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April 17, 2017

Patience, Evolution, Politics and Permission

By IT Revolution
Rob England

Rob England Shares Top Lessons Learned While Leading DevOps Transformations

The speakers we have on this year’s DevOps Enterprise Summit (DOES17) London agenda are no doubt the best of the best. We recently made the full conference program available, so you can browse the sessions for yourself and start planning your DOES17 experience. If you haven’t had a chance to take a look yet, you can find the agenda here.

We’re thrilled to have Rob England, independent IT management consultant, trainer and commentator based in New Zealand, back at DOES17 London—this time as a speaker! Rob is the managing director at Two Hills Ltd, which offers IT consulting and training, and has worked with clients large and small, from government and commerce. Rob is also the author behind the IT Skeptic blog and has contributed many valuable insights to the world of DevOps as a writer and speaker.

Rob was recently featured in a DevOps Chat with, and in preparation for the summit in June, we’ve asked him a few questions about hot-topic DevOps issues impacting today’s enterprises.

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

Rob England: The number one challenge is conservative culture. Objections are: “that won’t work here,” “we don’t have the resources,” “it is too risky,” “we tried that,” or “we’ve always done it this way.”

And number two is complex entangled legacy architectures (applications and infrastructure) which are tightly coupled and lack independence.

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


  1. Patience, patience, patience. Some people have to see and feel it to believe it. It takes years to change a corporate culture and to bring everyone along.
  2. Evolution, not revolution. The irony of taking a big-bang, one-shot approach to transformation seems lost on some people. Iterate, increment, explore and experiment.
  3. Politics, politics, politics. Appease the holders of power and let them be winners. Find the kitchen cabinet. Build a circle of champions. Do the basics like Kotter (John Kotter, renowned for his work on leading organizational change), do Change 101. Beware the corporate immune system.
  4. Permission, permission, permission. Empowered people blossom. Let them know it is ok to experiment, to fail, to take initiative, to lead. Many people are “victims of the system.” They behave the way they do because of the unreasonable position they are put in. If you change the system, you change the mood.

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

RE: Shift left. Embed quality, assign accountability, and do tests and controls earlier.

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

RE: There are four.

The first two ask, “Are we getting better?”

  1. Throughput of work. (Velocity, productivity…)
  2. Quality of work. (Defects, stability …)

The second two ask, “Is the improvement sustainable?”

  1. Cultural debt. (Staff and customer satisfaction, morale and retention.)
  2. Technical debt. (Required investment, problems, work backlog…)

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

RE: When you experiment, it doesn’t have to be a whole value stream. You can try ideas in scattergun fashion across the enterprise. This way, people see the potential. If it must be a whole value stream, make sure it really is independent and that you really are bi-modal, so they can succeed. Once you commit to a new way of working, don’t be bi-modal. Converge everyone and move everyone forward iteratively, incrementally, together.

DOES: What new Ops skills and roles may be needed in a DevOps future?

RE: Toolmaking, coding, and systems thinking. And the ability to make eye contact with other humans.

DOES: What are your favorite resources you look to (past and present) for leveraging the best practices and principles—this could be in the form of research, books, events, articles, etc.


  1. DevOps Enterprise Summit
  2. The DevOps Handbook by Gene Kim, Jez Humble, Patrick Debois and John Willis
  3. DevOps Cafe
  4. Everything I ever learned about ITSM

DOES: We’re all continuous lifelong learners: Share one lesson that you’d like to share with the audience:

RE: Play to your strengths, don’t try to fix your weaknesses (Buckingham and Coffman, First Break All the Rules).

DOES: Anything else that we did not ask that you would like to ask fellow speakers? Or anything that you’d like to add that was not covered above?

RE: Other questions I would pose to my fellow speakers are:

  • What are the best patterns/models for the transformation engine (the system that drives the culture change)?
  • How do you effect/drive the journey to DevOps?
  • Is DevOps really just Lean IT with a coat of paint, (as Troy DuMoulin put it to me)? A long-term IT manager said to me: “Why have we been doing this to ourselves all these years?” Why did we never fix it sooner?

Surviving DevOps

DevOps Enterprise Summit 2017

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Rob, we look forward to seeing you June 5 and 6 in London! Rob’s session, “Surviving DevOps,” takes place Tuesday, June 6, Breakout D. If you’d like to join Rob in London for DOES17, it’s not too late to register.

And make sure to catch our next #DOES17 CrowdChat beginning April 25 at 7 a.m. PDT/ 3 p.m. BST, hosted by several DOES17 speakers and our own Gene Kim.

- 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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