Time to marry DevOps, Agile and Lean IT, advocates urge

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There have been three great movements shaping the information technology landscape. There is Agile, which emphasizes collaboration in software development; Lean IT, which promotes delivering software faster, better and cheaper; and DevOps, which seeks to align software development with continuous delivery.

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

(The folks at CapGemini provide a helpful overview of the distinctions between Agile, Lean IT, and DevOps.)

These three movements have their own advocates, methodologies and terminology. But when you think about Agile, Lean IT and Agile, aren’t these all the same thing, essentially? They all have the same goals, which is to deliver high-quality software on a continuous basis, collaboratively. Is it time to chuck the terminology and semantics and bring these three activities under the same roof?

Mike Orzen, for one, believes it’s high time these three concepts are brought together into a single mold. In a recent webcast with Niels Loader, Orzen, a noted authority on Lean IT and co-author of a book by the same name, observed that people have tended to coalesce under one of the disciplines.

“We end up in a bit of a tower of Babel, where we’re picking sides, which creates friction in an organization that’s trying to transform,” he points out. “What we’ve seen in many organizations is a little bit of a split — software developers have been using Agile, and that’s different from DevOps. And companies who have worked in Lean — Lean manufacturing, Lean IT — say, ‘we’re already doing Agile, we’re doing Lean. When Agile came along, and DevOps came along, some of the rest of the organization were saying, ‘why are you calling it something else — why is it different?'”

Lean and Agile both have been delivering positive results, Orzen continues. “Some had focused on the development side of the house with Agile; some had focused on the service management side of the house with Lean. But hadn’t spanned the value stream. Then you had DevOps come to the table to try to extend to more of a systems of approach of how we apply Agile and Lean, and at the end of the day they’re really complimentary, and trying to do precisely the same thing with a different focus.”

DevOps is, essentially, the “idea of expanding lean beyond software development throughout the entire enterprise,” Orzen believes. “We have moved from scientific management to engaging people, and now were in the age of integration. We haven’t abandoned the scientific management ideas or the engagement. To achieve integration, not just throughout the IT value stream, but also throughout the entire organization, we’ve got to rely on these core concept of Lean, particularly in how do we engage people at their real level.”

Orzen and Loader have some advice for getting to a highly integrated Agile-Lean-DevOps enterprise:

Rethink leadership styles. Bringing this integrated thinking into IT and business organizations requires changes in leadership style, both Orzen and Loader agree. “Leadership is essential,” Orzen states. “What what were asking people to do is undergo changes in technology, changes in their working environment. In the past, work is what we would see on our desk. There was suboptimization: we make a local improvement, but the customer doesn’t feel it.” Integrated Agile-Lean-DevOps thinking needs to laser-focus on adding value to customers, and delivering that value as quickly as possible, Loader says. “This is where I see a real leadership problem.. A lot of our leaders are still entrenched in traditional management styles — things like monthly reports and steering committees.”

Stay grounded in the foundational principles of Lean, Agile and DevOps. “If you’re not familiar to those principles, get access to them,” Orzen urges. “Go back to the roots — in books on Lean IT, or go back and look at Lean manufacturing.

Don’t underestimate the impact of culture.“We’re talking about change, we’re talking about.. communication and collaboration, we’re talking about transparency, we’re talking about conducting experiments and running a learning organization,” says Orzen. “All of this requires changes in behavior, changes in thinking. The only thing that gets on the way are our habits and our norms.”

Create “flow.” Think beyond the existing organizational structure and hierarchy and think about creating flow across the entire value stream, says Orzen. “I want to reduce or eliminate delays, I don’t want any rework, I don’t queues, I don’t want work sitting. So we need to create the flow before we talk about automation, we need to create flow before we talk about reorganizing the company. The conversation should always begin and end with, ‘what is the impact of flow on customer value?’ At the end of the day, that is what this is all about.”

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