Book Club: The DevOps Handbook (Chapter 21. Reserve Time to Create Organizational Learning and Improvement)

This entry is part [part not set] of 25 in the series DevOps Handbook

The following is a chapter summary for “The DevOps Handbook” by Gene Kim, Jez Humble, John Willis, and Patrick DeBois for an online book club.

The book club is a weekly lunchtime meeting of technology professionals. As a group, the book club selects, reads, and discuss books related to our profession. Participants are uplifted via group discussion of foundational principles & novel innovations. Attendees do not need to read the book to participate.

Background on The DevOps Handbook

More than ever, the effective management of technology is critical for business competitiveness. For decades, technology leaders have struggled to balance agility, reliability, and security. The consequences of failure have never been greater―whether it’s the debacle, cardholder data breaches, or missing the boat with Big Data in the cloud.

And yet, high performers using DevOps principles, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Etsy, and Netflix, are routinely and reliably deploying code into production hundreds, or even thousands, of times per day.

Following in the footsteps of The Phoenix Project, The DevOps Handbook shows leaders how to replicate these incredible outcomes, by showing how to integrate Product Management, Development, QA, IT Operations, and Information Security to elevate your company and win in the marketplace.

The DevOps Handbook

Chapter 21

One of the practices that forms part of the Toyota Production System is called the improvement blitz (kaizen), defined as a dedicated and concentrated period of time to address a particular issue, often over the course of a several days.

“…blitzes often take this form: A group is gathered to focus intently on a process with problems…The blitz lasts a few days, the objective is process improvement, and the means are the concentrated use of people from outside the process to advise those normally inside the process.”

The DevOps Handbook

Institutionalize Rituals To Pay Down Technical Debt

Teams should schedule rituals that help enforce the practice of reserving Dev and Ops time for improvement work, such as non-functional requirements, automation, etc. One of the easiest ways to do this is to schedule and conduct day- or week-long improvement blitzes, where everyone on a team self-organizes to fix problems they care about—no feature work is allowed.

The technique of dedicated rituals for improvement work has also been called spring or fall cleanings. Other terms have also been used, such as: hack days, hackathons, and innovation time. The goal during these blitzes is not to simply experiment and innovate for the sake of testing out new technologies, but to improve daily work.

The improvement practice reinforces a culture in which engineers work across the entire value stream to solve problems. What makes improvement blitzes so powerful is empowering those closest to the work to continually identify and solve their own problems.

Enable Everyone To Teach and Learn

A dynamic culture of learning creates conditions so that everyone can not only learn, but also teach, whether through traditional didactic methods (attending training) or more experiential or open methods (conferences).

“We have five thousand technology professionals, who we call ‘associates.’ Since 2011, we have been committed to create a culture of learning—part of that is something we call Teaching Thursday, where each week we create time for our associates to learn. For two hours, each associate is expected to teach or learn. The topics are whatever our associates want to learn about—some of them are on technology, on new software development or process improvement techniques, or even on how to better manage their career. The most valuable thing any associate can do is mentor or learn from other associates.”

Steve Farley, VP of Information Technology at Nationwide Insurance

Organizations can help further help teach skills through daily work by jointly performing code reviews that include both parties so that developers learn by doing, as well as by having Development and Operations work together to solve small problems.

Share Your Experiences From DevOps Conferences

In many cost-focused organizations, engineers are often discouraged from attending conferences and learning from their peers. To help build a learning organization, instead companies should encourage engineers (both from Development and Operations) to attend conferences, give talks at them, and, create & organize internal or external conferences themselves. For instance, Nationwide, Target, and Capital One have internal tech conferences.

Create Internal Consulting and Coaches To Spread Practices

Creating an internal coaching and consulting organization is a method commonly used to spread expertise across an organization. Google’s Testing on the Toilet (or TotT) was a weekly testing periodical. Each week, they published a newsletter in nearly every bathroom in nearly every Google office worldwide.

“The goal was to raise the degree of testing knowledge and sophistication throughout the company. It’s doubtful an online-only publication would’ve involved people to the same degree.”

Mike Bland, Google
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