Finding Alignment
By Michael Hedgpeth · June 24, 2016
Finding Alignment

I’ve got a lot of things on my plate right now, but let me be clear: I’m not going to stand in the way of what the business wants to do.

I’ve been told this many times before. In the early days of trying to create alignment for initiatives that are important to our strategy, I would have taken it as a sign of support. Instead, I translate it into what this same person would say to her boss about this same subject.

“Michael came and talked to me about [Awesome Initiative]. (Sigh) He says it’s going to really change things for us. Are we really going to waste our time with this crap or are we going to serve our customers? I’ll do whatever, but fair warning: this project has ‘disaster’ written all over it, and you won’t get that feature you’ve been asking for either, you can kiss that goodbye for this year.”

That’s quite a different story, isn’t it?

So how to respond? I’ve been tempted in the past to write people off and try to do it anyway. I’ve found over the years though that this is a mistake, because a sufficiently motivated individual can and will destroy your project if they don’t feel listened to.

I’ve found that the keys are respect and empathy.

Respect can’t be faked. I can’t really only respect my opinion, or those of the consultants I’m working with, and then merely try to get you on board with my project. That doesn’t work. People see past that. Instead, I need to walk into the relationship with the understanding and true belief that you are a smart person with real needs that may be solvable by what I’m working on. This is a discovery of where your needs meet my solutions. I’m open to changing my solution because I cannot possibly predict all of your needs without your iterative interaction.

Empathy is key because I really need to feel what you’re feeling, from a business perspective, and even from a personal perspective. What makes you excited or happy? What are you afraid of? What is painful for you? How does that affect you? Is there anything I can do to help you with that?

Following this pattern has led me to understand that, at a generic level, different groups have a natural alignment and misalignment with DevOps:

TeamNatural AlignmentNatural Misalignment
DevelopmentFaster Delivery of featuresHave to be engaged in operations, more “work” to do
OperationsLess fires, more consistencyHave to learn a new skillset and be a beginner
SecurityMore consistency, complianceAutomation can cause unknown vulnerabilities
BusinessFaster ROI for development, lower cost for operations, and a scale model that worksTakes ongoing investment in culture and tools

As I focus on respect and empathy I can find the natural alignment and mitigate the natural misalignment with each group.

For developers, we can help them deliver features faster and thus get a truly agile feedback loop. But we can also help them culturally begin to share the ownership of the operability of their product with the operations team. The key is ensuring that their desire for consistency and velocity outweighs their disdain for caring about how it works in production. We do this by finding their pain points in operations, catch them blaming operations for those pain points, then show them that they actually can do something about their problem.

For QA, we can help them deliver features more safely by minimizing the amount of time they spend creating environments and ensuring that they have consistent, hardened environments. This is all exciting, but they must engage the other teams to define infrastructure, and they must be willing to not be lazy and just click the damn checkbox in IIS when they want something changed. Culturally they shouldn’t have a problem with this, but in reality QA always gets changes at the end of a release or sprint and is under a time crunch to ensure quality. So we work with them to show them how much time they are spending on this and how we can use automation to get them focused on the important stuff: ensuring quality in a way that computers can’t or writing automation against production-like environments.

For Operations, we can help them avoid the unexpected problems that come about without good automated configuration management. But to them, it comes at a cost. Many of the things that made them successful (incident resolution, working crazy hours, following directions) aren’t compatible with creating and engaging with automation. So they have to be fine with starting from scratch and building themselves back up. They have to see a payoff if they’re going to take that kind of career and time risk. The payoff in my mind is that they get to do more valuable work for the business by automating things and that value will translate into a more rewarding job for them.

For Security, we can help them achieve the consistency and compliance at all levels that has alluded them. Yes they have controls defined and exercised in production. But they struggle with other teams thinking of them as a blocker to progress. Also, as we automate more, they’re afraid that we are going to take this nice shiny devops Ferrari and wreck it into a wall. So we work on automating compliance and on developing a change management process that ensures proper control and separation of duties into production. We don’t fight them. We work with them to achieve their goals. Once this happens, the perceived blocker becomes a champion and driver of our changes.

For Management, they get the benefits outlined above. But they also have to lead a cultural transformation. We can’t do it the easy way when that means just running the command or clicking that checkbox over there. We have to be committed to a repeatable, auditable process for change. So we need to train the people we have with new skills and be patient as they figure this out. We need to be OK with someone spending a little while on automating that thing, because the payoff will be huge over the next few years. And we need to be OK with absorbing the cost of tooling and vendor partnerships to realize the dream.

Once we see things this way, it’s much easier to get everyone to the goal together. While I can’t guarantee that one won’t encounter the statement at the beginning of the post, I can guarantee that following this model will give someone something constructive to do afterward.