You Build Kingdoms Because Your Mother Didn’t Love You

Mother-Child_face_to_faceDestruction of silos is all the rage in DevOps and has been since the beginning of the movement. Patrick Debois wrote a very intelligent piece on why silos exist and how they came about as a management strategy. While the post explains why hierarchy style of management came about in the US (General Motors and Sloan), it doesn’t cover some of the personal motivations as to why silos or management kingdoms come about.

Parkinson’s Law

Over the last several years Bike Shedding – or more appropriately Parkinson’s Law of Triviality – has become very popular in technology.  But in all the trivial debate, it seems more technologists have missed C. Northcote Parkinson’s other law, aptly named Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law simply states “…that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Any life long procrastinator will immediately know this is true, as does anyone that has attempted to do any level of project management. Further, Parkinson explains that this expansion of work, also creates an expansion of people doing the work. While Parkinson was focused on governmental organizations, Parkinson’s Law can also apply to other organizations.

Parkinson attributes this expansion of work to two factors:

Factor I.—An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals; and

Factor II.—Officials make work for each other.

The Law of Multiplication of Subordinates

Now as work expands, for whatever reason, Parkinson explains that the worker (worker A) must find ways to handle the workload. Parkinson explains that they must find a solution and have three options:

  1. Resign
  2. Split the work with colleague B
  3. Hire subordinates.

And as Parkinson points out, any rational actor is going to choose #3, and in doing so will at a minimum hire 2 subordinates, workers C and D. Hiring one subordinate would be effectively equal to #2, splitting the work with C instead of B, and thus increasing the pool of competition (A, B, and C would effectively be at the same level at this point). Thus the rational choice is to hire 2 or more subordinates, and in doing so A can leverage C and D against one another, holding a possible promotion out as a carrot in order to keep C and D in check.

Of course, work expands, eventually C and D become too busy, and thus they must make the same choice that A had to when they were hired. Rational actors as they are, they choose option #3, each hire 2 subordinates (at least), and please welcome E, F, G, and H to the company. Worker A now has a beautiful fucking kingdom; self-loathing because of an unloving mother notwithstanding.

The Law of Multiplication of Work

As Parkinson points out, seven people are now doing what one once did. Instead of simply expanding to fill time, work now begins to multiply. Why? Well the workers begin to create busy work for each other. The example Parkinson gives follows as such:

“An incoming document may well come before each of them in turn. Official E decides that it falls within the province of F, who places a draft reply before C, who amends it drastically before consulting D, who asks G to deal with it. But G goes on leave at this point, handing the file over to H, who drafts a minute, which is signed by D and returned to C, who revises his draft accordingly and lays the new version before A.”

Parkinson continues his example documenting the busy work that this kingdom produces, much of it useless, and leaves the example with A leaving the office for the day:

“Among the last to leave, A reflects, with bowed shoulders and a wry smile, that late hours, like grey hairs, are among the penalties of success.”

Success indeed my King, Success indeed.

Sound Familiar?

If at this point, you haven’t seen the slightest reflection of an org you know, work at, or have worked for then please let us all know the magical organizational utopia that employs (or has employed) you. Snark and rage aside, this really highlights the problems of many organizations; big kingdoms built to produce very little of value other than process and busy work. And that is why the DevOps Silo Rage gets so much airtime. Process and busy work are there to further the growth of the kingdom, not feed the soul of the individuals at the bottom.

This also highlights why DevOps focuses so heavily on borrowing from things like Lean Manufacturing. Lean emphasizes getting rid of unnecessary process and waste, in order to focus on value creation activities. It also empowers the individuals – E, F, G, and H in the example above – to shape how the value creation process should actually work and what processes are wasteful.

Now reflect on A. What if (s)he came in one day and E, F, G, and H wanted to revamp all the “meaningful” process that keeps them in check. What do most kings (or queens) do when a revolt happens? Kingdom in jeopardy, they squash the rebellion and execute the leaders of the rebellion. Sometimes the monarchy throws carrots to the rebels to appease them just enough to keep the rebellion down.

And that is my rub with the Marketing Driven DevOps drivel being produced today. It’s a fucking carrot to appease the rebels in order to keep the status quo, kingdoms intact, and incumbents in bed with the monarchy. It’s an illusion to pretend you’re doing something new, and at the end of the day thinking, “All this hard work is just my price for my success.”

Parkinson’s Law – The Economist – November 19th, 1955 – http://www.economist.com/node/14116121

What if Everything We’ve Been Doing is Wrong?

60-wrong-way

After I wrote my last post, I was talking with Donnie Berkholz as we traveled to FOSDEM. Donnie commented on how powerful of a post it was, yet it left the reader hanging. He, and other readers, wanted more. So I’ve taken the liberty of breaking down more of the reasons Enterprise IT needs a “special kind of DevOps” as posted by Andi Mann. I don’t want anyone to think I am picking on Andi personally. Rather, his post reminds me of all the excuses Enterprises give as to why “We can’t change”. As Mick told Rocky, “There ain’t no can’ts!”

  • They cannot achieve the same levels of agility and personal responsibility as a smaller or less complex organization.

Why Not? Principles that teach agility and speed have long been used at large companies such as Microsoft. (Yes, feel free to say Microsoft is a bad example, they are still one of the world’s largest software companies.) Additionally, if one doesn’t want to take personal responsibility for what they produce for a company, maybe they are in the wrong job for the wrong company?

  • They cannot stream new code into production and just shut down for a couple of hours to fallback if it fails.

This is fool-hardy to begin with. The goal of methods such as Continuous Integration is to be constantly building releases and testing them to catch problems before they are released to production. Also, the idea is to test small changes, so you know exactly what breaks, rather than large chunks of code. Large enterprises “cannot stream new code” because they haven’t built the necessary flows in front of production releases to effectively and efficiently test and verify code changes. This requires IT organizations to fully automate their processes all the way down to server builds, a process they often are incapable of doing because of an attachment to the “old way of doing things”.

  • They rarely ever have ‘two pizza teams’ for development or operations (indeed, they are lucky if they have ‘two Pizza Hut teams’).

The size of the team is nearly always irrelevant. Within each Pizza Hut there are tables, and each table consumes the pizza buffet. The goal of DevOps is to increase the flow of the work through those tables so the teams can eat their pizza and leave quicker. As I’ve said before, focusing on the Silos is the wrong way to solve the problem. Rather focus on the grain elevators that move the grain to produce something meaningful.

  • They cannot sign up for cloud services with a credit card without exceeding their monthly limit and/or being fired.

Get an MSA/PO with the cloud vendor or build a Private Cloud. Cloud or no cloud, building strong automation on top of existing VM or server infrastructure can help alleviate many problems in service delivery.

  • They cannot allow developers to access raw production data, let alone copy it to their laptop for development or testing.

Scrub the data. DevOps or not, this is a problem that we’ve solved years ago. When I worked at a major e-commerce site, real data was often required for testing, but that data was always cleaned of any sensitive PII. This is not an issue that is unique to DevOps.

  • They cannot choose to stream new code into production in violation of a change freeze, or even without the prior approval of a CAB.

Once again, one assumes that DevOps is all about willy nilly pushing of code to production. One aspect of DevOps is about increasing the flow of the work through the system by optimizing the centers where value is added. As I’ve discussed before, principles and practices of DevOps actually help things like Change Control.

  • They cannot just tell developers to carry pagers ‘until their software is bedded in’ (not least because their developers have always carried pagers, and on a full-time basis).

If Devs already carry pagers, then they’ve already been told to carry pagers, hence, “they” can indeed tell their Devs to carry pagers. Additionally, bedding in of the software should happen in the lower environments as discussed previously. If you’ve done things right before production, pagers become a tool that is used when things go really badly. It’s a form of monitoring and incident response that becomes meaningful again because you aren’t being paged for endless break fix work.

  • They cannot put developers and operators together because one team works 24×7 shifts in 7data centers while the other works 16-hour days in 12 different locations.

Well, good, they at least have 16 hours a day together. Highly distributed remote teams are becoming more and more common. Technology is evolving to help bring this concept of remote work and people are finding creative ways to work around it. I’m also against the idea that DevOps is all about merging dev and ops onto one team, because that is not the point. The idea, as already stated, is to increase the flow of work between Dev and Ops and build a culture of continuous improvement between the two groups (three groups if you include the business). Dev, Ops, Business, who gives a shit. The point is working towards a common goal, no matter where you sit.

What large IT shops cannot do is be satisfied anymore with the status-quo. They cannot accept the ways of the past any longer, and they have to start thinking about blowing up their way of doing things. They cannot let the castles and fiefdoms of the past get in the way any longer.

I think the single most powerful question any IT shop can ask themselves is, “What if everything we’ve been doing over the last X years is completely wrong?” Start there, and reevaluate everything you’ve been doing to achieve (or not achieve) the results your customers require.

You’re Not a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake

“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying Enterprise IT Org as everyone else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of IT.” — Apologies to Chuck Palahniuk

Enterprise IT, The SnowflakeI’ve seen a few exchanges from “Enterprise IT” vendors on twitter about the need for “a different kind of DevOps” for Enterprise IT. This culminated with a blog post from Andi Mann from CA on “Big Enterprises Need Big DevOps“. I’ll avoid the proverbial piss taking that could take place on the title alone and instead focus on the content.

First, let me say that Andi is spot on in the problems he mentions with Enterprise IT. Andi highlights that code cannot be “streamed into production” because of change controls. Audit and Compliance is critical for many large IT organizations. Enterprise IT can’t go buy cloud services with a credit card, and so on. In the end, Andi proposes that a new form of DevOps, Big DevOps, is needed to handle the unique nature of Enterprise IT.

But like a first year med student that is trying to impress the professor with an intelligent response, Andi is focusing on the symptoms of the problem, rather than the causes of the problem. Giving a patient a prescription for pain killers because he has a headache will do nothing if the cause of the headache is the patient constantly banging his head against his desk. The only people who benefit from that scenario is the doctor who gets to pay for his boat with the extra office visits, and the prescription drug salesperson that is making their quota (and taking the doctor to steak dinners).

The problem with many Enterprise IT shops is that they think they are a special and unique snowflake. They won’t stop talking long enough to understand how they might actually be their own worst enemy in creating all this process that is not “small DevOps Compliant”. Instead of understanding how the tenets of DevOps can achieve the same goal as many of their legacy processes, they are immediately dismissive.

Take for instance the issues around audit, compliance and change control. Many legacy change controls were put in place because changes to the environment were impossible to track across one or hundred systems. But the ideas of automation and Infrastructure as Code have evolved to help alleviate this problem. Wrapping things like Source Control Management, and Test Driven Development around your automation allows you to 1) have tested infrastructure code, 2) audit what is changing in your environment , 3) have an audit trail of who changed things, and 4) know exactly when it changed. Compare that to legacy change control processes if you will.

If you want to be successful with any large scale organizational change, you need to assume that everything you are currently doing is wrong and be open to change. Attempting to conform the organizational change to the organization just leaves you with the same organization you had in the first place.

Which brings me around to this post from ZeroTurnaround on “Why your organization hates DevOps and won’t implement it this year (again)“. They make excellent points that echoes and reinforces the points made in this post. Enterprise IT won’t do anything about DevOps or Cloud or anything else this year. They are too happy with the status quo. They want the change to conform to them and their processes. But change doesn’t work like that. Change is often hard, but if you dislike change, you’ll dislike irrelevance even more*.

*Props to @jonisick for that great quote.

More about Goats and Silos

Owens Valley Silo Stairs B&WThe morning after my talk on Goats and Silos at the Cloudstack Collaboration Conference I was sitting at a table with Mark Burgess and John Willis. I was busy working through my email, so I only half heard their conversation, but one thing Mark said really stuck with me. Basically Mark pointed out the importance of “breaking down the silos in our mind.”

This of course stuck out to me, and as I began to think about it, that is exactly what this whole idea of Goats and Silos is about. Much of the talk in DevOps is about breaking down organizational silos, which is hard to impossible for us at the individual contributor level. But there is nothing stopping us from breaking down our preconceived notions and biases. within our minds. Go out and explore across the organizational silos in order to break down your own silos. And if you are a manager, give your goats the rope to go and explore across these silos.

Later when Mark left the table, I started talking with John about the idea of “breaking down the silos of our mind.” John reminded me of a talk by David Foster Wallace. Wallace speaks of our cognitive bias, how the exact same experience can be interpreted completely different by two people, and how humans have a default setting of being self centered.

Later in the week, a friend was telling David Nalley and I about a monitor he keeps on his desk. This monitor was used by a trader at a brokerage firm. The trader was using a VDI instance and the instance froze up because of a problem. Needless to say, the trader was in the middle of trying to execute a large deal, and wasn’t able. Frustrated, he punched the monitor and cracked the LCD. That monitor now sits there as a constant reminder that “the work we do matters.”

That is what it is really about; breaking down those silos in our head so we remember the person on the end of what we produce.

The Evolution of an Idea

goats in towerFive months ago a presentation was given in Amsterdam. In that presentation a comment was made that I woke up with a goat in my hotel room. That coupled with the fact that almost every presentation at the conference had a picture of a grain silo in it made some to think they were at a farmer’s conference, not a technology conference.

A quick google search by Arjen Wolfs  found a calculus problem called “The Goat and Silo”, and a challenge was thrown down. I was challenged to build a presentation around “The Goat and Silo”. But as I researched this idea, and talked to others, I found that the idea was not as half cocked as I thought.

Initially, when I talked to people about the idea they thought I was crazy, but as I explained it more they realized the analogy of a goat tied to a silo was an excellent comparison to some IT organizations and the people within them. I wrote an article for Information Week describing the idea of hiring goats, and the response helped to validate the idea. Further validation on the idea was provided at Cloud Connect Chicago where I presented the ideas of goats, silos, and the misconception that silos must be “torn down”.

So now we circle back to Amsterdam, and the Cloudstack Collaboration Conference. I’m excited to be heading back to some of the people that initially hatched the concept, and reflect together with them on the journey over the last five months. Am I crazy (maybe), or do the ideas really reflect what we see on a day to day basis in IT. But what is more exciting is getting to interact with the great attendees and speakers, as well as attend the great talks scheduled.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/valkyrieh116/1209010274/in/photostream/