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May 25, 2017

Q&A with DevOps Research and Assessment CEO, Dr. Nicole Forsgren

By IT Revolution
Nicole Forsgren

We have a treat in store for this year’s DevOps Enterprise Summit (DOES17) London conference attendees. For the last several years, Dr. Nicole Forsgren has conducted a thorough investigation on the current standing of DevOps, in collaboration with Jez Humble, Gene Kim and the team at Puppet. Many of our readers are familiar with the “State of DevOps Report,” and value the insights provided by the research.

As the CEO and Chief Scientist of DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA), Dr. Forsgren helps lead the research initiative for the “State of DevOps Report” and will be joining us in London to present a close-up look at this year’s report and research methods! She will be joined on stage alongside Nigel Kersten (chief technical strategist at Puppet), Jez Humble (CTO at DORA) and Gene Kim (founder at IT Revolution).

To dive deeper into several topics that our attendees have top of mind, we’ve asked Dr. Forsgren to answer some questions around DevOps best practices and recommendations. Let’s see what we can glean from her responses:

DevOps Enterprise Summit (DOES): What are you most excited about for the upcoming event this June?

Nicole Forsgren: My favorite thing about the DevOps Enterprise Summit is always the attendees and their stories. The transformations, the challenges and the wins—they are always inspiring, both personally and professionally. They drive me to continually do better things and give me great ideas and insights I can take back to my own work to make things better.

DOES: What are the biggest problem areas or challenges of large-scale DevOps transformations?

NF: I see two big problems, and they’re related. The first is scale. How do you take success from one team or line of business, and then help spread that outward? In smaller organizations, it’s difficult but more straightforward. In larger enterprises, it can be a bigger challenge.

The other serious challenge is intricately related and it’s this: How do we identify our successes (and failures!) early, so we can capitalize on them (or learn from them) and then spread those learnings more broadly?

DOES: What are the top lessons you’ve learned while leading (or participating in) DevOps transformations?

NF: I have two lessons to share. First, great organizations have transformational leaders that inspire change and are open to hard truths and feedback. And second, great teams can do anything with a strong culture that prioritizes psychological safety and growing the team.

Google’s research mirrors my own research and experience—amazing teams are those where members trust each other and know their work is meaningful (which also means they are given meaningful work). All else will fall into place, and magic happens. The challenge comes in scaling these environments, but it’s worth it.

DOES: What has been your favorite DevOps pattern that you’ve seen or done that radically improves outcomes?

NF: A great pattern for me comes down to good measurement. Without it, we only know epic wins or failures, and those are too risky. With good measurement, we can baseline and benchmark our performance and better understand the value of our initiatives and investments. It also help us spread good practices to other parts of the business. It allows us to easily identify the teams that stand out so they can be exemplars of best practice as we embark on our own journey.

Metrics help us communicate across silos and metrics help us spread the good news and practices widely and more quickly. Good metrics also help us show to all parts of the business that technology is an investment – not a cost – and that it is a key value driver and differentiator for the business.

DOES: What do you think is the most important metric when measuring DevOps success?

NF: That all depends on what you mean by success. In the research I’ve conducted with the team at Puppet, Gene, and Jez, we see that the ability to develop and deliver software with both speed and stability is a central and key factor – so I might choose this. In that case, we measure success as a combination of four things: deployment frequency, lead time for changes (code commit to code deploy), mean time to restore (MTTR), and change fail rate.

These are key factors because from here, so many other things flow: organizational performance (profitability, productivity, and market share), noncommercial measures (like efficiency), organizational culture and customer satisfaction metrics. As an added bonus, employee satisfaction metrics that are indicative of hiring and retention also flow from here. I love this metric.

DOES: Choosing a value stream for DevOps transformation deserves careful consideration—which would you start with and why?

NF:I always recommend selecting a value stream that is big/important enough that you will get resources for it, and that when you deliver, you will get the attention of people whose opinion matters. (Bonus points if this will be visible to and impact customers.) This should NOT be a trivial project. Balance this with a project that is small enough that it can be completed quickly (approximately eight weeks) and if something does completely fall off the rails (because you are trying something new – failure with learning must be acceptable), the company can accommodate. For this reason, greenfield projects are often preferred.

DOES: What are your favorite resources you look to (past and present) for leveraging the best practices and principles?

NF: Wow… this list is definitely not comprehensive:

Thanks Nicole for those valuable comments and the list of books and resources!

If you haven’t yet had a chance to browse this year’s conference agenda, please take a look and start planning your experience for DOES17 London.

By the way, it is not too late to register, but tickets are now extremely limited! Head over to the registration page today and secure your spot at the DevOps Enterprise Summit London and join Nicole and our other wonderful speakers for two incredible days of learning, sharing, networking and fun!

- About The Authors
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IT Revolution

Trusted by technology leaders worldwide. Since publishing The Phoenix Project in 2013, and launching DevOps Enterprise Summit in 2014, we’ve been assembling guidance from industry experts and top practitioners.

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