Episode 11: The Principles and Practices behind Team of Teams
Guests: David Silverman and Jessica Reif (Part 1)
In this episode of The Idealcast, Gene Kim sits down with Team of Team’s coauthor and CEO of CrossLead, David Silverman, and Director of Research and Development at CrossLead, Jessica Reif, for a two-part interview.
In Team of Teams, David and his coauthors explained how the Joint Special Forces Task Force in Iraq was struggling to achieve its mission, and how they turned it into a success. Their experience led to a deep and critical rethinking of almost everything in US military services and in the commercial industry. Now at CrossLead, David works with Jessica Reif to continue researching and codifying these practices into their management framework.
In Part 1 of the interview, Gene and his guests discuss the structure and dynamics of the transformation described in Team of Teams and how these leadership characteristics are needed today in the new ways of working. This leadership framework reinforces the concepts of common purpose, shared consciousness, empowerment, and trust within organizations to help teams work together more effectively in complex environments, particularly when they have to continuously adapt to change. Stay tuned for Part 2.
Entrepreneur, bestselling author, and former Navy SEAL, David Silverman is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of CrossLead, Inc. Founded in 2016, CrossLead is a technology company whose leadership and management framework is used by leaders and companies around the globe.
In 2015, David co-authored the New York Times bestselling leadership and management book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. As a thought leader on culture change, high-performing teams, and leadership, he is a frequent guest speaker for business leaders and conferences around the globe.
After his 13-year career as a Navy SEAL, David and a group of like-minded friends sought to reinvent the way the world does business in today’s dynamic environment. Based on their collective service in the world’s premier Special Operations Units, they devised a holistic leadership and management framework called CrossLead. Today, CrossLead is a leading framework for scaling agile practices across the enterprise. Implemented in some of the world’s most successful organizations, CrossLead drives faster time-to-market, dramatic increases in productivity, improvement in employee engagement, and more predictable business results.
Prior to CrossLead, David co-founded the McChrystal Group where he served as CEO for five years. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David served as a Navy SEAL from 1998-2011. He graduated Basic Underwater Demolition School (BUD/S) Class 221 in 1999 as the Honor Man. David deployed six times around the world, including combat deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Southeast Asia where he received three Bronze Stars and numerous other commendations.
David serves on the advisory board of the Headstrong Project and is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization. David lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, Hollis, and their two children. He maintains an active lifestyle as a waterman and runner.
Jessica Reif is the Director of Research & development for CrossLead Inc, where she leverages the latest management research to develop new approaches to increasing business agility for CrossLead’s clients. She leads CrossLead’s education efforts and has developed training programs that have been delivered to over 20,000 leaders. Previously, Jessica served as a Product Delivery Manager for applied machine learning and engineering teams at Oracle Data Cloud, where her role was to facilitate agile development among a team-of-teams. Jessica holds a B.S. in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University. In her free time, she enjoys golfing, baking, and hiking.
Gene Kim is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, researcher, and multiple award-winning CTO. He has been studying high-performing technology organizations since 1999 and was the founder and CTO of Tripwire for 13 years. He is the author of six books, The Unicorn Project (2019), and co-author of the Shingo Publication Award winning Accelerate (2018), The DevOps Handbook (2016), and The Phoenix Project (2013). Since 2014, he has been the founder and organizer of DevOps Enterprise Summit, studying the technology transformations of large, complex organizations.
In 2007, ComputerWorld added Gene to the “40 Innovative IT People to Watch Under the Age of 40” list, and he was named a Computer Science Outstanding Alumnus by Purdue University for achievement and leadership in the profession.
He lives in Portland, OR, with his wife and family.
Gene Kim (00:00:00):
This episode is brought to you by IT Revolution, whose mission is to help technology leaders succeed through publishing and events. You're listening to the Idealcast with Gene Kim brought to you by IQ Revolution. In this episode of the Idealcast, I'm so delighted to have on David Silverman and Jessica Reif.
Gene Kim (00:00:26):
David Silverman is a coauthor of Team of Teams and is founder and CEO of CrossLead. Dave spent 13 years as a US Navy seal leaving as a Lieutenant Commander, having received three bronze stars and other commendations. Later, Dave worked with his colleagues to codify and write down some of their amazing lessons learned to future leaders as part of that journey. Dave co-founded McChrystal group, where he served as their CEO for five years. I am such a huge fan of this book, which described how in 2004, the Joint Special Forces Task Force in Iraq was failing to achieve their mission to dismantle Al-Qaeda in Iraq and what they did about it. Their work led to not only them achieving the strategic objectives, but it also led to a deep and critical rethinking of almost everything across all US military services and in commercial industry as well.
Gene Kim (00:01:20):
Also with me is Jessica Reif, the director of research and development for CrossLead, where she continues her work researching and codifying practices into the CrossLead management framework. She currently leads their education efforts, which have been delivered to over 20,000 leaders. I am so delighted that like so many of us, she comes from a software background. She was previously product delivery manager for applied machine learning and engineering teams at Oracle Data Cloud, where she had to solve the team of team challenges in a software development and delivery context.
Gene Kim (00:01:54):
In this episode, I was so honored to be able to learn more about the philosophies and thinking that went into Team of Teams, one of my favorite books I've read in the last decade. I learned about the truly breathtaking scale of the organization and management required to support hundreds of thousands of personnel involved in these operations and how it impeded the achievement of their portions of the mission. I learned about just how dramatic the changes were and the transformation described in the book. It is utterly amazing to hear about how and why it worked and being able to piece together the structure and dynamics both before and after the transformation.
Gene Kim (00:02:35):
It talks about the leadership characteristics that are needed in this new way of working. I learned more about the famous ops intelligence update call, the famous 90-minute call that happened daily involving 3,000 people around the globe 365 days a year, and what was required to increase a temp of operations by over two orders of magnitude enabled by breaking some pretty amazing constraints. And as a side note, it is amazing to hear Dave describe the events that I read about in the book often with a sense of wonder even 10 years later.
Gene Kim (00:03:08):
This is part one of a two-part interview. You may notice that I asked Dave a lot of questions in the beginning to help set the stage and educate us on what the context of the book was. You will hear a lot more from Jessica at the end and in part two of this interview.
Gene Kim (00:03:27):
Dave and Jessica, I'm so happy that you're both here. You both know how much I admire the Team of Teams book. It's been a topic of discussion in almost every one of these podcasts, but also within the broader DevOps enterprise community as well. So could you both describe yourselves in your own words and tell us about your involvement in the development of this amazing book?
David Silverman (00:03:48):
I'm super excited to be talking to your listeners today about this journey. A little bit of background on me. So I grew up a military brat really moving around because my father was in the United States Navy as an aviator. He had served in Vietnam and we moved around a lot as kids. And eventually I found myself at the Naval Academy trying to continue that legacy of service. And I really wanted to be a part of a high-performing team because growing up, that's always where my passion was, was in sports, specifically, water sports. And so, I was fortunate enough to get selected and picked to become a Navy SEAL. And I graduated at this sort of interesting time in recent history of the United States, which is, we've been in a prolonged period of peace and prosperity relative to the military services in the late '90s and early 2000s.
David Silverman (00:04:43):
And then after my first deployment, we came back and everything changed. 9/11 had happened and for the next, well still going on today, really, but for me the next 10 years, it was effectively just a non-stop series of operational deployments around the world, trying to combat this threat of terrorism that had been manifesting for a while beforehand. And so during that journey, me and a lot of peers, you kind of went through this crucible of being very junior officers in the military, and then sort of being baptized and brought up in this new conflict, had to go through rapid change and iteration. And we felt like that experience was pretty transformational, but two, our assumptions were that it wasn't unique to the military, that some of the lessons that we were learning on the battlefield were going to be applicable to broader society and industry at large. And so a group of us got together, started a company to try to translate those experiences into services. And then ultimately try to codify that experience in the book Team of Teams.
Gene Kim (00:05:50):
Awesome. And Jessica, how did you get involved in this amazing effort.
Jessica Reif (00:05:56):
Gene, thanks much for having us. I'm a huge fan of the Idealcast and really excited to be here today as well. So I've been working with CrossLead for the better part of seven years in one capacity or another. Like you said, I'm part of the research involvement org now. I wasn't directly involved with the writing of the book Team of Teams, and it was actually well underway by the time I met Dave, but after the book was published, there has been a lot of interest from enterprises that really understood that they could benefit from applying our firm's methodology CrossLead, which is a set of practices that reinforces the concepts of common purpose, shared consciousness, empowerment, and trust within organizations. So this is really the area that I'm really passionate about and my primary role has been to develop research-based training programs and practices that help teams work together more effectively in complex environments, particularly when they have to continuously adapt to change.
Gene Kim (00:06:54):
This is so great. I've been waiting so long to interview both of you. So Dave, you talked about your desire to go back and start writing things down. Could you talk about what the motivation for that was? If I understand correctly, you were trying to teach other junior officers in the US Navy. What were the goals of that? Who were you trying to teach? What did you teach them and why do you think those teachings were missing?
David Silverman (00:07:20):
Yeah. So, let me go back a little bit. So to frame what's going on here, it's 2001, I get back from deployment in August from a tour of the Pacific where predominantly our mission was to engage in training and mutual bilateral relationships with allies to help them as they sort of advance or professionalize their respective militaries. We come home, I go out to the East Coast with my at the time girlfriend to meet her family and friends, and then fly back on September 10th of 2001 on the flight that the next day crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. And so I get a frantic phone call at 6:00 AM in the morning from her father who believes we're on that flight, panics saying, "Are you guys okay? Where are you guys?" And that was the start of a pretty crazy time.
David Silverman (00:08:14):
So fast forward, the invasion of Iraq has occurred, I've come back from being a part of that experience. And it's now about six or seven months later, I'm sitting in a friend's living room, my best friend, my roommate from college, and one of his mentors and Naval Academy graduate as well, who is a Marine, and this guy's name was Doug Zenbiec. And he asked this profound question in this room and to understand that scenario, when you train to go to war, you have this preconceived notion of what it's going to be like. And so really what this conversation was trying to sort of unpack and unwind what the actual experience was, and we'd had three very different experiences. In the case of Doug, he had just come out of the first battle of Fallujah, where his unit had taken 70% casualties.
David Silverman (00:09:03):
And it was obviously a very intense and life-changing experience for him. And he made this statement, he said, "Look, every generation in the United States history has served during times of need. And they go overseas, they do things, they learn, and they bring those experiences back to society to try to improve it. I believe fundamentally that this war is going to be different than other wars. I think it's going to be a prolonged fight. I think the percentage of the population that's going to be engaged in it actively is going to be very small because I don't anticipate there being a draft. So it's going to be incumbent upon people like us to capture those experiences and translate them back into society to make it better." I was 25 at the time. I was like that's heavy, heavy stuff in the conversation, but that was the initial seed for what would later become CrossLead and the book Team of Teams.
David Silverman (00:09:55):
And so fast forward, it's now four or five years later, we've now done multiple deployments to various combat zones around the world, all of us. And I get a phone call as I'm walking through the United States' Senate offices, where I'm told that Doug's Zenbiec was just killed in Iraq. And here was a good friend of mine, a guy that was in my wedding. Obviously he was a larger than life figure that had a profound impact on a lot of people, but we came out of that experience. I would go back to Afghanistan and when I came home-
Gene Kim (00:10:26):
What year is that at this point?
David Silverman (00:10:28):
This is now 2009, 2010 timeframe when we got back from Afghanistan. Doug would die in 2007. And we said, "Hey, look, let's take this thesis that Doug had and see if we can live up to this legacy of service and try to give back in some meaningful way." And the experience that we had overseas during that ten-year period, and to be fair, it's still going on today, was pretty transformational. We came from this legacy training and development program in the SEAL teams, which was I would say, tied to industrial warfare best practices, and what we had transformed into was something much more akin to an agile leadership and management best practices. We didn't call it those terms because to be honest you, I didn't even know what agile meant, but what it meant was this idea that you are part of a larger task force that was tightly coupled with a lot of interdependencies.
David Silverman (00:11:26):
And we had to rapidly disseminate and learn effectively in real time so that then we can apply those lessons locally to make faster, better decisions to combat our threat. And the enemy at the time was leveraging significant advancements in technology for them to disseminate learnings, while we were still initially passing up key lessons through a very hierarchal, bureaucratic information flow. And so we were at a significant disadvantage and that disadvantage is where on an aggregate level, we found ourselves losing. And so when we made this pivot to operating much more analogous to what I would say, agile principles and values, all of a sudden we rapidly increased our rate of learning, which then allowed us to bring to bear all of our competitive advantages associated with technology, talent, and training to basically combat and sort of suppress this immediate threat of a violent, radical extremism that was manifesting in the areas that we were operating in.
David Silverman (00:12:22):
So our thesis was, we're not unique to the military. The fact that larger change that was happening in the environment was this advancement of how people fundamentally communicate and collaborate and learn that was being enabled by mobile and social technology and media. And that if you could get organizations to think fundamentally differently about that, they could also have decisive effects on how fast they could adapt their operating practices to be competitive in an environment that was increasingly more complex or changing very rapidly.
Speaker 1 (00:12:57):
This is amazing. And I have goosebumps for so many reasons. If I understand correctly, one of your immediate goals was to teach fellow junior officers. Can you talk about what you taught and who you were teaching and maybe how receptive they were to being taught?
David Silverman (00:13:14):
Well, I would say while we were part of this task force the immediate goal was to disseminate learnings across the mid-level ranks of the organization as quickly as possible, so that they could apply those lessons locally. So in that sense, yes, we were trying to teach the senior NCOs, non-commissioned officers, and the frontline managers and leaders what was happening and how they can apply those locally at the same pace that they were changing. When we came and got out, our initial thesis was we were going to focus this predominantly on, one, validating that this hypothesis was correct.
David Silverman (00:13:46):
And our goal was to try to do that in industry because our thesis was industry had quantifiable metrics that would judge operational performance that we could attach this framework to and we could demonstrate results. And if we could demonstrate results, then we, theoretically, we could take it back and try to address larger social opportunities and issues like COVID-19. I mean, which I think is a perfect example of how the globe has been mobilized. And should be thinking of itself as the team of teams and how they're trying to rapidly learn from each other on best therapeutics or best treatments or best vaccines that could be then rapidly disseminated, hopefully save lives and restore the economy back to safety again.
Speaker 1 (00:14:27):
Oh, right on. And by the way, I believe so wholeheartedly in your thesis. So that initial teaching was really for the team of teams in the context of Iraq later Afghanistan, the people who are embedded in these missions that were mutually dependent to achieve the goals. Is that correct?
David Silverman (00:14:44):
Yeah. So, to answer that more broadly, the original task force had a global mandate, but it was concentrated predominantly in those two areas that you've talked about, Iraq and Afghanistan. And, but very quickly, what we realized was that those two theaters of operation were highly connected, both from us, our allies, and also our adversary with the rest of the geography. So in this case, the Maghreb and the Levant and other parts of the Arabian peninsula, were feeding, funding talent resources into those AOs. And so, if you're trying to go upstream from the problem and try to address it on multiple different areas, you needed to have a broader coalition that was mobilized around the problem set. And so what initially was what we thought was decoupled like, well, what happens in Algeria is really irrelevant to what's happening on a daily basis. And Baghdad became actually highly connected. And when you started to realize that maybe there was a [madras 00:15:45] that was radicalizing and then sending through these what we call it, rat lines, talent and money all the way that was then ending up on the battlefield in Baghdad.
David Silverman (00:15:54):
So, how do I get the people that are trying to solve that problem in Algeria on board and understanding the problem that we're seeing here, so that they can take that in context and figure out how to apply it locally. So, that was the intent of the original process changes that we made was to say, the solution here is part of a larger network of organizations, countries, and that need to be mobilized around this problem set if we're going to solve it. No one person has the piece of the puzzle, but if we can put all the pieces on the thing, we could probably start figuring out what this thing actually looks like. And then once we're aligned on what it looks like, then we can start to operate much faster, more effectively, locally to solve the problem.
Gene Kim (00:16:36):
This is so terrific. So, one of the things that I've been so looking forward to is just really trying to understand the Team of Teams story through the lens of structure and dynamics. And so, you may or may not know I've been spending this whole year, really trying to view the world through how Steve Spear views the world through three simple things, the notion of dominant architecture, in other words, there's a way of doing things that is very dependable, but very resistant to change.
Gene Kim (00:17:03):
Then any system of work is really made up of two things, structure and dynamics. So structure is a way that we organize teams and the ways that the teams interface with each other, so it's most probably, obviously manifested through the org chart, but also things that maybe aren't visible, which is the way that teams are allowed or incentivized to talk to each other or not.
Gene Kim (00:17:25):
And then there's dynamics, which is almost wholly a function of structure. So the dynamics are about feedback, how quickly we get feedback. It's about the ways that signals are either amplified or extinguished. So when we have a culture that people are afraid to tell bad news, important signals might get lost entirely. Whereas if we are trying to elevate weak signals, signals can be spread throughout the system far faster than it could through any sort of centralized command and control system.
Gene Kim (00:17:53):
Can you tell us about how was your Iraq experience relative to General Stanley McChrystal? In the book Team of Teams, McChrystal said he wanted a different approach. What were the visible things that he did and enacted? What were the resulting challenges that he tasked his leadership? And how does that cascade down to you? And just, I'm dying to hear also your reflections as an outside observer in terms of how you interpret this.
David Silverman (00:18:17):
Yeah, it's a big question. And there's probably not going to be an answer that satisfies it complete, but maybe to give some context here, if you think of bureaucratic structures or charts, I think that US military sort of mastered how to make that as painful and as rigid as possible. And some of that's out of necessity because of the complexity of the operations and the pure scope of how they're trying to perform. So if you go back to something like an invasion of Iraq, you have a geographic combatant commander who's responsible for a geography, that is a four-star either general or admiral. And they have a mandate to basically operationally manage control, fight forces that are deployed to it from in this case, the joint staff, which is the higher headquarters at the Pentagon, which takes assets from the different services and says, these assets are yours to use within these constraints for this period of time.
David Silverman (00:19:11):
And now when a war happens, there's a further sub-setting that takes place, means there's now, in this case, a four-star commander put in charge of the operation in Iraq, he has or she has unique authorities and permissions associated with that theater. And then inside of it, you'll have a combination of conventional forces, coalition forces, special operations forces, and then a whole host of other government organizations. Could be intelligence apparatus, it could be non-government organizations, you name it. So, the hardest thing when you first get on the ground, especially if you're a relatively junior officer, like myself, was just figuring out where you fit in. You're like, "I don't even know. Can somebody show me an org chart on where I fit in? So I understand what are my operating sort of boundaries and permissions and who do I need to keep informed?"
David Silverman (00:19:56):
And it's highly matrixed and very complex. And I would say, so we spent a lot of time just trying to sort through all that. And if you're relatively junior, you almost need like an experienced PhD to figure out how to map the whole thing out in complex. So when we got there, this wasn't unique, and traditionally what happens is if it's predominately a military operation, there's a military leader who has a civilian counterpart and they two work in parallel to try to prosecute the goals and objectives of the coalition and in this case, United States. And special operations would be one of the tools that they're given. Now in the special operations community, we had different types of special operations units. We had sort of high-end counter-terrorism strategic assets, which in this case was being led and managed by the Joint Special Operations Command of which General McChrystal was the leader for more than five years.
David Silverman (00:20:48):
And then you had conventional special operations forces, which are usually designed to train the eyes and equip and help fight alongside coalition assets and everything in between to be honest with you. I mean, even to try to explain that the special operations community, it's a pretty diverse group. So what we realized pretty quickly was you have all these individual tribes per se, operating in this common battle space and somewhere somehow it's loosely connected, but for the most part, their cultures, their processes, their decision-making rights were all pretty siloed off, pretty isolated from each other. And what we realized was that this wasn't going to work, we couldn't piece mail a solution to this level of complexity. It needed to be something that could be much more organic in sort of how it operated and grew.
David Silverman (00:21:35):
And so very quickly, when you get too close to a problem, you sort of naturally figure this out. So if you put a junior person from four different organizations in the same physical location, and you give them a similar mandate to say, "Provide security to the area," they start to collab, hopefully, collaborate, learn, trust each other through relationships. And informally, start to operate more like a team of teams. The challenge is, as you go up the bureaucracy, those relationships are much more, I would say that muscle memory for how they operate is much more rigid, and so it becomes much harder to do that. And so part of the goal of the task force was to break down that mid-level and even senior level friction that was preventing us from learning and operating effectively as a group. And so that was the big change.
David Silverman (00:22:27):
And even for someone like myself, who by 2005/6, I was managing a task force in Baghdad of both Iraqis and SEALS and other special operations components from the military. We had it in attached into other existing mechanisms, so in this case, the special mission units that McChrystal was in charge of as well as the conventional mission units that the other special operations commander had, as well as the battle space of the respective conventional force that owned it, and we were operating, we had a mandate to operate all around the country. So we would find yourself going into different two-star commands, So I could be working for an army general one day and I could be working for a British general the next day. You could be working for somebody else the next day. And so being able to seamlessly move in and out and keep things deconflicted and operating effectively so that we're all trying to achieve the same end state was sort of the goal, the objective of the larger apparatus was just basically remove those traditional roadblocks or friction points that existed that was inhibiting productivity against the common mission set.
Gene Kim (00:23:30):
Gene here. I want to pause here for two reasons. One, I want to just marvel at the vast complexity of the organization that Dave just described. Hundreds of thousands of people under a four-star combatant commander overseeing forces from all branches of the US military services plus coalition forces, plus civilian leadership. I'm reminded of a CTO summit that I had the privilege of attending that was held shortly after 9/11, by DISA, the Defense Information Systems Agency and specifically, the DISA CTO at the time, Dawn Meyerriecks. It was such an impressive group, but one of the things I remember most was an org chart that Ms. Meyerriecks showed. She said something like "You're from the commercial sector, and you think you understand complex org structures." And then she showed a pretty typical org chart that we're all familiar with. And then she showed an org chart that was easily an order of magnitude more complex describing so much of what Dave just described, but also included the intelligence agencies, not just from the US, but coalition forces, coalition partners, and so much more. It was really remarkable to me at the time.
Gene Kim (00:24:38):
And hearing Dave tell the stories about how he would be reporting to so many different superiors in such a compressed time period shows just how fluidly people like Dave had to move around the organization. And secondly, I think all this is so great because it describes the conditions in which the dominant architecture may not be able to solve the mission at hand. When the problem space is so vast that no one group can see all the pieces of the puzzle. When information must be shared faster than what the official communication channels allow because there are no official channels between the components of the systems that actually need to talk to each other. When local learnings need to spread much more quickly and broadly than what current programs allow. And all of this is made urgent and important because the adversary is learning and acting far quicker than you. All right back to the interview.
David Silverman (00:25:30):
So that was the structure. Now we couldn't formally do a lot of this stuff. So if you want to say, "Hey, when I combine this unit and I want to create a new unit," we didn't really have that ability to do that. So really this was much more on the second thing you were talking about, the informal way that we operated. So it was more about establish a series of values and principles that would govern how we collaborate and communicate. And in this case, we try to demonstrate trust by giving more information, quality information into a system that otherwise we wouldn't have done, which then enabled other people to kind of get some comfort. And sharing, connecting actually started driving, strategically and operationally, where we were going much faster.
David Silverman (00:26:13):
And so, the big aha for me was growing up in a pretty tribal culture used to be knowledge was power. If I had knew something before my competition did, I don't mean my adversary, I mean literally the army guys, I had an advantage maybe getting the mission or getting the operation wherever else. Well, we quickly realized, and you can extrapolate that across like the CIA or state department or whoever else. In this world, we said, "Hey, well look. That's really ineffective if we're going to be successful as enterprise, because we don't have ... everybody has different pieces of the puzzle." Everybody has different authorities that allows us to operate. Every has different resources and tools and toys to play with. If we can figure out how to put our [inaudible 00:26:52] aside and just focus on the outcome, more a mission-based team, then we could potentially be much more effective as an enterprise. Get out of our own way for [inaudible 00:27:03]. So, we really focused on those processes.
David Silverman (00:27:03):
[inaudible 00:27:00] So we really focused on those processes, those leadership principles and values that are pretty analogous to agile. It allows teams to rapidly emerge and work outside of what I would say the triple organizational chart's framework. And that's when you start to get to me massive speed, productivity increases. Anytime you found yourself trying to justify yourself inside of a bureaucratic framework, it was just friction that was going to slow you down, right? You said, well this boss doesn't want you doing it because he's in charge of that person.
David Silverman (00:27:29):
You're [inaudible 00:00:29]. Ultimately, I don't really care who's in charge. I'll give you guys all the credit. I just want to be able to go do this. And as a mid-level manager at that time, that has, I would say highly competent, qualified operators, that, I work with, they just want to go do the job every night. And so your goal as the leader was really just to make sure there was enough stuff to do to keep them focused, because if they weren't then, there's nothing worse than a bored Navy SEAL. They tend find trouble, so it's sort of inherent to their nature. So there was self-preservation aspect to myself as well in this [inaudible 00:01:13].
Speaker 2 (00:28:08):
Awesome. And by the way, just to maybe expose some of my thinking, I genuinely believe that it's no surprise that the people whom your story ... the story resonates most with are software people. Because I think there's something uniquely, there is something very similar in the experience. So one question before I ask, just to reflect on this is, if you were to compare the before and after McChrystal era and what was that top differences that actually made a meaningful impact into what you were trying to achieve?
David Silverman (00:28:42):
To me, the biggest difference was how it felt. And so if you step back and you just went in and looked at it, what it felt like, is it, everybody was part of this larger team and that, regardless of where you came from before. You now self identified with this; being part of this task force. You could go to an embassy in London and you could hear an analyst talking about what they're doing, how they're contributing and how they're part of this larger task force, because the pace and the tempo and the people that ... the ability that people would now were connected in that on a real-time basis, allowed everybody to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. And some of those parochial legacy, as the identification markets, they were still there for sure, but you almost identified to this new transformational group of people in it.
David Silverman (00:29:28):
And it was really magical to be a part of it. And what was also interesting is it was so diverse. It wasn't just a traditional Special Mission Unit Tier One people.
David Silverman (00:29:39):
It was also all of the layer of other apparatus that comes around that and potentially it started to expand, right? So what may start off as primarily just a handful of what you would call highly specialized units. All of a sudden started to grow, to conclude conventional units and they control [inaudible 00:29:56] because we, the basic thesis was, there is no person who has the full answer to the problem. And, and we need to be humble enough to look for capability or perspective that we lack in order to basically solve this problem. And the problem was so dynamic and changing that it was critical to that. Let me give you an example, so like financing was coming through banking systems. So treasury, who in my upbringing, when I would never have anything to do with is now heavily engaged in [inaudible 00:30:26] and negotiating with foreign governments and trying to slow down the illicit movement of funds between groups that were supplying our enemy with materials that were then having devastating effects on us. So, just shows you how wide this thing became.
Speaker 2 (00:30:41):
And what were the visible, if you were to study kind of the behaviors of upper leadership in that transformation, what were the things that you found most helpful to help create that condition that you called magic?
David Silverman (00:30:52):
To me, it was sort of a first a recognition that they don't have the answer right. All right, there is no silver bullet. There is no strategic move. It was less about that. It was sort of having the vulnerability to say, I don't know, and I need your guys' help to figure it out. And if everybody starts with that premise, then all of a sudden you [inaudible 00:31:12] you worry a lot less about where you fit into the system and you just start trying to figure out, how do we solve the problem most effectively? And that became sort of transformational. So, the leaders that were most effective in this environment that we found after reverse engineering and studying this. Were people that took approach of trying to manage, we call them Gardeners, people that manage an ecosystem where the main purpose was less about making decisions. It was more about removing obstacles and barriers for productivity and effectiveness.
David Silverman (00:31:39):
And those leaders were almost...they were naturally more like coaches and they were bosses because they were sitting there saying, well, I don't know, but have you thought about this? Have you thought about that? Or, I'm going to connect hey! I heard something similar from over here. Why don't I connect you two and you guys start talking about it. So they were really just trying to make sure the ecosystem, the network was actually working. You know, we used to have this saying that "endure to defeat and networked organization". Like Al-Qaeda, we had to become a network ourselves. And within [inaudible 00:32:07] was that, put, check your ego and your past history aside and focus on the task at hand and try to find insight wherever it comes from.
Speaker 2 (00:32:16):
And if I had to push you for two other sort of helpful behaviors in the before versus after, can you give me maybe two more?
David Silverman (00:32:24):
Yeah, sure. So I think being self-aware is probably the most important skill set that we see in leaders today. It's the idea that if you're trying to move or affect a system of any type, understanding the energy, both catabolic and constructive, that you're putting into that scenario and how that's affecting others is really important. And then the other one was, there's so many, but the other, probably two where we were connecting, which to me was like, you have to inspire people towards a common goal and objective and give them kind of a consistent path to kind of say, all right, they chart themselves to. And then the other part of that connecting is actually demonstrating empathy. The ability to walk in somebody else's shoes, understand their perspective, because when you're trying to solve a challenge and people are coming at it from their own biases, or, our backgrounds, the ability to understand that would help speed up the process by which you could actually get to constructive solutioning, vice, fixated on whatever pain or preconceived bias that you had coming in the situation.
David Silverman (00:33:25):
And then the last one was just discipline, right? You have to have consistent habits and patterns so that the organization can not spend a bunch of its cognitive load, trying to figure out how to show up or what to do. Because if you have those three things working in parallel, then you start to de-risk the environment for constructive criticism and feedback that allows for rapid learning that's necessary.
Speaker 2 (00:33:47):
I want to pause for a moment to compare and contrast some of the leadership characteristics that Dave and Jessica just talked about. Both so far and later in the presentation, as well as in Dave's DevOps enterprise presentation, that we'll be playing for you in the next episode, they talked about as key leadership skills, functional excellence, ability to connect, self-awareness, discipline, decision-making, effective communications and continually learning. I'm amazed at the overlap between this and the transformational leadership characteristics that we found in the 2017 state of DevOps research. Specifically, in that year, we asked every respondent 15 questions, among five domains around transformational leadership. Vision, to what extent does a leader understand the grandest goals of the organization? And to what extent can they get in front of it, not just to be relevant, but to help with the achievement of the most important goals. Intellectual stimulation, to what extent can the leader challenge basic assumptions of how we do work?
Speaker 2 (00:34:50):
In other words, just because it was great 20 years ago, doesn't mean that we need to be doing it today. Inspirational communication, to what extent can the leader overcome fears, generate excitement, create coalitions required to overthrow powerful ancient orders, supportive leadership and personal recognition. What we found in the 2017 research is that the bottom third of organizations with the least amount of these characteristics were only one half as likely to be high performers. Dave also just mentioned, you need to create an environment where constructive criticism and feedback can enable the rapid learning that's necessary.
Speaker 2 (00:35:31):
Just reminds me of the Westrum organizational typology model from Dr. Ron Westrum, which also shows up in the state of DevOps research. Specifically, Dr. Ron Westrum studied healthcare organizations. And what did he found in 2004 was that those organizations with the worst patient outcomes had these characteristics. Information was hidden, messengers of bad news were shot, bridging between teams was discouraged, failures were covered up and new ideas were crushed. Whereas in the highest performing organizations, those organizations with the best patient outcomes, information was actively sought, messengers were trained to tell bad news, responsibilities were shared, bridging between teams were rewarded, failure causes a genuine sense of inquiry and new ideas are welcomed.
Speaker 2 (00:36:19):
In a conversation with Jeffrey Fredrick, co-author of the book, "Agile Conversations" noted, the Westrum model is really about how information flows in an organization. Is information suppressed or extinguished, or is information encouraged to flow? And of course, this brings up the notion of psychological safety. At Google and Project Aristotle and Project Austin, there was a multi-year study trying to understand what made great teams great. And the top factor was always psychological safety, as measured by to what extent do people on the team feel safe to take risks, to say what they really think without the risk of feeling insecure, embarrassed, ridiculed, or even being punished. And that factor was higher than dependability, structure and clarity, meaning of work or impact of work.
Speaker 2 (00:37:08):
I loved revisiting this work when researching the Unicorn Project. One of my favorite treaties of this was written by Charles Duhigg in the New York times magazine article called " What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team". I'll put a link to it in the show notes. All right, back to the interview. This is so great. Jess, I've just made the claim that, I think the software community PIES more than most that I'm familiar with, are especially receptive to observations and lessons like this. Can you just talk about that in terms of your own background and maybe your reflections on the changes required at various levels of leadership?
Jessica Reif (00:37:47):
Absolutely. I would say that, I guess just stepping back for a moment, so team of teams was a really powerful story, but it was largely an inductive analysis of one single massive culture transformation. And sort of what we realized in the process of developing CrossLead is that there's so much applicability and similarity to the way that the special operations forces were operating and the way that agile developers operate. Some of the similarities are especially eerie. So for example, the concept of AARs in the Navy SEALS very closely mirrors, the concept of retrospectives on agile software development teams. So, in general, there's sort of this overlap and that we have a collection of cohesive team units that are operating together, but have dependencies on one another that are required to succeed.
Jessica Reif (00:38:42):
So I think that part of the reason why team of teams resonates so much with this community is that there's an acknowledgement of the pain and the suffering that's really associated with all of those dependencies. So, and Gina was listening to your recent episode of " ideal cast", where you interviewed Elizabeth Hendrickson. And she was referring to a situation where the architecture had grown so complicated that no single member of the team could hold it in their mind. And I think that is certainly an example that a team of teams really draws out the entire nature of the conflict was so complicated, that complex, that no single individual or team is capable of understanding it. And as soon as you acknowledge that fact you've done something right for the teams.
Jessica Reif (00:39:31):
You've created a system where they really need to ... where they acknowledged the need to continuously coordinate with one another, learn from one another and understand how an action here is going to have impacts there, and understand how dependencies across teams are going to manifest and better understand the consequences of their action. So I really think it's that self-organizing nature that resonates so much.
Speaker 2 (00:39:58):
So if I were to concretize some of the things I've heard, here's what I'm hearing. I'm going to try to use the language of structure and dynamic. It sounds like one thing that is definitely clear is that the structure of the organizations didn't change drastically, Navy SEAL still report it through the secretary of the Navy Army range, still reported through the secretary army. There might have been some changes at the top leadership level, but it in general, the configuration of the forces at a macro-level did not change. And yet, what I've heard was that there are certain behaviors at the very top that to help enable that sense of magic, where that began with a sense of, I don't have all the answers. There is no strategic move that can take us there. And that invited a different dynamic of working and helped accelerate this very fluid dynamic, informal network that you assembled.
David Silverman (00:40:50):
What I would say is that there were definitely some structural changes that were taking place behind the scenes. Right, and I would say those were operating on three or five year cycles, between planning to execution to finishing much like you would think about a reorg in a business. I don't think they really mattered though, fundamentally to the operations that were happening inside of a deployment cycle. And, and those cycles could be three to four months, or they could be longer depending on what team you're with and what cycle you're operating on. So, there was kind of both going on. We personally spent ... I spent time actually looking at both. When I was overseas, I really cared about, was getting the job done and being effective. And then when I came back and they said, Hey, let's take a broader look at the organization and how we can think about officer career progression or enlisted career progression and Instructure, that's going to enable us to fight in the future.
David Silverman (00:41:39):
But those were part of five-year study procurement decision making cycles, associate with the quadrennial defense reviews that the military apparatus operates under. But that was going to have zero relevance, if all of sudden the enemy was doing this tonight, and all of a sudden they're doing this tomorrow. And how do I reform and adapt to be able to solve this following here? We needed [inaudible 00:41:59] ... it was going to be woefully inadequate. And so when I think about increasingly complex environments that are changing almost as soon as the big structure change was finished, it's already much less relevant than the initial assumptions that went into making it. And so what I see working with companies over the last 10 years or so is, they go through these organizational structure changes because they're trying to find some optimal model for how they're going to be line block chart organized.
David Silverman (00:42:25):
And I'm not saying there's not value in that. I'm just saying increasingly there's less value in that. Meaning the organizations that I see are naturally unhealthy are ones that are constantly reorging because it creates such fatigue in the enterprise and distracts you from doing what you need to do, which is actually focusing on producing quantifiable outcomes rapidly based on changing conditions. And so for me, we spend a lot more time crossly thinking about how you work first versus how you're structured. And our assumption is how you work, you'll emerge to the appropriate structure. And if that structure is relevant for a week, great, as well for six months, better, I guess. But, but my experience is it's going to change. That's the only thing I can say definitively is, it will change.
Jessica Reif (00:43:08):
Yeah. And to add onto that too, it really goes back to the analogy that you referenced earlier between the Chess-Master and the Gardener, the Chess-Master says, I can look at the pieces on the board, I can optimize them in a perfect way for the situation that we're in right now. And that to me is the leader or executive team who says we can solve this problem with a reorg. We can move the pieces around in the board and they will be arranged in the optimal fighting pose for the situation we face today. Whereas, the Gardener's approach is I don't know exactly what I'm going to need six months from now. However, I know how all these parts are going to have to work together to achieve any particular goal that they set their minds on. And instead of focusing on the optimal placement of pieces, they focus on the optimal interaction between groups, which sets the conditions that they can accomplish anything that they set their minds to.
Speaker 2 (00:44:01):
This is so great. And to even concretize this even further. So what I'm hearing is that the successful panels relied less on that kind of reconfiguration of the chess board, but another part of structure is what are the allowed interactions between the pieces. I just want to confirm, it sounds like before people were not motivated to let Army to speak to Navy Union, speak to the Intelligence Agencies, the changes that did occur in that era certainly made those interfaces between those teams, not only allowed, but encouraged them. You did a ton of things to actually reward people who shared information. Span those boundaries, Is my [inaudible 00:44:40] correct?
David Silverman (00:44:41):
It's amazing. I forget who gave that quote. Maybe it was Mark Twain, [inaudible 00:44:45] or somebody else. But it's amazing how much you get accomplished if you're willing to not take any credit for it. And I think that was kind of the underlying principle for us that were overseas a lot, because I will say that what wasn't, one of the other unique aspects of this fight was there was, we call it the away team. There was a group of people that were fighting very different Wars over and over again. Right, so they were gone for the better part of those 10 years. And so, and then there was obviously these systems back home that were maybe operating on different cycles or they're in and out. And eventually over time, you started to care a lot less about who got credit for stuff.
David Silverman (00:45:22):
What you really cared about was could you accomplish the mission and could you bring your people home safely? And so then you started saying, all right, well, look, I'm happy to let you guys have X, Y, Z, as long as we can get this done. And all of a sudden then people's defenses break down and they start actually thinking about the outcome. It's this idea of ... there's naturally division in the system. And there was [inaudible 00:45:44] friction and the most effective leaders were more humble and took a more empathetic approach and just said, look, it's not about me or even this org. It's really about this outcome and whatever it's going to take to get the best team on the field, with the best resources to accomplish the mission is all that really matters.
David Silverman (00:46:06):
And that ... We didn't start that way. Right, we didn't start that way. And in order to have their credibility, you had to have a lot of success, right? You had a lot of continuous success rate. He will say, you know what? We're going to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. One of the interesting is when I was taking congressional delegations over to see the task force. The commander at the time was ... it was so important to him that this organization was not seen as wasting taxpayer dollars or looking like they had too many creature comforts. So everything was very spartan. And you would walk in and you'd see plywood tables. And you'd have nice technology in there, but you're eating meals ready to eat instead of fancy stuff. And, and you're not in some palace, everything was what I would say transactional or was temporary, because that is, we're going to move somewhere else, [inaudible 00:20:11].
David Silverman (00:46:56):
And so you come over and be, wow, that's the room you guys sleep in. That's what you're using. What do you guys need? We need more ISR collection platforms. Okay, whatever, give these guys what they want. They're clearly not wasting money. If vice, if you went down to the headquarters, you might be having a meeting in a palace, sitting at a golden linen table that used to be Saddam Hussein's. And even at that, either they're operating in the same mindset, it just looked different. It looked like, wow, okay, these guys look kind of comfortable here. If you went over there, well, these guys are clearly just ... they don't care about the frills. And the impact that had on our credibility, it was pretty profound, it was pretty ingenious by the boss. And you got a lot of benefit of the doubt from delegations, regardless of what party they came from, or their disposition on the war or not. They said, okay, well, these guys are credible, right? Credibility equals freedom of action, freedom of maneuver. And that was critically important to us being successful.
Gene Kim (00:47:51):
Gene here, two things. I love this metaphor of the Chess-Master versus the Gardener. The Chess-Master sets up their position on the board as the all-knowing strategist in the center, who knows all and optimizes the entire system. Whereas, the Gardener focuses more on the interaction between their own pieces and enables the desired dynamics, which allows for far more decentralized decision-making, sense-making and actions, which has required to defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a far smaller, but far nimbler adversary. Just reminds me of something that Steve Spear said to me recently. He said often when we're hired, we're hired into a specific role to fulfill a certain set of responsibilities within the static system. In other words, that will be my job, not just for now, but into the future, as well, contrast this to how people were onboarded into a new role at Toyota. There was no real expectation that they were in static system.
Gene Kim (00:48:50):
In fact, the higher you rose within Toyota, the more you were explicitly expected to change the system. I think this wonderfully supports the Chess-Master versus Gardener metaphor that Jessica just talked about. And secondly, what Dave just said about credibility, equaling freedom of action. This seems like a very important principle. So I'll just underscore it here. And this will come up in my second interview with Dave and Jessica in another episode. Okay, back to the interview. One of the things that I loved about your presentation, Dave, is how you sort of divided up kind of the world into what I think it was through like three levels, right? Kind of executive leadership, middle managers, and frontline leaders.
Gene Kim (00:49:28):
And something that is starting to, maybe, hypothesis that's starting to form for me, is that in these type of transformations, really the change that is most challenging is this middle management. Which is super interesting because it alludes to the fact that we need executives to understand that there's a better way of working, but in the technology committee, we have this phrase that we use a lot is the "frozen middle". Can you scrutinize that claim that the challenge of team of teams ultimately is really a story about how do you kind of change the middle management?
David Silverman (00:50:04):
I really see four layers, right? I see like strategic level C-suite executives and decision makers. You see people at the bottom that you're calling your "doers", the people that have to get ... they're operationally connected to the outcome on a daily basis. They're just doing the job. Those are your frontline, your frontline operators and workers. And then you've got these two levels of management that sit between them, right? You've got a mid-level manager that are usually directly controlling and leading frontline doers. And then you've got senior management that are probably managing multiple teams of mid-level managers. And my experience is that your friction point is really with the middle to ... the senior and middle level management. So, and the reason why it's sort of intuitive, if you think about seeing the senior C-suite, they're what we call the good idea factory. It's usually their vision, their idea, and to be fair, it's not probably going to affect their lives too much.
David Silverman (00:50:55):
They're not going really have to do much. I say that tongue in cheek, but it's just that the reality is they've got other things to worry about, but vice driving, some internal change. And then at the lower level, you're along for the ride, right? You're doing kind of what you are told, you may not like it, you may make a plane, but ultimately you're, you're going to do, what's needed or you're going to opt out. You're going to go somewhere else. So then you've got these two level managements that really control the actions and mid-level management, in my opinion, are very practical, rational actors for the most part. And what I mean by that is they're dealing with daily problems that they're seeing manifesting and how their teams are operating, and they're trying to solve those problems directly.
David Silverman (00:51:36):
And if they see something that can help them solve a problem more effectively, or maximize an opportunity more rapidly, they're more or less going to come around because it's in their own best interest to do that. So they tend to be a little more pliable, sorry, flexible, in their mindset on how they sort of adapt to learnings and changes. Right, and usually the goal between those is just to get enough of them connecting and talking to each other so that the learning is not happening in silos. It's just happening across. The challenge like we talked about structurally before is with the senior management, in my opinion, because they don't have the same incentive. They're not necessarily dealing with frontline problems. They're seeing problems that are probably more systemic, but potentially the problems that exist, they'll see maybe like a structural or a decision-making right, as something that is, is personal or validating to their position or authority.
David Silverman (00:52:26):
And so they're reluctant to change because it equals risk as much greater, right? So either they're trying to get to the next level and they make a big change. It doesn't work. They're going to get penalized for that. At least that's the perception, and, or they're an expert in that domain. And if you change the way of the system, they become less relevant and all of a sudden, that gives them anxiety. So that, to me, that's the toughest layer because it doesn't necessarily operate with the same level of solution mindset as the mid level. It doesn't mean it can't do that. I'm just saying, historically, when you see problems and bureaucracies, and you say, well, why are they doing that? When you put yourselves in their shoes, you're saying, Oh, it's because this is scary for you.
David Silverman (00:53:07):
This risk is going to undermine your personal identity. And so I got to figure out how to appease that if we're going to get past this issue. Right, and so when we put processes in place, which was basically agile principles scale to an enterprise level, we were really trying to create communication and learning mechanisms that could hack those two layers. Right, you could get frontline insights and feedback on what was happening, rapidly disseminated across mid-level managers and not inhibited by some bureaucratic or decision-making bureaucracy that was being managed by the senior management. And then ultimately to the C-suite, it was start to affect strategy. One of my other big "aha" moments was being in Afghanistan. I was part of the ISAF staff. And we had a team that was solely focused on writing the strategy and the division. And one of these brilliant minds, kind of came in and was looking for a break.
David Silverman (00:54:03):
And one of these brilliant minds, kind of came in and was looking for a break. So he came into my, to my little operations center and was like, "Hey, I have an idea. I was just bouncing around." And what he was trying to do at the time was try to take speeches or guidance that he had gotten from, in this case, the president and the national security council, or the UN secretary general and their counsel, and figure out how to locally apply those to our strategy in Afghanistan and make sure that we were consistent with authority. And what was so obvious in the conversation was that it was just so out of sync. And what I mean by that was not that we were like doing something different. It was the fact that people in Washington, D.C. could not possibly be expected, because they were so detached from the reality of what was happening on the battlefield, to understand the dynamics of say, how do we integrate with the Taliban?
David Silverman (00:54:49):
What is the best process to do that? They were just so far removed. We almost needed operations on the ground that were dictating what the strategy would be because of the rapid feedback and interaction points we were having with, in this case, the local constituencies. And that needed to, then, go back and make sure it wasn't outside of the values or principles or guard rails that are put in place by higher headquarters. But they were not going to be able to write a plan for say, recidivism locally. It was not possible, because things were changing so fast. And so, figuring out how to break that down- I don't know that we ever did it by the way- I think it was a point of frustration in context. But having spent some time in a D.C. think tank and seeing some really smart people, that have not a lot of operational experience, trying to come up with policy back here for things where you have a large data set, you can do that. I think if you say, well, let's look at Cold War dynamics with rational state actors that we have deep understanding with. You can come up with plans, but for something that was as volatile and rapidly changing as a counter-insurgency, it was- to me- the operations on the ground, we're going to start driving what the options were from a strategic level.
Gene Kim (00:55:58):
And by the way, I just reminds me of a story. In London in the 1600's, they were essentially planning the entire Georgian economy, right? (laughing) Thousands of miles away with no knowledge of soil conditions, water levels. (laughing) It sounds like a very similar problem.
David Silverman (00:56:15):
It was not quite that bad, but yes, it was this idea that what we found was that operations started driving intelligence. Not the other way around.
Gene Kim (00:56:24):
Oh, that is very interesting.
Gene Kim (00:56:29):
We are so much looking forward to the DevOps Enterprise Summit: Vegas Virtual, which will now be held on October 13th to the 15th. As always, the goal of the programming committee is to bring you the best experience reports and to out-program all our previous events. And this year we expect to deliver on that promise again. I am so excited about the speaker lineup we have for you, partly because they are among the most senior technology and business leaders that have spoken at this conference, showing you how important the work of this community is. Maya Liebman, the CIO of American Airlines, presented at our annual forum in April, and we were fascinated by the perspectives that she shared with us. I'm so excited that she will be co-presenting with our longtime friend, Ross Clanton about the American Airlines journey. And since 2014, we've all been dazzled by the CSG journey, as told by Scott Prugh and Erica Morrison.
Gene Kim (00:57:20):
I am so thrilled that this year Scott Prugh will be co-presenting with his boss, Ken Kennedy, executive vice president, and president of CSG, the largest provider of customer care billing and order management in the U.S. Ken and Scott will be sharing their story on the interplay between business and technology leadership and how it resulted in their amazing accomplishments over the years. This is just the beginning. Stay tuned for more exciting announcements about our amazing speaker lineup. This will undoubtedly be the best DevOps Enterprise Summit program we have ever put together. You can find more information at events.itrevolution.com/virtual. Can you react to that notion about senior management? As Dave was talking about this, (laughing) this is laughing because I think that we see so much of that. Maybe to use kind of language. They really do represent the dominant architecture, and often they're put in a position where I think they're often asking, "What is my role in it?" And so how do you overcome that? Can you validate them? How do you overcome that here?
Jessica Reif (00:58:30):
Yeah, absolutely. So, I think Dave's point and your point on the frozen middle is very much a valuable one, because the frozen middle is the group that has to say, if there's going to be a major change effort, they are the one that has to come to terms with: what got me here will not get me in my team there. So they are the ones that really have to implement a change. It's really easy for a leader to stand in front of a podium and say, "We are going to deploy 10 times a day," because they have to deploy zero times per day. So there is really no change for what they are going to have to do by making that demand or strategic change. Whereas, at the more middle manager or senior manager layers of the organization, they are going to have to change.
Jessica Reif (00:59:11):
They are going to have to change what they are holding their teams accountable for. I think it is a quote by Dr. Henry Cloud, "You get what you tolerate", and those are the layers that are going to be setting the standards. So if they are tolerating deploys twice a quarter, that is what they are going to continue to get. So it is really that group that has to change their mindset. And we see the same thing a lot with agile transformation. We will hear of an executive that has heard, "Oh, digital revolution! This is the way forward. We are going to pivot our business to be much more digitally focused and customer centric." And while all of those things sound really good, they do not necessarily have an immediate ramification for the executive. They have immediate ramifications for those middle managers, which is who really needs to buy in to drive the change.
Gene Kim (01:00:05):
And what concrete advice would you give to someone who is asking that question? A senior leader, who is asking me, "What is my place in this new system?" If teams get to define the work, define how it's done, (laughing) just specifying their own work. And then left with the question, "What else is there left for me to do?" What do you tell them?
Jessica Reif (01:00:28):
So, two pieces of advice that I would give would be, one: focus on the vision and making the vision as crystal clear as possible. And there is some really good research from Professor Drew Carton, at the Wharton School, who published a paper on the techniques used by NASA, and specifically President Kennedy in the 1960s, before the moon landing, to really establish a visual image. It is not just, we are going to pursue the new frontier of space, but we are going to land a man on the moon. And you can close your eyes, and you can picture what that experience is going to be and what it is going to look like. And I think that the role of those senior leaders is to help create that mental image, for the network of teams that they are responsible for, of what success looks like, and make it something so crystal that they can close their eyes and that they can picture it.
Jessica Reif (01:01:21):
The second, I would say, is setting the conditions for the teams to interact and operate as fluidly as possible. So in a lot of cases, that is addition through subtraction, the senior leaders are often the ones that can remove rules. They can remove rules and barriers. They can improve funding for tools that are going to help teams work better together. So really recognizing what those opportunities are to reduce barriers that make it hard to interact across teams and taking advantage of the leader's authority to remove those roadblocks.
David Silverman (01:01:54):
And just to build on what Jess is saying from a mindset standpoint, because she's a hundred percent, right, I go back to servant leadership fundamentally as the mindset that you need to have in today's environment. Which is not about you, it is really about how do you position your people to be successful. And anything you can do to remove those obstacle and barriers that Jess just talked about, whether it is meetings or bureaucracy or pain or friction. That is really what is about. Your job is to be a steward that allows your people to be successful, and if you are doing your job well, it is really about them. If you are struggling with why I am giving up, you are already in the wrong frame of mind, in my opinion. You are already thinking about yourself and what is right for you, vice what is right for your team.
David Silverman (01:02:43):
And in my experience is, if, as a leader, your job is to take care of your people. And if you do that consistently, what typically happens is your people shock you and surprise you with how awesome they perform, which then reflects very well on the culture that you have established with a team that it makes. I think that ultimately, you are the glue, culturally, for the organization that enables it to be successful. And that is the magic, because if you take that away and you put something else in, the whole thing starts to stop optimizing.
David Silverman (01:03:12):
And so it is just sort of redefining this assess metric and how you evaluate performance for senior management, and you change the incentive model. I think where organizations struggle, and I do not think it is specific to software engineering, but financial services is a great example where traditionally you get promoted because of your ability to basically manage a P and L and make tactical decisions and assume, and take on risk. But increasingly as you get bigger, if you are trying to create a sustainable organization, that should matter a lot less. It is other people that have to be able to do that, and do that effectively. And you are basically sitting there trying to make work. That is how you create a legacy. That is how you create an enduring organization that is going to be successful and resilient.
Gene Kim (01:03:53):
And looking back in your military days, was there a senior leader that you think would epitomize the change that you would wish upon other people? Here is a person who felt like that and had an aha moment and they are acting and behaving in different ways that led to a bunch of incredible successes?
David Silverman (01:04:15):
There are tons of examples. I was very fortunate to work with just some incredible talent over the years for me personally, but the ones that always stuck out in my mind were actually those non-commissioned officers. It was these chiefs and these leading petty officers over the units that were tactical experts at what they did. They were probably better suited than most to say, no, this is the right way to do something or not. But if we were going to get any type of scale or effectiveness, they had to turn into a mentor and a coach figure. And they had that incredible depth in experience. But when they modeled that behavior, that is when we started to see tremendous effects at a localized level on productivity and increases in productivity. You would have relatively junior or new people who are now being empowered, because some of those senior managers, in this case, those chief petty officers or senior chiefs, those NCOs are setting conditions for them to basically operate more effectively as individuals.
David Silverman (01:05:11):
And that is when the whole thing unlocked. And my job really was to stay out of their way. If you are doing as well as the officer, you are really just trying to say, hey, does the chief- chief's really calling the shots on the objective anyways, they are the ones that you got to listen to, especially when things are chaotic. And you are just trying to manage the whole operation and make sure that it is inside the boundaries of success. That was my experience. I can think of a couple of individual names. I won't give them just in the interest of their own security stability, but those leading petty officers, those chiefs that I was fortunate enough to serve with overseas, almost without question, were my heroes.
Gene Kim (01:05:50):
And so these are people with decades in the service, if I understand that correctly.
David Silverman (01:05:54):
Yeah (affirmative). I would say the average tenure, for a chief petty officer, is somewhere between... the earliest you can make chief, if you're screaming up the ranks is probably eight or nine years. And usually these guys have 10, 15, 20 years of operational experience at this point. They have forgotten more than as a junior, mid-level officer that you will ever learn.
Gene Kim (01:06:10):
This is fantastic. So let's leave the domain of highfalutin theory and go into actual practices. One of the things that you have talked about a lot, Dave was one specific thing that you had. If I remember correctly, it was this global daily call, thousands of people on the call around the world, in this very informal network. Can you talk about what that call was? What were the specific objectives and what might distinguish a great call from a mediocre call, a productive call versus an unproductive one?
David Silverman (01:06:43):
The name of it overseas was the OPS intelligence update. We chronicalized it pretty specifically in the book team of teams. What it was, fundamentally, was it started off as a staff meeting between the senior commander and his immediate staff. It would take place between the Ford headquarters and the rear headquarters. And it was basically then they stay synced and just de conflict on what was going on. It was a daily meeting. It was probably 15 to 30 minutes, and there was probably 10 or 15 people in it.
David Silverman (01:07:06):
But as we started to evolve as an enterprise, what we realized pretty quickly was that at the senior level, we had these insights of what was happening. Cause we could see across domains and start to put together a picture. And what we realized was that we were losing. We were fighting individual wars that were winning locally, but on the aggregate we were losing. And at the local level, you are running your own operating mechanisms and your own critical learnings, but you feel pretty detached from say a similar unit in a different geography. Even in the same battle space like Iraq, or forget about if it is something like the Philippines or Northern Africa or something.
David Silverman (01:07:44):
You are like, "Well, our missions are just totally different. So there's really nothing to learn right now." And so what we saw was this gap of information change. So what we did was we said, "We need to start opening up this meeting to start to break down those natural, bureaucratic layers in the organization and start to connect dots between them." Because the way we are disseminating information now is a local unit discovers something, writes a report, it goes to a higher headquarters. It goes to another higher headquarters. It goes another higher headquarters. It goes back to a training command, gets institutionalized into training, maybe, trains a unit and they come back over. So it was like the learning cycle was...
Gene Kim (01:08:18):
David Silverman (01:08:19):
18 months, it was slow. Now locally, you were learning quick. But the cycle between units was relatively slow. Obviously that would get accelerated if it was something catastrophic cause you would speed up that chain.
David Silverman (01:08:32):
But I would say on an aggregate, it was pretty slow. And even the special mission units that were on shorter rotation cycles, theirs were still probably nine months long. It was still woefully inadequate. We put this meeting in place with a main idea saying- hey, it starts from a position of humility. We do not know what we do not know. And we know that this problem is bigger than, like what Jess was talking about earlier, we can like wrap our mind around. So we just need to find a way, in a disciplined, structured format, to share critical updates on what is happening. And then look for patterns, look for themes or concepts that are applicable, not just in one geography, but in others. And that became kind of the art to it. And so we had this mechanism every day to rapidly cross level key insights from the night before.
David Silverman (01:09:17):
That way you could then disseminate those learnings by centralizing them effectively across a larger task force. Then locally, I could then say, "I am going to take this thing I just heard. And maybe either go do subsequent conversations offline with that group, or I think I have the context I need to make localized decisions." The other benefit was if the organization needed to pivot. Now it is not just about a learning, but it is... we have got to go from this to that for some reason. Well, in the old days, that would like moving an aircraft carrier. Talking about 20,000 people. You have got to shift their mindset around something, and you play the telephone game of information dissemination.
David Silverman (01:09:58):
By the time the message gets down to the lower unit, in our case, a pretty big bureaucracy spread across a lot of different time zones and geographies, all they hear is- yeah, we got to do the same thing we did last night. Okay, got it. So now all of a sudden, you had a vehicle in place because this meeting became, every day for 90 minutes, and it had thousands of people on a daily, across every time zone. Now it became a mechanism where you could rapidly disseminate, not just learnings, but also intent and understanding or a shift in principles and values. And so it could move the organization much faster that way as well.
Gene Kim (01:10:39):
So I have heard one more sort of aspect of structure there, which is that it almost became that your participation in that meeting, gave you an interface to everyone else. So that if we need to create a sub team, you could quickly marshal up a group, the common interests and actually act upon it as opposed to waiting for it to percolate through the...
David Silverman (01:10:58):
That's right, it gave you the closest thing you could get, as a mid-level leader in the organization, to visibility of the entire network. You can sit there and be like, "Oh, I did not know those guys were working on that, and I have that same need down here." And especially when it came to interacting with the inner agency. I had my own informal networks with my peers that were in other parts of the battle space so I could call if I really wanted to [inaudible 01:11:28]. But the idea that I would go be dealing with a CIA agent who had been looking at this target set, that I happened to be just shifting onto this night, that they have been looking at for five years. Before my access and availability to them was...
David Silverman (01:11:40):
First of all, I did not think I had the authority to do that. And two, I would not know where to start to look. Now, I can see that. And one of the things that the leadership did is they gave us permission to collaborate informally. And they have kind of left it up to us to say, "If you are already a part of this task force, we are going to give you the benefit of doubt. We will start sharing because that behavior is being modeled above us." And so it gave us the freedom of action to do it down low. And so that sped things up.
David Silverman (01:12:05):
The big constraint in this whole thing was information control, the idea that this is not appropriate to be disseminated to the larger [inaudible 01:12:14]. I see this in companies all the time. They go, "This is proprietary, non-public information that, if it got out, would be a violation of SEC compliance rules or laws, or potentially give our competition advantage." It is almost like the cure is worse than the disease then. Cause you are like, "We are not going to tell anybody anything, but then how do they expect you to then do anything? So, we had a bias towards speed and transparency.
Jessica Reif (01:12:40):
To pile onto that, as far as practices that we have seen, that were outlined to [inaudible 01:12:44], that we have seen wide adoption with, with our clients and those that we have connected with over the years... Dozens of companies at this point are doing something really similar to the operations at Intel update. Admittedly, we have not sold anybody on a 90 minute meeting that takes place 365 days a year. But what we do see a lot of is companies that are doing a 30 minute meeting, whether it is every day, every other day, two days a week, where they are sharing those critical updates. And Gene, you had asked about what specific characteristics are of a good meeting and one that is bad.
Jessica Reif (01:13:23):
And some that we have observed specifically are, one: as a good characteristic, the meeting creates dependency awareness. So the stakeholders go to the meeting and they learn something about how what they are working on relates to something that somebody else is working on. The meeting forges connections between group members. Perhaps, if the three of us were on a meeting, and I learned that I have a dependency on Dave, who has a dependency on Gene, then the three of us can have a short sync after the more formal meeting to coordinate with one another. As an outcome, we see that these meetings are actually very effective in reducing other meetings, because otherwise, perhaps I would have a standing meeting with Dave and a standing meeting with Gene. And what the group sync allows us to do is reduce all of those other standing meetings to one that is collaborative and shared across teams and where we are able to do a quick meet after on the high level things that are relevant for that particular week.
Jessica Reif (01:14:27):
As far as when we have seen these meetings go awry, I would say that the two areas are when the meeting becomes just strictly updates, that could be communicated better via some other forum, whether it is email or Slack. So if people are sitting in the meeting and they feel this could have been an email, then that obviously a very bad sign. And then the second is when it becomes a point to point conversation between two of the attendees about a specific challenge or dependency that they are facing. So the role of the leader in those meetings is to make sure that those bad things are not happening and to maximize the good things. And I would say that the outcome metric that we see as, wow, this was really working well, is when you see people that are voluntarily opting into the meeting that are not required to attend. Because it becomes such a valuable source of information, that by missing it, they feel like they are missing out on something that is really important and valuable.
Gene Kim (01:15:29):
Gene here. I love what Jessica just mentioned. She is saying that a critical job, especially for middle managers, is to be able to create concrete manifestations of the vision. In my last episode with Mike Nygaard, I talked about having just read Gene Kranz's amazing book, Failure is Not an Option. I learned that the Apollo 9 mission was actually a bit of a Hail Mary. The goal was to pull in the timeline in order to achieve President Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely back to earth. By the end of the decade, it was breathtaking to read about all the risks involved, but their philosophy was high risk, high gain. Under enormous pressure, in 1969, they eventually came up with a plan that they had sufficient confidence in to achieve the mission as set forth by President Kennedy, back when he was still alive, in 1962.
Gene Kim (01:16:21):
Jessica mentioned a paper by Dr. Andrew Carton and Dr. Brian Lucas. The paper is called How Can Leaders Overcome the Blurry Vision Bias, Identifying an Antidote to the Paradox of Vision Communication. I will put a link to this paper in the show notes.
Gene Kim (01:16:39):
That is super interesting. And so, I am trying to create a word cloud of what is actually going on here. So, I hear a lot of what you just talked about, Jess, marshaling, de conflicting, just awareness of dependencies. But something that I also heard was an initiation of new actions. I just heard something, I am going to go find some people with a common interest, and I am going to Marshall a group together, that did not exist before, with potentially the creation of a new short or medium term objective. I am actually forming a new coalition or group. I just want to confirm my understanding there.
Jessica Reif (01:17:12):
Yeah, absolutely (affirmative). A new group forms, and whether it is just for 15 minutes to talk about the specific thing that came up during the meeting, or it could be longer term that perhaps two teams realize that they are working on something that is really similar. And maybe there are components they could share, or maybe there is something that they can do to mutually make each other's lives easier.
Gene Kim (01:17:33):
Awesome. One of the things that really caught my attention was a dynamic that actually led to people wanting to opt in. David, it sounds like the old behavior was: knowledge is power, I am going to hoard it, and every piece of knowledge that I have, and that you do not have, I can use to my advantage and your disadvantage. Somehow this inverted it, this call created a mechanism that rewarded knowledge sharing. Can you talk a little bit about that, or even validate that that was a dynamic?
David Silverman (01:18:00):
Yeah, that was a dynamic. The reason, to Jess' point, that when you know it is going well is when you have that mid-level management layer opting in voluntarily. Because you can't really, at that same scale, force them or hold them accountable to showing up when they are opting in, on their own volition. The reason why they would do that is because there are insights that you can gather that you could not get anywhere else. So for us, the currency for operations was heavily correlated to certain critical assets that were in high demand, like helicopters or collection platforms, or close air support. Inevitably would have to be prioritization decisions made at the operational level where they would say, "Hey, these are where these assets are going." You would see that in that meeting.
David Silverman (01:18:46):
And then you have a sense of, okay, I now know where the cards are being dealt for the night. And I can now start horse trading with local battle space commanders that have those assets to try to unlock potential latent productivity that might exist. We would then establish those relationships locally and start doing horse trading between them, almost creating like a marketplace where we could basically say, "Hey, you have this, can I borrow for this? I will give it back to you, and you get some of the credit." And they were like, "Okay, sure, I will do that." And that is what really unlocked the productivity across the enterprise. Where we see them not go well, is when we do not spend the time upfront to understand what the interdependencies are. So when you do not have that semblance of currency and independencies, then it just becomes another meeting, to Jess' point, where it was a series of updates that people do not find it to be necessarily relevant or not.
David Silverman (01:19:34):
I do think there is a lot of value sometimes in some exploration that takes place between two senior leaders. As a junior leader, listening to how people think out loud around a decision that they are wrestling with was super helpful context since I was trying to figure how to get something approved. Cause I would be like, "Oh, wow, I did not realize that was what was top of mind for the boss. This thing over here, and this other country is weighing on him heavily and potentially has implications on assets or resources. That is context that I lacked, that if I could have walked in and said, "Hey, here is what I want to do." And the guy goes, "Well, no." And then I go, "Why?" And they go, "Because there is this larger thing at play that you did not realize," and you go, "I could have shortened that cycle if I had had some appreciation for that."
David Silverman (01:20:11):
Plus it had a way to help the leaders at the mid-level scale and develop. So traditionally, what the military does a good job of is they send people throughout their careers to and from education and training venues. You make a rank, you go to school for nine months to a year, then you come back and then in order to advance to the next rank you do it again and again and again. If you are a high demand asset, like a special operations operator, your ability to go take time off to go to school was curtailed dramatically during this fight, because there was more requirements than there were bodies. And the learning that would take place just by hearing leaders talk and think out loud was super helpful to a junior. I would go just for that, because I would be like, "Wow, that is context I otherwise would never have gotten access to unless I was an aide-de-camp or something." And so it really did a lot to professionalize the force indirectly, so you can use the same mechanism to do...
David Silverman (01:21:03):
It's a force indirectly, so you can use the same mechanism to do, one, drive your culture, two, professionalize and develop your talent, then three, increase its overall productivity by improving the quality and the merit of the message because what we find in complexity organizations, the hardest thing to do is to stay aligned because if things are changing, the priors are changing, you don't know if what you're working on is productive and there's nothing worse than non-productive time. I just spent a bunch of time building something or coding something or doing something that all of a sudden isn't valued anymore, and you're like, "Well, gosh. That was wasteful. I don't like wasting my time." So if you're hearing how those priorities are shifting, and there's a mechanism to do that much more efficiently than that telephone game, that to me, is super helpful.
Gene Kim (01:21:43):
That's interesting. So what I just heard was it's not a rebellion/revolution of middle managers, there's actually a vehicle where senior leadership adds a voice where they can model the desired expected behaviors and amplify that across, it must've been a breathtaking scope, maybe even far beyond their official area of authority. Am I hearing that right?
David Silverman (01:22:08):
Yeah, and I think there's room for potentially two different things, but the Keystone forum was really a way for you to connect strategy of execution at the operational level for I would say that the team. Really what you're doing is you're hacking those layers like I described earlier, but there are also informal networks that were created, almost these liaison groups that acted almost like APIs that could connect information flow across the system. Oftentimes, they would be energized or accelerated based on something they heard. In this Keystone forum, they'd be like, "Oh, okay, well, here's a pervasive problem that this group can go spend time on this informal network of thought leaders." Some are dedicating some portion of their mind share to solving larger problems for the organization. So that also was taking place.
David Silverman (01:22:49):
So we had both of those established, so you had this basically change agent networks that existed that would then be tapping into this process that was systemic and as far how we operate. Those two things together allows you to basically pivot large organizations effectively. John Smart is writing about this in his book- [crosstalk 00:02:11].
Gene Kim (01:23:10):
... happier. [crosstalk 01:23:13]
David Silverman (01:23:12):
Because he did something very similar when he was driving a digital transformation at Barclays where he created these change agents for lack of a better term. Then when they had a specific thing they need to go focus on, he can mobilize this informal army to basically you attack friction, wherever it exists in the organization to unlock productivity.
Gene Kim (01:23:30):
A couple of things, it's amazing to see them referencing John Smart's upcoming book, "Sooner, Safer, Happier," describe all the pioneering work he did when he led the ways of working team at Barclays and organization founded in the year 1634, which actually predates the invention of paper cash. The other thing I wanted to mention here is the dynamics of having this incredibly vibrant ops intelligence call. Jessica mentioned that this was a meeting that people opted into just because it was a source of so much information that you couldn't get anywhere else. It was a way to connect with peers who are solving similar problems that you could collaborate with to better achieve your own objectives. This reminds me of the themes that show up in John Allspaw presentations for many years. Most recently in the DevOps enterprise London conference, John Allspaw talks about the need to learn from incidents.
Gene Kim (01:24:28):
He asked questions like, " Are your post-incident reviews being read by people outside of the team? Are they being referenced in code faces? Do people want to attend these meetings?" This reminds me of a comment that Bethany Makary said when she was also at Etsy about how the post-incident reviews, these blameless postmortems were widely attended because it was one of the best ways to learn about areas outside of your team. In the DevOps handbook, we quoted Randy Shoup, who over the years has been a chief architect at eBay an engineering director at Google, and is now again a chief architect at eBay and a VP of engineering. The DevOps handbook, we quote him about his experiences when he was the engineering director for the Google app engine team describing how the documentation of post-mortem meetings had tremendous value to others in the organization.
Gene Kim (01:25:20):
"As you can imagine at Google, everything is searchable. All the post-mortem documents are in a place where other Googlers can see them. And trust me, when any group has an incident that sounds something similar to it that has happened before, these post-mortem documents are among the first documents being read and studied." I remember having a conversation where you said, "Whenever there's a customer impacting at Google, everyone would be looking forward to the post-mortem documents being published because everyone loves war stories." My point here is that there's a dynamic or sources of incredible insight like the global ops intelligence call, like the post-incident reviews, are a source of incredible learning and as a way to spread knowledge across the organization. All right. Back to the interview.
Gene Kim (01:26:04):
That is fascinating. So actually, you mentioned one thing about the sort of internal marketplace, so in the book, "Team of Teams." one of the stories that really caught my attention was how so many missions were scrubbed at the last minute due to lack of availability of certain scarce resources and was it like helicopter transport, intelligence gathering platforms? So my interpretation of this was that that was really kind of the inability of any centralized planning system to know everything and forecast who needed what, and how do you get a certain scarce thing to who needed it most? So I think you just talked about exactly that, which this became almost a, maybe it wasn't the marketplace, but it facilitated this horse trading so that the people who needed something the most could get it and horse trade their way there. Can you talk a little bit more about that, that the notion that it came validated that it was really, this became a way to augment the planning processes and it was really mill managers who were needed to get those things to where they need to go most?
David Silverman (01:27:05):
Yeah. To me, this was probably the biggest single productivity driver for the enterprise, which was there was only so much that could be managed centrally when it came to the efficiency of decisions on critical assets and infrastructure. So in order for you to get the most productivity out of a certain system, there needed to be something much lower, much closer to the problem set, much lower level leader managers that are basically trying to figure out how to, I would say load balance for lack of better term, that asset, that resource to be effective locally. Because if you try to do it centrally at the scale that we were operating on, it just wouldn't work. There was just too many competing interests. So to me, that was typically, if you think of traditional prioritization of any drill, you got the higher headquarters that says, "Okay. These assets are going to be overseas," and then there's a combat commander says, "These assets go to these two countries and these assets go to these three regions in the country."
David Silverman (01:27:59):
Then inside of there, it starts to like... Okay, well now, that's about as low as we can possibly manage it. So what this allowed us to do was I had relationships with the same, my Delta force counterparts over in another operating base. Because they were Delta and Delta's the best, they had all the best toys, right? So I knew that I had to somehow access or leverage their toys if I was going to be able to get the most productivity out of my force. So I put my best operator physically in that person's headquarters and said, "Hey, you do at him what you want. He's here to basically help provide a cognitive information flow between our two organizations where should you need any of the resources or tools that we have, he's your guy. And if you want to use them for any other stuff, unless it's something morally ethically wrong, go, go nuts."
David Silverman (01:28:52):
Going back to those leadership skills, this high performer was all those things we talked about. He's a humble professional. He's highly skilled, competent. He was very self-aware like. He understood how to like walk in somebody else's shoes. He was extremely disciplined. So very soon, he started to build a relationship sort of established credibility. They started using it for more and more stuff. Then when I'd say, "Hey, they have this collection platform tonight., Can we potentially use that resource to put our things that we're looking for on this device, so we could try to find those too?" He'd say, "Yeah, we got some extra capacity here. You can do that." I said, "All right. Well, I know I'm not going to have to keep it. Can you please give me a location? And then from there, you can go back to doing whatever it was before, then I'll assume the risk after that."
David Silverman (01:29:33):
So all of a sudden, our tempo dramatically unlocked and it's funny. I actually remember going up to the higher headquarters to visit one of my other liaisons and the commander of all the forces in Iraq for the special operations unit, he was like, "Dave, do you guys have stuff on my assets?" And I started laughing. I was like, "Well, yes, sir." And he was like, "I don't understand." And he goes, "Well, I guess it's okay." It was funny because it was like, "Well, that increase in productivity that you're seeing from your centralized force, some of that is you're counting our stuff. We're just giving you guys a credit for targets that we're prosecuting, that they don't have the time or they don't want to, but they're still like important." Let's use a software, analogy, bugs. Maybe they're a lower priority. We were cleaning up some of that backlog of stuff, and the net productivity increase.
David Silverman (01:30:25):
Then eventually, as we got better and they got better, the quality started to go up and all of a sudden the capacity is expanding and then the whole system working more efficiently, more effectively. So that was the magic that sort of goes outside of the traditional, I would say prioritization. It was sort of inside of the sprint cycle, in this case, the day. You had two effective engineers trading lessons and practices to help each other out to basically deliver on time. That was the magic.
Gene Kim (01:30:55):
Gene here. This is amazing. So Dave just described in phenomenal detail, one of my favorite parts of, "Team of Teams." This is around page 178 where they talk about liaison officers that they would send to key partners like intelligence agencies. They seem to allude that in the old days, they would send people who weren't fitting into their unit, people on their last rotation before retirement. I think the implication is that they were often sending not the highest performers into these assignments. I quote from the book, "However, as these interfaces became increasingly important, we realized the potential for bolstering our relationships with our partner agencies by sending a strong linchpin liaison officer. As it turned out, some of our best liaison officers were also some of our best leaders on the battlefield. We started taking world-class commandos and placed them, attired in civilian suits, in embassies thousands of miles from the fight because we knew we needed a great relationship with the ambassador and the other inter-agency leaderships posted there. Everyone hated removing some of our best operators from the battlefield, but we reaped enormous benefits."
Gene Kim (01:32:04):
"Our goal was twofold. First, we wanted to get a better sense of how the war looked from our partners' perspectives to enhance our understanding of the fight. We saw one piece of AQI up close and daily, but we knew that they were part of a larger global system of finance, weapons and ideology about which other people knew much more than we did. Second, we hope that if the liaisons we sent contributed real value to our partners operations, it would lay a foundation for the trusting relationships we needed to develop between the nodes of our network."
Gene Kim (01:32:36):
So we just heard an amazing example of this, in this case, Dave sending one of his people and embedding them in one of the Delta force units. Right after that passage in, "Team of Teams," is one of my favorite stories in the book. Describe how a US embassy in a troubled nation finally accepted a posting of a liaison. Apparently, this officer got a very lukewarm reception despite being, "A walking mass of extroverted energy, habitually upbeat and helpful." They write, "At his new post, he was initially granted no access to intelligence and given nothing to do. So Conway volunteered to take out the trash. Each afternoon, he went office to office gathering refuse and carrying it to the dumpster. When he found out that one embassy colleague loved Chick-fil-A sandwiches, Conway arranged for the next taskforce delivery to include several in his contents. A man, the US government had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to train as a Navy seal was for three months, a glorified garbage man and a fast food delivery boy."
Gene Kim (01:33:37):
"So the story goes, when the situation heated up in the country's capital and the ambassador asked whether he knew anything about forest protection and dealing with growing Al-Qaeda threat, that person was exactly where he needed to be. 'I do.' He said, 'That's what I'm trained in, and I can do you one better. Let me make a call.' Soon, the entire weight of the task force enterprise was at the disposal of the inter-agency team at the embassy. Our liaison officer was there to serve the collective mission from trash to terrorism. The taskforce relationship with that country grew tighter, nearly instantaneously. A new node in our network became online and began to thrive."
Gene Kim (01:34:14):
I just love that story because it indicates the investment that they were willing to make in these relationships in the hopes that they would eventually pay off. I see so many examples of this in the DevOps community, infrastructure teams embedding their best people into dev teams to help them figure out how to securely, quickly, reliably promote code into production to collectively help their organizations win in the marketplace. Okay. Back to the interview.
Jessica Reif (01:34:43):
Yeah. We see this happen a lot within product lines of manufacturing companies, within value streams at technology companies where resources are allocated at a particular level, and then everything that's done below that is based on shared consciousness within that group of who needs what, when and how they can collectively leverage the resources that have been assigned to them, also collectively to achieve whatever their mission is because whoever's allocating the budget to that group doesn't know for example, who's going to need a designer on their project and how much of a designer's time is going to need to be used or who's going to need a GPU. They don't necessarily know those things. So getting those resources aside centrally, and then having those forums to create your consciousness of who needs, what, when is a really valuable way to manage those resources effectively.
Gene Kim (01:35:34):
Wow. It's astonishing. I'm sort of connecting some dots. So I have to imagine this happening at scale must be breathtaking to see, that's creating these relationships across the scope and breadth of an entire organization encompassing hundreds of thousands of people.
David Silverman (01:35:52):
Yeah. It was pretty amazing. If you think about it on a task for level just in Iraq's and not the whole task, was just Iraq. Early days, we were doing two ops a month basically. Then it got up to two ops a week. Then by the end, we were doing 10 ops a night. So same resources, same assets. Quality and intelligence and some of the technology was certainly better over the years. But at the same, node, the physical constraint was a number of operators they could go do something. Those numbers didn't dramatically change over that time period. Then more importantly, the actual quality of the operation went up as well. So casualties went down, success rates went up. All of those things started dramatically improved because the culture sort of enabled and encourage this level of synergy and collaboration.
David Silverman (01:36:35):
Then the last thing I'll say is it had dramatic effects on innovation and creativity. So what it did was localized problems that were happening. The fact that you were crossing those in real time and it was tied to understanding strategic, direction and intent, you can start to better, faster create products, services, offerings that were aligned with where the organization was trying to go to. Oftentimes, we'll see companies invest a lot of money in third parties to come up with strategic plans based on their deep expertise in a certain domain and there's value there, certainly. But increasingly as things are changing, we believe that you got to emerge a solution quickly and get real-time feedback. Back to that analogy earlier, the operations will start driving the strategy, the intelligence.
David Silverman (01:37:17):
So if you have a mechanism to connect that, all of a sudden the whole org starts to going faster. So what it feels like is just a lot of winning, right? You're winning locally and you're winning at scale. That is when people really start to get energized. It's funny, they're looking at type performing teams and culture. It's amazing how much winning will do to solve other problems. If you start with success, a lot of the other stuff that bothers you tends to go away. So this was sort of creating some of these micro successes and as they add it up, it started having pretty significant effects. So if you look at [inaudible 01:37:50] you're like, "Oh, it's just marginally more productive." But then when you step back and you go, "Wow, the effect is like a 10 X improvement at this scale on how things are going..." And that can have decisive effects for organizations operating in competitive.
Gene Kim (01:38:03):
Is that what you mean when you say operations starts dictating strategy? In other words, people sense that there is a pattern of winning and that really becomes... that raises the question of how do we win more at the strategic levels? Is that what you mean?
David Silverman (01:38:17):
Yeah. Think of it like launching an MVP. So when you launch an initial product, for us, that was us going on an operation that night. We go on operation night, that was our minimum viable product for the night. We would collect information from that experience and that would then go back into the feedback loop that would inform the next one. So that was happening organically inside our unit. The magic of the, "Team of Teams," was connecting that learning across all the other learnings that were taking place and then trying to disseminate which of those were applicable so that you could rapidly move them across. That's what all of a sudden, it started to make us go much faster effectively.
David Silverman (01:38:49):
So that's why I'm saying, operations started driving intelligence or strategies, because what we were finding on the battlefield was detained the next target. We'd say, "Okay. Learn this and based on this, here's the next thing that we needed to go do differently to solve it." So it's no different than launching MVP, getting feedback and saying, "What the consumers value the most out of this experience was this. This space can still be optimized better. Go focus on that. You're going to get a higher return than you would on somewhere at something else."
Gene Kim (01:39:15):
And if I hear you correctly, that pattern of winning can inform strategy or even become the strategy in the extreme.
David Silverman (01:39:23):
Yeah, that was my sense is that all of a sudden you get that intrinsic motivation of feeling like you did something successful. Then seeing that success applied and scaled to a larger enterprise's outcomes and desires, all of a sudden it makes you feel connected in ways that before, you may have felt isolated, which just improves overall morale, in effect, which then reinforces you want to put more time and energy and motivation to something. So it has this flywheel effect.
Gene Kim (01:39:52):
Gene here. I just want to take a moment to concretize what Dave and Jessica just said; when success at the execution level starts to influence or even drive strategy. I can totally see that happening. If you are striving to create successful outcome by creating a dynamic of learning, what is initially an island of success will keep getting larger. If those successes can be connected with the largest and most important goals and objectives of the entire organization, I think one can quickly see how this effort would have larger and larger influence on the rest of the organization, especially if the other parts of the organizations are trapped in a culture of compliance, a culture of just following the plan. A more dynamic culture of rapid experimentation and learning will, or at least should keep having an ever-growing impact and level of mind share from senior leaders.
Gene Kim (01:40:42):
As Mike Nygaard said in his first ideal cast interview, "This does require that we doubled down on the winners as opposed to force feeding the losers." In other words, all too often, there is this unfortunate dynamic where the projects that can actually get funding are the ones that are late and losing as opposed to the teams who are actually winning. Those are the teams we should be investing in because they have identified a potential breakthrough.
Gene Kim (01:41:08):
Okay. I can't overstate just how grateful and amazing it has been to talk with Dave Silverman and Jessica Reif about the philosophies that went into one of my favorite books, "Team of Teams," as well as hearing so many of these stories that further demonstrate the lessons in the book. So believe it or not, I only got through half of the questions I had for them. So we will be continuing this interview in another Ideal Cast episode. But before that, you will be hearing Dave Silverman's amazing presentation that he gave at the 2020 DevOps Enterprise Summit London virtual conference. He talks about many more of these lessons that he learned in the, "Team of Teams," experience, which I know will resonate with anyone attempting to transform their own organizations. In the meantime, Dave, Jess, can you please tell everyone how they can reach you and prompt that you'd love to work on it?
Jessica Reif (01:41:55):
You can reach us at crosslead.com. I'm Jessica. [email protected] and Dave is [email protected] The types of problems that we enjoy working with the most are really the ones that we talked about in this episode; how do you operate more effectively as a network of teams and how do you address some of the challenges that come with work in the context of a complex system?
David Silverman (01:42:25):
Yeah, I think justice nailed it. I'm passionate, we're passionate about multi-team systems, specifically how organizations communicate and make decisions in environments that necessitate flexibility and adaptability. That's always been sort of my passion. I have a bias towards high-performing organizations that are committed to continuous improvement because I think without that it, it's sort of tough. So helping instilling that culture and then driving the mechanisms that reinforce those behaviors is what I think we spend most of our time with customers and clients spent talking about. So crosslead.com and [email protected]
Gene Kim (01:43:05):
Thank you both. If you enjoyed this episode, I know you'll enjoy those two upcoming episodes as well. See you then. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Up next, will be Dr. Steven Spears, DevOps Enterprise Summit presentations, both from 2019 and 2020, where he talks about the need to create a rapid burning dynamic, as well as how to create them. The 2019 presentation talks about many of the case studies we talked about today, but in more detail. And in 2020, he talks about one of the most remarkable and historic examples of creating a dynamic learning organization at scale, which was in the US Navy at the end of the 19th century at the confluence of two unprecedented changes. One was in the underlying technologies, which you found in ships and in the strategic mission that they were in service of. As usual, I'll add my reflections and reactions to those presentations. If you enjoyed today's interview of Steve, I know you'll enjoy both of those presentations as well.