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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

How We Applied a DevOps Mindset to Manage Our People Data

Giant organizations can develop agility, too. Here's how.

We live in an era of diseconomies of scale: start-ups and entrepreneurs can do things quicker and more interestingly than many large organizations. As in the story of David and Goliath, a courageous but small start-up that slingshots its way swiftly from concept to customer can easily outmaneuver a traditional giant. However, realization has dawned of the need to push innovative products rapidly out to market and of the need to quickly respond to turbulent market conditions and changing customer needs. Today's giants have turned to Agile and DevOps -- even before the uncertainty and chaos of COVID-19.

For Further Reading:

Adopting Agility for DataOps

Best Practices for Building an Agile Analytics Development Environment

4 Ways to Evolve Your Project Management

Agile and DevOps are not implemented overnight. In large organizations, practices are developed over time, with significant effort and discipline to create lasting organizational change. The innovation mindset supporting Agile and DevOps is often stifled by existing culture and a set of inflexible processes. Fortunately, pockets of innovation and agility exist in most organizations, just waiting to be woken up. It all starts with a small spark when someone asks the right question "Are the limitations imposed on us really insurmountable?" Often, the solutions to everyday problems are right in front of our eyes.

Innovation and agility require space to grow as well as supportive care and nurturing. A farmer doesn't grow crops by pulling them but instead creates the perfect environment for them to grow and thrive. A common innovation misstep is not having a stable backbone of core management processes and supporting tools for them to be unleashed.

We found ourselves in this situation when setting up fast-growing agile DevOps teams in an IT pocket within a traditional giant organization. Along with program set-up responsibilities such as financing, reporting, tool set-up, support, and training, the agile DevOps transformation program needed to grow and keep track the people on its team. We were responsible for managing an ever-growing inventory of names in the talent pool, reporting on roles and consultant versus staff ratios, and putting forward recruitment requirements.

A further complexity was that requirements needed to be submitted through multiple channels and processes, which were governed by strict hiring rules. We lacked insight and a big picture view, and our high manual overhead resulted in a high error rate.

When our agile DevOps headcount reached more than 130 people, we realized that we needed to apply an agile DevOps mindset to our supporting practices to manage this data -- just to keep up. This mindset includes breaking barriers, cross-organizational collaboration, and shared responsibility. It also includes out-of-the-box thinking, continuous improvement beyond today's processes, experimentation, recognition that stakeholder feedback is paramount, empirical learning, and inspiration through enthusiasm.

Our biggest challenges were underpinned by a need for supporting practices to manage our "people" data. Departmental silos and an absence of a centralized system or method to collaborate increased our challenges. Additionally, we had no budget to buy a system or to fund hours of solution analysis. Recognizing all of this, we thought outside of the proverbial box and looked at what resources we had at hand to solve the seemingly unsolvable. We unconventionally used our commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software requirements management tool to create a common "agile DevOps people" data set, reports, and interface.

Within the tool, we set up a limited access project team and created individual Agile DevOps staff and consultants as user stories, rolling up to team names at feature level and departments at epic level. To accommodate the situation where roles such as solution architect and security specialist worked on multiple teams, we created multiple user stories for these roles and a field on the user story to allow us to filter and report without duplicates. We used tasks linked to user stories and enabled notifications as a workflow for cross-departmental collaboration. Collaboration was needed as we recruited, maintained financial and program admin information, hired, and trained people using this common data set.

The ability to create bespoke views needed by each department and make these available in reports and standard office applications enabled us to gather diverse stakeholder feedback for improvement based on each department's perspective. We welcomed cross-departmental users to the team and trained them, bringing users together from management, finance, human resources, procurement, program admin, and training departments with a shared understanding based on this common data set.

By drawing the right people together to share responsibility, we could set up supporting practices such as a review process for exceptions and housekeeping on the data. We also used the data in automated pull reports and business intelligence dashboards available to executives, saving us hours of manual report compilation and extending the DevOps "measure everything" culture to our support practices.

Though not completely eliminated, we were able to significantly reduce manual overhead and error rates. We could now actively use our people data because we finally had the big picture and the ability to use these insights to continuously improve. Most significantly for the Agile DevOps transformation within this Goliath of an organization, we proved a valuable concept through experimentation and collaboration. This was another shift towards agility, with David now fighting for agility from the inside.

About the Authors

Pam Clavier, Ph.D. advises technology leaders how to transform their IT delivery models. She sets up agile DevOps practices -- from people and culture to technology and solution development. Clavier is excited by strategy as well as hands-on practical work in the trenches, such as building dashboards and reports. Her Ph.D. reflects her interest in IT delivery and data. In her spare time, she writes and speaks about technology-related topics and has published and spoken internationally at academic and industry conferences and for journals. You can contact the author via LinkedIn..

Andre Kaminski is an experienced technology leader, agile DevOps practitioner, and entrepreneur. His passion is creating highly performing, collaborative teams and scaling the organization to rapidly deliver business value. Over the past three decades, he has worked in engineering, product development, project and program management, as well as having served in advisory roles across industries in both the public and private sectors. He is currently a member of IT leadership team at WorkSafeBC, where he leads DevOps organization bringing together business, product development, and operational support staff. You can contact the author via LinkedIn.

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