In my previous post, I discussed the notion of a DevOps Management Organization or DOMO. As I said there, this is and idea that is showing up under different names at shops of varying sizes. I thought I would share a drawing of one to serve as an example. The basic structure is, of course, a matrix organization with the ability to have each key role present within the project. It also provides for shared infrastructure services such as support and data. You could reasonably easily replace the Business Analyst (BA) role with a Product Owner / Product Manager role and change “Project” to “Product” and have a variant of this structure that I have seen implemented at a couple of SaaS providers around Austin.
This structure does assume a level of maturity in the organization as well as the underlying infrastructure. It is useful to note that the platform is designated as a “DevOps Platform”. It would probably be better to phrase that as a cloud-type platform – public, private or hybrid – where the permanence of a particular image is low, but the consistency and automation is high. To be sure, not all environments have built such an infrastructure, but many, if not most, are building them aggressively. The best time to look at the organization is while those infrastructures are being built and companies are looking for the best ways to exploit them.
A lot of the DevOps conversations I have had lately have been around organization issues and what to do about the artificial barriers and silos that exist in most shops. Interestingly there is a pattern emerging among those discussing or even implementing changes to deal with this discussion. The pattern involves matrix organizations and the rise of what I call a “DevOps Management Organization” (DOMO). The actual names vary, but the role of the organization is consistent.
Most software delivery organizations end up with some kind of matrix where product managers, project managers, engineers, architects, QA are all tied to the success of a given project / product while maintaining a discipline-specific tie. In the case of an ISV, you can add some other disciplines around fulfillment, support, etc. The variable is whether the project/ product is their direct reporting organization or they report to a discipline. And the answer can depend on the role. For example, a Project Manager might be part of the engineering organisation and be a participant in the company’s PMO. Or they might be part of the PMO and simply assigned to (and funded by) the project / product they are working on.
When you add Agile to the mix, the project dimension tends to take on a much higher level of primacy over the disciplines since the focus becomes much tighter on getting working software produced on a much tighter iteration timeline. This behavior leads to the DevOps discussion as the project/product team discovers that there is no direct alignment of Operations to the project efforts. Additionally, Operations is a varied / multi-disciplinary space in and of itself. Thus it becomes extremely difficult for the project/product team to drive focused activity through Operations to deliver a particular iteration/release. The classic DevOps problem.
The recent solution trend to this problem has been the creation of what I call “Ops Sherpa” roles in the project/product teams. This role is a cross-disciplinary Ops generalist who is charged with understanding the state of the organization’s operations environment and making sure that the development effort is aligned with operational realities. That includes full lifecycle responsibility – from ensuring that Dev and QA environments are relevant equivalent configurations to production in order make sure deliverables are properly qualified to making sure that various Operations disciplines are aware of (and understand) any changes that will be required to support a particular release deliverable. In more mature shops, this may grow out of an existing Release Management role or, if a particularly large
Critically, though, this role gets matrixed back into the Operations organization at a high enough level to sponsor cross-operational silo action. This point is the head of what I call the Head of the DOMO and provides the point of leverage to deal with tactical problem as well as the strategic guidance role to drive cross-project continuous improvement into the operations platform space in support of faster execution (aka DevOps speed releases).
Whatever the name, the fact that large scale companies are recognizing the value of deliberately investing in this space is a validation that being good at release execution is strategic to cost-effectively shortening release cycles.
Teaching something will make you a better practitioner of that thing. It is an adjunct to the old adage that true mastery of a subject is the ability to teach it to someone else. The act of educating someone on something forces you to organize your thoughts on that subject. This, in turn, gives you new insights on the subject and/or makes you more efficient at processing the subject. Therefore, there is a lot of value to the teacher in the act of educating.
There is a business value as well. But a lot of managers, however are not comfortable pushing their team members to do so – particularly if they have team members who resist doing it. I have spoken to a number of managers who really have no idea how to break down that resistance. There is obviously the ‘stick’ side of it where it should be a part of a senior person’s job description and if they don’t do it, their review will not be as good as it could be. But the stick side is a pretty weak instrument and it just breeds problems over the long haul. The more important aspect is the carrot side of the discussion.
Look at it this way: no matter how good a coder someone is, their value is intrinsically limited by the amount of code they can physically produce in a certain amount of time. That means that once they reach their personal peak productivity, they are basically plateaued in terms of their career opportunity due to laws of physics and biology (i.e. only so many hours in a day and humans need to sleep). Contrast that with someone who has reached their productivity peak and uses their skills to help make others better. That person is now leveraging their skills through a larger group and enhancing the produtivity of that overall group by passing on lessons and learnings. They are multiplying themselves through that group. That person’s value has not plateaued. This does not mean they are on a ‘management’ track, either – though it can lead there. I have found that engineering organizations that have been successful over time all have a non-management ‘technical leader’ career path for folks who are both strong technically and effective leader/teacher/mentors. Does your organization think like that? It should.
Even if it doesn’t, it is irresponsible of the manager to not at least have a frank conversation about this to their team members. That a team lead does a massive disservice to a team member’s career if they just encourage them to be ‘super techie’. It will fundamentally limit their team members’ value and the value of the team in general.
Every technology organization should force everyone in the group to regularly educate the group on what they are doing. This should be a cross-discipline activity – not a departmental activity. There are three reasons to do this. The first is obvious – there is an intrinsic value in sharing the knowledge. The second is that the teachers themselves get better at what they are teaching about for the reasons described above. The third is that it serves to create relationships among the groups that will open channels of collaboration as the organization grows.
This will create more opportunities for someone to have a critical insight on a situation and invent something valuable as a result. It may be as basic as the fact that the team is faster at solving problems because they know who to call and have a relationship with that person. It also means that you have a better chance of keeping your ‘bus number at healthier levels thereby making your organization more resilient overall. Of course, it will also make your overall organization more cohesive meaning people will be somewhat more likely to stay and ensuring that you have fewer ‘bus number’ situations in the first place – or at least fewer that were not caused by a bus