DevOps: Shift Left, Shift Right, Stuck In The Middle With You?

By Fin Goulding

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Haydn and I frequently get into trouble with the various agile communities regarding our view of the state of agile as referenced in our books and articles. The main issue, as we see it, centres on a lack of business agility upstream, which is not always a problem caused by IT. Although some methodologies are ineffective, they become even more ineffective if fed the wrong things to deliver. 

What we are discovering in our practical day-to-day work with clients is that non-technical teams love our approach, namely Flow, which they find liberating.

Spending time on value discovery, finding new market segments and shaping projects, products and experiences “before” the work is launched within IT, is a major contributor to business success. 

In fact, this approach, which we call Value-Based Agility, can really power an effective delivery methodology but more importantly, it almost eradicates the need to fail-fast.  

What we see is that IT agile can be enriched by interfacing with business agility techniques thanks to Flow. And everyone that works with us or reads our books really gets it.

In fact, we were talking with the organiser of our forthcoming workshop and keynote speech, at the almost sold out Business Agility conference in Ohio next November, about the lack of expertise in building an effective portfolio of valuable work, upstream. Seems that it’s a global thing.

Shift Left – Or Should That Really Be Shift Right?

But let’s take a minute to talk about the term shift left. This refers to a way of working in the software development world in which tech teams focus on quality by trying to prevent operational issues or defects in production, instead of after-the-fact detection. 

In the DevOps world (which mainly focuses on holistic or multi-disciplinary technical teams) this can be achieved via automation and continuous testing/integration/deployment etc.

This automation and way of working also drives the speed of delivery. Which is probably why DevOps within large-scale organisations has never been more popular. 

But intuitively, or at least the way in which my brain works, I reckon that this should really be called shift right because of the focus is on the final stage of delivery. But I’m sure that most DevOps devotees don’t really care! 

I actually talked about Flow at the DevOps Enterprise Summit in 2018 but from a Business Agility perspective whilst most other presenters talked about “technical” flow efficiency in terms of moving from projects to products. 

Flow is not about technology. Neither is it about “agile”. It’s much bigger than that.

Moving From Projects to Products to Experiences

The rise in DevOps and agile IT has no doubt resulted in faster delivery and higher quality but can the same be said in terms of value? Haydn and I don’t think so. And failed transformations can trace their issues to:

  • Projects that fail to deliver value
  • Feature stuffed Products that fail to realise value
  • And Experience led initiatives which are not understood because no one truly thinks in terms of Customers, Segments, Adjacencies, and Ecosystems

And that last point is really important because its absence has meant that when IT becomes really agile and very nimble, it also becomes fantastic at delivering work at pace but that work is not always necessarily valuable or indeed, correctly targeted for success.  


The Real Shift Left

When the Flow Academy works with clients, we usually get called in because transformations are in trouble, delivery has stalled, products have failed, teams are not agile or the corporate culture has gone sideways.

Adopting the mythical agile Spotify model doesn’t change the culture of a corporate enterprise. In reality, it can make things worse through a clash of cultures. This leads to transformations totally stalling.

For us, cultural transformation comes from the people in a company who are empowered and who care. Top-down cultural dictats usually end in disaster and tons of money wasted on bean bags, barista machines, free food, table tennis and foosball.

We are also very well known for our very frank views on scaled agile frameworks. 

The issue is less about the frameworks. But just think about it for a moment, if IT agile helps you to deliver stuff faster, imagine how much stuff you can deliver within a scaled agile framework. But this volume doesn’t relate to value. So the scaled agile frameworks can make you deliver lots of low-value stuff at pace.

In our experience, Companies really do want to become more agile but in my opinion, they are being badly advised about how to do it. Scaled frameworks are not the answer.

And that’s not to say that it is the fault of the framework providers, or the IT management teams adopting them.

So what’s going wrong?

What can we do about it?

Stuck in the middle with you

We all need to get behind the agile IT community, product teams and software development groups in order to truly connect the dots within an entire Business. Agile needs to be all-encompassing. End to end. Value-based. A shift left, if you will, upstream to the source of value discovery.

And to do that, we call out in Flow how one can do this by focusing on value-based agility, the tools and techniques to use and the methods to bring your people on the journey by:

  • Leveraging your existing assets 
  • Introducing more targeted innovation
  • Discovering and creating your ecosystem 
  • Adopting a “micro-everything” mindset
  • Making your hierarchies more effective
  • And identifying success factors for your Customers

With the help of the community, we believe that we can all pivot quickly and make agile methodologies much more effective by embracing value-based agility across the entire business.

Therefore I’m asking consultancies to stop pushing the Spotify model, forget about complex scaled frameworks and understand what it takes to make an entire organisation agile. Value-based agility is where we all need to go.

And if we don’t pivot, agile will be stuck in the middle, working at a different pace. Success will come to those companies who learn how to Shift Left and Right in order to truly flow.

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