Episode 12: (Dispatch from the Scenius) David Silverman’s DevOps Enterprise Summit London 2020 Talk
Guest: David Silverman
In the latest Dispatch from the Scenius, Gene Kim shares David Silverman’s 2020 presentation from DevOps Enterprise Summit London - Virtual. In a continuation of Episode 11, the Team of Teams coauthor and CEO of CrossLead talks about the key concepts from Team of Teams, and provides even more context for many of the topics covered in last week’s episode.
David talks about the genesis of the joint special operations command, which was created after the failure of the daring Iran hostage rescue in 1979, and how it found itself in 2003 in Afghanistan and Iraq, tactically winning but strategically losing, unable to find terrorist leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq. He describes the principles that they drew upon, which will be familiar to almost everyone in the DevOps community, the practices that it led to, the amazing outcomes that resulted, as well as the leadership skills needed in this new world.
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.
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):
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 IT Revolution. If you haven't listened to the last episode, where I interviewed Dave Silverman and Jessica Reif, go listen to it now. If you have listened to it, here is the talk that I promised you. This is the entirety of David Silverman's 2020 Devops Enterprise Summit London virtual presentation from June, where he talks about so many of the key concepts from his new book Team of Teams, and provides more context for so many of the topics covered in the last episode. He talks about the genesis of the joint special operations command, which was created after the failure of the daring Iran hostage rescue in 1979, and how it found itself in 2003 in Afghanistan and Iraq, tactically winning but strategically losing, unable to find terrorist leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Gene Kim (01:09):
He describes the principles that they drew upon, which will be familiar to almost everyone in the devops community, the practices that it led to, and the amazing outcomes that resulted, as well as the leadership skills needed in this new world. As I'm sure you've noticed from the last episode, I love the book Team of Teams, and I've learned so much by interviewing both Dave Silverman and Jessica Reif. Almost all those questions came from watching this amazing talk. So join me as we listen to this presentation. And like last time, I'll be breaking in periodically, adding my own running commentary on points that I found particularly impactful, both when I originally saw his talk and listening to them again now. Okay, here's Dave.
David Silverman (01:56):
Thank you, Gene. I'm excited to be here at the Devops Enterprise Summit. Today, I'm going to tell you the story of Crosslink and how we created a team of teams when we were trying to fight against Al Qaeda. This story starts from a personal standpoint with myself, so a little bit background, help set the stage. I grew up a military brat, bouncing around the country. I moved to more than nine schools in 12 years, and every time I tried to assimilate into a new community, my father and mother would put me into a team of some type. And by the time I got to high school, I had sort of realized that what I was sort of good at was aquatic sports, specifically water polo. And I was fortunate enough to be on a super high performing team.
David Silverman (02:37):
When you're trying to figure out what you're going to do next stage of your life, because at this point, all I really understood was being a student athlete, I wanted to follow my in my father's footsteps as service, and so I decided to join the Navy, went to the Naval Academy. And ultimately, I was trying to became a Navy SEAL. The reason why was because there's no professional sports and water polo really in the United States. And so the highest form of a team that was elite that I could find, at least I think made sense for me, was the Navy SEAL team. So I graduated the Naval Academy in '98, went on to SEAL training in San Diego, California. This is an image of me and some of my counterparts being surf tortured in the water as they were forging young men into what would become later frogmen. And graduated in the early winter of 1999. And out of the original 165 guys that started in our class, only 19 of us graduated.
David Silverman (03:31):
We would go on to the SEAL teams, and this is again pre 9/11, and had a pretty amazing experience. And then 9/11 happened, our entire world changed, and several deployments later, I would find myself in Baghdad commanding forces that was trying to compete against an enemy that was morphing and changing pretty quickly. And this became sort of the foundational experience for me operationally. And when we got back, a group of us got together and we tried to capture the core lessons of this experience, really this culture change initiative that took place over many years in the book Team of Teams.
David Silverman (04:04):
So to understand the history, it's important to sort of go back to the inception of special operations in the United States. Over time, there's always been people that have been called up to do things that most other people didn't want to do, or wouldn't do, in service of the nation. And then early 1980s, actually, 1979, during that failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt, there was a big study done that said, "Hey, what happened? Why aren't we capable of actually achieving our objectives?" And so out of that, they formed the Joint Special Operations Command. And they quickly assimilated the best special operations components around the different services into a comprehensive unit. It's unclassified mission was to come out with training tactics and procedures for how you would combat terrorism threats around the globe.
David Silverman (04:52):
Its classified mission was to be a standing task force that would respond in 96 hours or less to any threat around the world. And very quickly, this organization became part of a much larger counter terrorism apparatus that involved several different government organizations. These highlight sort of the tops ones, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Homeland Security and the FBI. And very quickly, this organization in the '80s and '90s became world class. We learned how to operate inside of our bureaucracy. And we had great success operating around the battlefield. But our core fundamental challenge was that we were very tribal and siloed in nature. And while this theoretically allowed the organization to compete effectively, so for instance in our case, the SEALs and the Army's Delta Force were sort of rivals. And the idea was that rivalry would actually create a better outcome.
David Silverman (05:46):
That also became gaps and seams that would become difficult for us to overcome as the world started to change. Our enemy also was born around the same time we were in the early '80s. They were, Al Qaeda originally found its legs in the prisons of Egypt, would start to form into a unit in Afghanistan fighting against the Soviets. And after that global jihad, they went back and dispersed across more than 47 countries, where they started to take root, started to grow and flourish. Over time, this enemy was pretty different than previous terrorist threats that we were used to dealing with. In fact, after 9/11, we were trying to figure out how to combat this threat. We wanted to see the enemy how we looked at ourselves, meaning it looked like some type of leadership structure where if you could decapitate the top, they call it the two plus seven, in this case Bin Laden and Zawahiri and his seven operational tenets. You could theoretically have the [inaudible 00:06:43] of effects.
David Silverman (06:44):
But the reality was the enemy was very different than most organizations that we'd come up against previous to this. And it operates much more analogous to a network, where it morphed and changed and metastasized in ways that were counterintuitive to a traditional hierarchical structure. And it was leveraging technology that was exploding onto the market in the early 2000s, associated with mobile and social. And by leveraging these tools, its ability to communicate and disseminate key lessons and learnings rapidly across different geographies was effectively frictionless. And so very quickly, this organization that was highly nimble and agile started to have decisive effects against what we considered to be an elite but very consistent hierarchical organizational construct associated with counter terrorism.
David Silverman (07:34):
So the challenge is, we said, "Well, we hate to lose. We've got to figure out how to change." And to understand sort of the core fundamental challenge I think it's important to maybe take a step and look at best practices associated with management because over time, what we've seen is the military in the early 2000s was very much a byproduct of how organizations led and managed over the last 100 years. So if you go back to the beginning of any large organization, you got to go back to the second industrial revolution, where a guy named Frederick Winslow Taylor comes on the scene in the early 1900s, late 1800s. And he basically looked at a supply chain line and said, "I want to figure out a way to drive better operational efficiency in my uncle's manufacturing plant."
David Silverman (08:21):
And his goal was again to take out any of the waste associated with how the line produced. He went around with tape measures and stop watches with the goal of structuring every single component of that assembly line as something relatively simple and repeatable. And then that was the advent of what would become scientific management theory, or Taylorism, or Fordism. And his whole thesis was we want to take decision making rights away from the individual, standardize how they operate, put the decision making rights to a single plant manager, and then drive operational efficiencies. And over time, this started to explode. And it was sort of the advent of the modern large organization because as organizations like Ford and GM and others took this, they started scaling this. And you started to see pretty significant results.
David Silverman (09:09):
Then Peter Drucker comes along and says, "Hey, how do we apply these core lessons to the rest of the organization, looking at the various other components?" And if we're trying to differentiate between two large companies, ultimately bottom line growth was going to become paramount. We need to figure out how to master the simple now in order to create sustainable returns." And management by objective or smart goals became the process by which organizations managed their performance on a consistent basis. Now after the second world war in the US, the GI Bill put a lot of people into the education system and made education much more democratized to the masses. And so you started to have this new economy emerge, which is a knowledge economy, where if you could leverage the collective intelligence of the organization, break it into small pods, theoretically you could drive some innovation, which would create differentiation between you and other organizations.
David Silverman (10:02):
And Steve Jobs was sort of famous for this. I don't think this movement is around any one person, but I like to use Steve Jobs because he was one of the persons that took groups, put them into small sort of research and development teams, and try to create innovative products separately. Right? And the whole idea here was now you're in a global supply chain, things are more complicated. How do you simplify those across multiple different geographies? And collaborative management practice started to emerge in the environment. But like most things, we have not stayed still. The advent of social and digital has created another major shift into this new digital economy, where we think now every individual potentially can have decisive effects on the organization. And if you're going to be successful, you have to be able to adapt and thrive in complexity, and ultimately, the organization management practice we believe [inaudible 00:10:51] Team of Teams, is what we emerge to as a solution trying to figure out how to deal with this new complex operating environment we're in.
David Silverman (10:58):
So when you're talking about operating environments and the types of practices you can apply, there was a Welsh philosopher named David Snowden who created the Cynefin framework. And the whole idea here was for them to organize around a set of operating conditions where you could apply different practices to achieve effects. So starting off with simple problems, where cause and effect are well known, you can apply best practices. This was precisely the industrial age, where Taylorism sort of maximized. As global economies started to come into place, obviously cause and effect are now separated by space and time. It makes for a complicated situation, so think about a distributed supply chain that's maybe coming together in a single place to produce something. Well, now maybe good practices are as good as you can get. And in each individual area, you might have a best practice. But as a collective, it might be a good practice to get it done.
David Silverman (11:54):
The next environment would be complexity, where cause and effect are only apparent in hindsight. And in this scenario, you have to be able to emerge the solutions if you're going to be successful. And the last is chaotic, where there's no relationship between cause and effect. And then you have to practice sort of a novel practice. Basically, you usually see an autocratic leader make a call or a decision that then ultimately starts to find some success. And then the goal is always to move your problem set back to simple if you can. Now so if you look at the modern digital economy and say, "Well, what environment do we spend most of our time in today?" We believe that the combination of speed and interdependencies that have been created through the advent of all this technology has created multiple different outcomes or complexity in the situation, which means that we believe today most organizations actually spend most of their time dealing in complex problem sets. And we believe most leadership management practices were actually designed for complicated or simple products, which is precisely where we found ourselves overseas.
David Silverman (12:53):
So if you understand how we used to operate as an organization, to some extent, we still do operate like this. Really, the advent of how we hunted terrorists was called the F3EA model. It was designed and developed really in the 1920s and '30s fighting against organized crime in the US, where the idea here was if you found ... You have to find who the enemy is, fix their location in space and time, send in a finishing force to capture or neutralize those threats. You extract all the information you can collect on that target set or through interrogation, and then you analyze those results, which then leads you to figure out the next part of the network. And it becomes this cycle.
David Silverman (13:33):
In our scenario, if you go back to these inner agencies, different organizations own different components of this cycle. And every time, let's say the CIA figured out where something was and handed it off to the NSA, the NSA would hand off information to a military unit. And then maybe we'd bring the FBI in to exploit, and then the whole number of analysts to assess. Every one of those hand offs was a blink in the system because this was a very waterfall approach to how we basically were hunting. And those blinks became opportunities, in this case, for the enemy to adjust or move.
David Silverman (14:04):
And oftentimes, what we found ourselves was playing catch up, and we found it to be incredibly inadequate. What was disorienting for us as operators was we were having great tactical success on a daily basis engaging with the enemy. So I went up against an adversary, the chance of that actually being successful was very high, call it 99%. But on the aggregate, if you stepped back and looked at it across, in this case, the 27 countries who were deployed, it looked like the problem was getting worse, and we were losing.
Gene Kim (14:33):
Gene here. I love this section because it describes so well the types of problems and aha moments that almost everyone in the devops community have had, but applied to life and death situations. One of the top frustrations that I've had for decades is how difficult it is when we see that there's a massively better way to do things, how difficult it is to get other people on board. In particular, we often have problems with business leadership, where they see so many problems as merely technology problems that can be safely delegated away, as opposed to being business problems that they are actually responsible for. What I love about what Dave presented is that everyone can understand and resonate with these stories, the commercial success of Team of Teams shows just how well they've explained these concepts to a very broad audience and how persuasive these stories are.
Gene Kim (15:27):
I mean, come on. F3EA, just listening to him describe it makes you immediately think slow waterfall processes with terrible handoffs, and what the real horrible consequences are when you can't react as fast as your competition. I think we can use this book to help build bridges to communities that we need to get on board, especially senior business leadership. And Dave just modeled so well how we can communicate so many of these concepts effectively and persuasively. Okay. Back to the presentation.
David Silverman (16:00):
So our challenge was in this new environment that necessitates a fundamental shift in how you lead and manage, what new model can we create to basically allow us to emerge rapidly to solutions, and be resilient in constantly changing environments? And so we went back to sort of our fundamentals of what made small teams great and said, "Well, we know in a small team setting, like a SEAL troop, if I go onto a target, I believe I can adapt faster than my enemy inside of that decision space and have decisive effects. How do I scale that across an entire enterprise?" In this case, across multiple different organizations and communities that more or less have maybe it's a common mandate, but very different cultures, [inaudible 00:16:43] and authorities that limited us.
David Silverman (16:45):
So we went back to what made all of us sort of unique, which was our selection and training process. And we said, "Look, all of us can self identify with being a part of an elite team." And so we said, "What makes elite teams great?" And there's a lot of books that have been written on this. But in my opinion there's two fundamentals that matter more than anything else if you're going to make any small team great, which is first, you've got to have trust. And the second, you have to be aligned on a common set of purpose and goals. If you don't have these first two capabilities, you really don't have the potential for a high performing team in my mind. And certainly in a small group environment, I would say go back and try to figure out these two components before you really do anything else.
David Silverman (17:24):
Now at the small team level, there's two other organizational capabilities that manifest almost organically if you have these first two, which are this concept of empowered execution, which means very simply people tend to know the roles and responsibilities, and they're empowered to basically make decisions inside of a framework that's been pre-established by the organization. And they tend to understand what each other are thinking. And so we call this shared consciousness, where there's almost an emergent intelligence that's created by a trust starts to break down because you just have less visibility in what people are doing. And the inevitably, leadership gets involved and starts pulling decision making space up to their level, so empowerment starts to detract. So it has this compounding effect on all three.
David Silverman (18:11):
And if you have a small elite team, whether it's in my old world, or in the business world, what tends to happen is you tend to grow it. You say, "Well, this thing's having success. Let's do more of it." And so all of a sudden, this small team starts to get bigger. It becomes a little bit tougher to manage, becomes more unruly. And pretty soon, because we want to make it efficient, we start organizing it into logical structures that are easier to understand. And pretty soon, the very thing that made us sort of fast, nimble and agile gets assumed into what would be a modern day org structure for almost any organization on the planet.
David Silverman (18:49):
Now if you've done this well, and you look at any individual team inside of this structure, you probably find a nimble, agile team, at least hopefully, you would. But at an enterprise level, you've clearly lost something. And if we look at our four organizational capabilities, what we believe by design is that shared consciousness is the first thing that's compromised, and it makes sense. Right? The whole reason why you structured this was that you wanted to silo off distractions from different teams so they could focus on their specific goals and objectives and not waste time on other things. But in this new complex world where everything's interdependent, we've found that to be decisively limiting factor that it created tremendous risk both for ourselves and for organizations as things adapted and changed. And it has a compounding effect obviously, on the other three components.
David Silverman (19:36):
So if I'm siloed off now, it's very easy to get misaligned on what goals are objectives are, at least for the enterprise level. Trust starts to break down because you just have less visibility in what people are doing. And then inevitably, leadership gets involved and starts pulling decision making space up to their level, so empowerment starts to detract. So it has this compounding effect on all three.
Gene Kim (19:58):
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'm 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 Leibman, the CIO of American Airlines, who 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 long time friend, Ross Clanton, about the American Airlines journey.
Gene Kim (20:44):
And since 2014, we've all been dazzled by the CSG journey, as told by Scott Prugh and Erica Morrison. 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 US. 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 Summit program we've ever put together. You can find more information at events.itrevolution.com/virtual.
David Silverman (21:33):
Now in order to be successful in today's environment, what we argue is you have to think of yourselves not as an organization in a hierarchical structure, but more of like a living organism that has multiple different synapses that create this network where every single individual is basically another node in the network, almost like you would like a brain. And the main goal that we tried to recreate as quickly as possible was: How do we create shared consciousness across this team teams, which was multiple different organizations and agencies spread across more than 27 countries?
David Silverman (22:06):
So we fundamentally tried to do this through process initially, by centralizing and creating consistent communication platforms that try to increase the rate of learning, and centralize learning locally. And the idea here was if we all had a common operating picture of what was happening, and we understood what parts of the collective could be energized at any given moment, that way when a specific problem emerged, you could self organize your team into a specific mission based group that could then focus on that problem, attack it relentlessly, and then as the problem shifted, you too could shift across your organization to a new group, where you could again assimilate the necessary components to be successful.
David Silverman (22:49):
Really, what this became was leading beyond the org chart because if you go back and remember that organizations that populated this task force, none of those we had the ability to actually change structures and even roles and responsibilities. Everything was more or less a handshake deal, so we had to find a way to work beyond the confines of an org chart, and base on needs that were changing rapidly, much faster than you could, say, get something approved through, let's say Congress, for instance, driving change.
David Silverman (23:18):
And last is this model of radical transparency that was a byproduct of creating these communication mechanisms gave organizations, and specifically leaders, the ability to feel much more comfortable with letting people run and empower them to operate at the local level. The basic thesis here was the person closest to the problem is best situated to solve the problem, so leadership's role really became about making the network sort of function effectively. And they could have the confidence in doing that by the accountability that was created from the transparency of the operating mechanism. So it allowed leaders to take this eyes on, hands off approach to leading the organization.
David Silverman (24:03):
So if you're trying to figure out how to actually make this work inside of your organization, there's really two levers that you kind of have to pull almost simultaneously. So the first is process and technology because I grouped those two things together, and most technology exists to support or improve processes, and then obviously your people because we are talking about an organization. So let's talk about process first. For us, the first thing that we did when we got overseas is redefined our daily battle rhythm or our operating rhythm. And the goal here was to say, "All right, in a 24 hour cycle, we need to do operations, we need to then process the information that we collect from the operations. We then need to feed that into a shard learning mechanism," which in this case was called the ops and intelligence update, which was a 90 minute meeting that took place every day across more than 15,000 people in 27 countries.
David Silverman (24:55):
That then led into small team based planning sessions, which then resulted in them executing operations. And we repeated the cycle every single day, 24 hours and seven. And if you looked at this, what it did was it connected the enterprise and all those different components of it, in this case, the CIA, the NSA, the operators, all into one collective. So now instead of these hand offs, we were bringing them in for this more or less scrum of scrums, the ops intelligence update, where we were cross leveling in realtime information, and then it enabled to figure out what we needed to do differently the next night, and then we could harness them. Also, it energized and activated people three or four layers down the organization to be able to figure out how to horse trade both assets, resources, or information to unlock productivity across the system. And this had tremendous effects in the organization.
David Silverman (25:44):
What we've codified this into is an operating framework now that we bring to business, where you apply very similar principles. So at the bottom, you have your basic sprint cycles, which are then augmented by these keystone forums that are integrating multiple different teams that are operating along interdependencies where they're sharing critical learnings and insights. And then those usually fall into some type of quarterly planning and prioritization process for longer strategic level development making. And it transcends the different layers of the organization.
David Silverman (26:12):
The second component is people. And I believe any organization you can break up into basically four different segments. At the top, you have your C-suite. Then you have your managees at the bottom, and then you usually have two layers of management in between., those front line, mid level managers and then the senior management or multi team leaders. Now if you're trying to affect change in an organization, usually your top and your bottom are the easiest ones to get on board for a change. And it's sort of intuitive why. Your C-suite for instance is usually where the idea came from. And more or less, they don't have to do a lot of things themselves. So for them to say, "Well, we're going to adopt some new initiative," it's relatively straightforward. And for the managees at the bottom, they're more less along for the ride. Right? They might complain, but ultimately they're going to more or less do what they're told.
David Silverman (27:01):
It's the middle layer that basically has the decisive votes we find in any type of transformation. The frontline managers, my experience, and this was where I was in Baghdad, Iraq back in 2006, are all from the state of Missouri, which the motto there is show me. If you can make my life and job better and more effective for me locally, then I'll buy in. If you don't, well, then the chances of me adopting what it is you want me to do are pretty limited. And because this is a relatively large bureaucratic organization, I can be passive aggressive. And chances are, it's going to be hard for you to hold me accountable. And then at the top layer, you've got your senior management.
David Silverman (27:38):
And my experience with this group is that change equals risk, meaning they've gotten to this position of authority. They're either trying to get to the C-suite, in which case doing something risky is probably dis-incentivized, or they're content in the role that they have, they're just trying to ride out their career. And if you change fundamentally the model, it becomes something that's disruptive. So if you go back and remember the process discussions and try to create network effects, our whole goal was to make sure that we were connecting frontline managers and managees, in this case operators that are dealing with the objective every day, with mid level, senior level, and C-suite management, so that we could get a collective awareness and drive change faster and more effectively. Right?
David Silverman (28:22):
And so as you think about this from a network perspective, you can actually go into your organization and figure out. Who are those critical influencers that are disproportionately driving communication, decision making, that you need to get on board to drive any type of transformation become more nimble and agile? So what were the outcomes associated with this? So for us, they were pretty staggering. If you go back to Iraq in November of 2003, we defined success by trying to tamp down radical threats against the stability of the country. And when we first invaded, our organization was initially set up to operate on a 96 hour planning cycle. So one hour, your beeper goes off, within four hours, you're wheels up anywhere interesting world. You're doing planning, rehearsing, getting approvals. You do your operation. You come back, you [inaudible 00:29:09] action, your remit, and then you could go again. So the organization was designed to do basically one every four or five days.
David Silverman (29:16):
So five raids a month is more or less a little bit less capacity that what we were designed and organized to do. Now we had success tactically, but strategically we were still losing. So what would you do if you're a boss? You say, "Well, you should just go harder. We'll do more." So that's what we did. We went from doing a raid every week to basically doing a month of August in 2004, so roughly six, seven, eight months later, we were now doing 18 raids in a single month, so a 3X increase in outcomes. And at this place, we're doing one every other night, which is about two times faster than we were designed to operate. And as an organization, we were seeing some negative effects. We were taking casualties. And our success rate on objectives was going down.
David Silverman (30:00):
So we put this new operating model in place across the framework. And by August of 2006, what was 18 raids jumped up to 300 raids, which is basically now 10 every night across this task force, roughly the same number of operators, definitely better technology and capabilities, but you can see we've democratized the decision making and exploded the productivity that we had in the organization. And the results were pretty impressive. We went from a network that we were having a really hard time getting our hands around to starting to take this Al Qaeda and Iraq isolating into individual factions and then start beating on it on a nightly basis. And so it became more or less suppressed. And by the time we got to 2008, 2009, we would say that the threat was more or less in remission.
David Silverman (30:44):
Now when you left of the pressure, Al Qaeda and Iraq metastasized to a new enterprise, but this had decisive effects for us, and really changed fundamentally how we thought about leading and managing, which is what we're here to talk about today. And so as we've applied this to businesses, what we've seen is dramatic increases in productivity and predictability on your outcomes because you're consistently emerging and evolving on leveraging this agile best practices that are applied at the enterprise level. You usually see much improved results with your customer satisfaction, and obviously, the whole goal of this is to get every single employee engaged in the process because we believe that in this new environment, every individual is effectively a leader and needs to be treated as such.
David Silverman (31:25):
So that leads us to sort of the last point, which was: How do you define great leadership in today's environment? Now we looked hard at what made leaders successful in this organization. And early days, what you'd says is, "We thought of leadership as these strategic thinkers, these chess masters that were moving parts around a board." But the reality of today is think leaders are more analogous to being a gardener, which is the sole purpose is for you to create an ecosystem or environment that allows your talent to flourish effectively. And so if one person doesn't get along with another, you create some space. Right? You've got to make sure some people have more sunlight, other people have more water. Ultimately, your whole job is to create an ecosystem where the organization's effectively operating and leveraging.
David Silverman (32:11):
So we looked hard at what are those skillsets that made leaders successful in this environment looking back at some of our most successful ones. And we brought in psychologists and sociologists, and we landed on seven core competencies that were critically important for leaders in today's environment. Now the first, especially for a special mission unit operator was you had to be functionally excellent. So in this case, could you shoot, move and communicate. If you couldn't do this at a basic standard, you weren't going to be respected by your teammates. And most of our time and training early on was focused on just that. But what we realized as the organization became increasingly more complex and it started to grow, now all of a sudden we're asking leaders to do something pretty different. Right?
David Silverman (32:53):
The idea that you could run, shoot, jump out of airplanes became almost a commodity. Really it was these other maybe softer skills that became critically important for making a leader successful in environments that were highly networked and changing quickly. And the three that were most important were the ability to connect fundamentally with people, demonstrate empathy, and motivate them towards a common cause, having habit formation and discipline in how you operate, so that people could basically figure out what azimuth you were on and be consistent. And arguably, the most important is being self aware, which is this skillset allows you to bring all the other skillset that we're talking about here to bear in an environment that is most productive. Right?
David Silverman (33:39):
So depending on what's needed, your ability to understand how you're inputting energy into the system. How do you shift or adjust to basically achieve the effect that you want? You can't do that if you don't have self awareness. So what we're looking for from you guys, what we'd love to get is we're co-authoring a second book, really a how to guide on Team of Teams. And I would love to hear how the stories that I just shared and some of these applications have applied, or how you've applied these locally at your level. And we'd love to get some of these examples. And we'll have an opportunity for you to engage directly with us here, and then again later on I think in today's session. So thank you so much for having me. Look forward to keeping in touch.
Gene Kim (34:22):
Okay. I hope you enjoyed that presentation from Dave Silverman. From Devops Enterprise Summit in London Virtual in 2020. It was so difficult for me to not put in break ins everywhere for all the great points in this presentation. However, I was able to do it knowing that I covered so many of these topics in my two followup interviews. As I alluded to earlier, in the next episode is part two of my interview with Dave Silverman and Jessica Reif, where we talk about lowering the cost of change in the Toyota production process and how it eerily resembles what Dave presented earlier, when in 2004, when they tripled the operating tempo and ended up with more causalities, accidents, and negative consequences. I learned more about the dynamics of why commanders pull the decision space up, which takes away autonomy from local leaders, versus operating in an eyes on, hands off mode, which gives local leaders more autonomy.
Gene Kim (35:22):
I learned about some of the amazing ways they were able to innovate at the edges, specifically around expanding capacity on scarce resources, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems, which allowed them to so dramatically increase productivity. And we get their advice that they would give to technology leaders. It's an amazing interview. Thank you and see you then. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Up next will be Dr. Steven Spear's Devops Enterprise Summit presentations both from 2019 and 2020, where he talks about the need to create a rapid learning 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.
Gene Kim (36:07):
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 with Steve, I know you'll enjoy both of those presentations as well.