


So Where Does Agile Fit Into All of This?

Agile is definitely the antidote to traditional software development models like Waterfall, but it’s not immune from the same side-effects as we witness when we do the red bead experiment. It seems to be that the more prescriptive a system is, the greater the risk is of that system being restrictive. Agile itself isn’t prescriptive, but Kanban, XP, Scrum etc, to varying degrees are (Scrum more prescriptive than Kanban for instance). The problem arises when teams adopt a system without understanding why the rules of that system are in place.

prescriptive = restrictive

For starters, if we don’t understand why some of the rules of Scrum (for instance) exist, then we have no business trying to impose them on the team. We must examine each rule on merit, understand why it exists, and adapt it as necessary to enable our team and individuals to thrive. This is why a top-down approach to adopting agile is quite often doomed to fail.

So What Should We Do?

My advice is to make sure everyone understands the “why” behind all of the rules that exist within your chosen system. Experiment with adapting those rules slightly, and see what impact that change has on your team and on your results. Hmmm, that sounds familiar…

The Deming Cycle: Plan, Do, Check, Act

The Deming Cycle: Plan, Do, Check, Act


Categories: Agile Tags: , , , , ,

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