Back To College - Org Structure

Tuesday I was back in college for semister two of my Masters in DevOps. The two modules are Continuous Software Delivery and Human Org Skills. These will run between now and December and we’re off at pace, the first assignment was handed out already.

I’m really looking forward to the Continuous Software Delivery module, we got a preview of the assessment near the end of last term and it is exciting. We are going to have to build out a end-to-end CI CD pipeline on AWS. We will get to add in all the cool techniques that I’ve read about in The DevOps Handbook and in the State of DevOps Report.

It will be something that I will write a lot more about here on this blog once I get started.

The other module is related to organistaional change, it is important as companies and teams move toward DevOps techniques and practices that they also change the organisational structures that support the teams. Change is hard and apparently this module was one that industry really wanted included and emphasised when the course was being created.

I am lucky that where I work this change is taken seriously and our transformation is well underway. There is a strong focus on the technical talent and hierarchy has been flattened out, technical teams are empowered to take their work where it needs to go. This doesn’t happen without issues and difficulty but it is the right way to be heading.

One thing happens when you remove role of the decision maker (authority & accountability) from directing a team? Well, you remove the wait as your manager asks/checks with their manager and then manager asks the director for the answer/go ahead. There is a leadership bottleneck, how would the Director know which solution is best, they are many levels removed from the frontline thinking about direction and strategy.

It should be faster to make decisions instead of waiting for answers to filter the way back down the chain of command to the team. Self-directed teams, great, but now the team needs to self-direct. Decision by committee isn’t idea either because it can take too long to gain consensus and not everyone’s opinion is equal. The team member who knows the subject matter best has an objective opinion that is of more value than a team member who just joined from a different project. That doesn’t belittle that individual but it is unreasonable to give them one vote each. There are a few techniques on how to deal with this, and Ray Dalio offers an interesting view point of how he ran his organization in Principles. He talks about an idea meritocracy where the best idea should win, not the HIPO (Highest Paid Persons Opinion). The book is good – I’d recommend it. It is something that is easy to say and hard to do, of course you want the best opinion to win, but getting to the best when you don’t know the future is not easy.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all in on self-direction but I don’t want the nuance and complexity to be missed. It doesn’t get easier just because you are self-directed, your team now has the authority and accountability for your decisions. Some people still just want to be told what to do, do it and go home. You need to encourage the development of new skills within a flattened structure.

Teams will need to take ownership of visions, strategy, implementation and execution. This isn’t easier, it is better because as anyone who worked in the previous setup can attest, the people nearest the work do know the issues best and are best placed to make decisions on technical issues. Getting ownership of the vision and strategy adds an onus on the team to really get to know their product and customers. Only then can they self-direct the team in the right direction. So it isn’t easier but its better.

Written on September 19, 2018
[ MSc  DevOps  ]