Beyond DevOps

Over the last several years the DevOps movement has highlighted the need to break down silos between software development and operations. It emphasizes  communication, collaboration, integration, automation, and measurement of cooperation between software developers and other IT professionals[1]. When done right, it can help an organization rapidly produce software products and services and to improve operations performance. But while devOps focuses on breaking down silos between development and operations, in many organizations, big and small, the silos that remain between development and other parts of the business become obstacles for the business in achieving its true potential.

To build and sell a successful product or service, people need to be empowered with information needed to make the right decisions. Information needs to flow freely between various functions within an organization at all levels. This isn’t a new concept by any means and yet even today often communication happens at one level and information is partially shared with the broader organization. This can lead to poor decisions, surprises and delays, resulting in costs that can be easily avoided. The solution isn’t to communicate more often or have everybody attend every meeting and participate in every decision making, but rather to pick an organizational structure that is pertinent to the size and attitude of the people in the organization.

Recently I got into a discussion about organizational structure with Simon Wardley, researcher for CSC’s Leading edge Forum. Simon has written a few great posts on organizational structure – On structure and The only structure you will ever need for e.g. Rather than a departmental structure, a more effective approach is to break the organization into cells connected by services and comprised of people with skills required to provide the services e.g. engineering, product, finance, marketing, support, services. Cells have autonomy over how they organize and run themselves but autonomy is accompanied with accountability and measurement against specific criteria.

Its easy to see how a cell based approach to organizational structure is can lead to better outcomes. Yet it is not common and most organizations use departmental structures impeding their ability to compete effectively.