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The Lean IT Operations Mindset
Posted on Sep 1, 2016 by Sebastian Schönwetter
The Disciplined Agile (DA) framework describes strategies for how an organization’s IT group can support a lean enterprise.
An important part of this is to have an effective IT operations strategy, and to do that the people involved need to have what we call a “lean IT operations mindset.”
The philosophies behind such a mindset include:
Run a trustworthy IT ecosystem. At a high level the goal is to “keep the lights on.” At a detailed level anyone responsible for IT operations wants to run an IT ecosystem that is sufficiently secure, resilient, available, performant, usable, and environmentally friendly. Part of running a trustworthy ecosystem is monitoring running services so as to identify and hopefully avoid potential problems before they occur. For some systems, and perhaps for your IT ecosystem as a whole, you may have service level agreements (SLAs) in place with your end users that guarantee a minimum level of trustworthiness.
Focus on the strategic (long-term) over the tactical (short-term). Anyone responsible for IT operations needs to have a very good understanding between the long-term implications of a decision versus the short-term conveniences. A classic example of this right now is the preference of people building micro-services to use what they believe to be the best technologies for each service. This makes a lot of sense from the narrow viewpoint of that service and it often proves to be incredibly convenient, and fun, for the developers because they often get to work with new technologies. However, from an operational point of view you end up with a mishmash of technologies that must be operated and evolved over time, resulting in a potential maintenance nightmare. Yes, you will still make some short-term decisions but you should do so intelligently. Too great a focus on the long term results in a stagnant IT ecosystem, too great a focus on short-term decisions results in operations teams who spend all their time fighting fires. The long-term technical vision for your organization is developed by your Enterprise Architecture efforts and the long-term business vision comes from your Product Management activities.
Streamline the overall flow of work. This arguably should be part of everyone’s mindset, but it is particularly important for people doing IT operations work. IT operations has traditionally been a bottleneck in many organizations, often the result of the need to run a trustworthy ecosystem and to focus on long-term considerations, hence the need to focus on streamlining the overall flow of work. BUT, this isn’t just operational work that we need to streamline, but the overall flow of work into, within, and out of IT operations. In this case we need a disciplined approach to DevOps that takes all aspects of the development-operations lifecycle into account, including the support of multiple development lifecycles (not just continuous delivery), the release management process, and the operational aspects of data management. Of course, streamlining the flow of work goes beyond development-operations and is an important goal of your organization’s continuous improvement strategy.
Help end-users succeed. An important goal of people performing operations activities is to ensure that your end users are successfully using your IT systems. It doesn’t matter how well your systems are built, or how trustworthy they are, if your end users are unable or unwilling to use them effectively. End users are going to need help – you need to be prepared to provide a support function.
Standardization without stagnation. The more standardized your IT ecosystem is the easier it will be to run, to release new functionality into, and to find and fix problems if they should arise. However, too much standardization can lead to stagnation where it becomes very difficult to evolve your ecosystem. You will need to work very closely with people performing enterprise architecture and product management activities to ensure that you understand the long term vision and are working towards it.
Regulate releases into production. Most DevOps strategies reflect the viewpoint of a single product team. But what about the viewpoint of your overall IT ecosystem, which may comprise hundreds of products? An interesting question to ask is what is the WIP limit for releases across your overall ecosystem? In other words, what rate of change can your infrastructure, and your stakeholder community, bear? In the Disciplined Agile framework this philosophy is an important driver of the Release Management process blade. Furthermore, some regulatory compliance regimes call out a separation of concerns pertaining to release management – the people building a product are not allowed to release the product into production, someone else must make that decision and do the work (even if “the work” is merely pressing a button to run a script).
Sufficient documentation. Yes, there will be some documentation maintained about your IT ecosystem. Hopefully this documentation is concise, accurate, and high-level. Common documentation includes an overview(s) of your infrastructure, release procedures (even if fully automated, there’s still some overview documentation and training), and high-level views of critical aspects of your infrastructure including security, data architecture, and network architecture. Organizations that operate in regulated industries will of course need to comply to the documentation requirements of the appropriate regulations. When infrastructure components are discoverable and self-documenting there is a lesser need for external documentation, but there is still a need. Any documentation that you do create should be maintained under configuration management (CM) control.