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May 3, 2021

Scaling DevOps across the Business: American Airlines’ DevOps Journey Part 2

By IT Revolution

As we learned in Part 1 of the American Airlines’ DevOps transformation, their journey spanned several years. By year three they had realized that DevOps was really a bigger transformation than just a way of working in IT, it was a business transformation. 

How to Scale DevOps Across the Business

Their next challenge became how to scale these new ways of working across the entire business, to accelerate and further execute their transformation and their learnings.

They brought in Ross Clanton as Managing Director, Chief Architect – Technology Transformation to help guide them to the next level. 

To drive the conversation across the organization they focused on two things:

  • the why: building a competitive advantage
  • the how: business and IT teams working together to maximize business value

To scale the vision that was set in IT, “deliver value faster,” they mapped out a transformation based on the following structure of four key pillars: 

  • delivery excellence: how we work (practices, product mindset)
  • operating excellence: how we’re structured (product taxonomy, funding model, operating model, prioritization)
  • people excellence: growing talent and culture (including evolving leadership behaviors)
  • technology excellence: modernization (infrastructure and technology foundation, automation, move to cloud, etc.)

Scaling the Culture

Once they had their transformation scaling strategy in place, they had to focus on scaling the culture across the business in order to continue to drive the transformation forward. As Clanton said in his presentation at DevOps Enterprise Summit in 2020, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

To scale the culture, they focused on three key attributes:

  1. Passion: teams focused on delighting customers, being the best at getting better, embrace failure and get stronger because of it. 
  2. Selflessness: collaborate and share knowledge and code across organization, innersourcing, making space for others voice and helping others win. 
  3. Accountability: own the outcomes even when they’re hard, how you do something is as important as what you do.

By focusing on these three cultural pillars, the teams at American Airlines are now “empowered and going out of their way to empower others,” according to Clanton.

As the global pandemic hit in 2020, American Airlines focused on the following values to ensure their teams could still achieve success and results even amidst global change. They valued:

  • action and doing over analysis
  • collaboration over silos
  • clarity of mission over trying to do everything
  • empowerment over personal stamp on every effort (set the goals and empower teams to get there)
  • getting something out (MVP) versus getting something perfect
  • “We can do this” versus hierarchy (collaboration across org boundaries)
  • finishing versus starting (limiting WIP and focusing on top priorities)

The New Way of Working

So how do they work now? Instead of throwing requirements over a way, they now have a team of stakeholders from the business, IT, design, etc. They pivoted their planning model to have leaders define clear outcomes, and the teams are able to decide how they deliver on those outcomes. 

The teams deliver by focusing on small tasks that add value incrementally. By keeping tasks small, the teams are able to finish quickly (driving value faster), and focus on finishing not starting. 

To enable all of this change it was necessary for leadership to change their ways of working as well. Leaders have pivoted to serving the teams, removing impediments and constraints that prevent the teams from delivering value. Instead of status meetings, leadership attend playback meetings (demos) to see what the teams are doing and provide guidance in the moment.

To that end they also realized that to help change the mindset of leaders and get everyone aligned in thinking, talking, and acting from an agile/DevOps perspective they needed to help provide a new vocabulary. Below is a table of some of the ways they helped pivot the conversation.

As Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines related, the transformation that AA has undertaken “is making us more efficient, we get projects done more quickly, the projects delivered are more designed to what the users need…it’s already making a huge difference to how to manage projects at American Airlines…What I’m most proud of is, the champion of delivery transformation is not IT anymore, it’s the business leaders who embraced it. They see how much faster they’re getting the work done, and they’re spreading the word everywhere else. And that’s making a big difference.”

The American Airlines journey is concluded in the next post.

- 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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