Everybody loves DevOps. In fact, DevOps is the hottest date in IT. That's because DevOps promises to satisfy the deepest longings of digital business — including fast execution on innovative ideas, competitively differentiated customer experiences, and significantly improved operational efficiencies.
But who does DevOps love?
This is more than a cute Valentine's-themed question. It's a fundamental challenge for anyone leading a DevOps initiative. What passions and motivations are driving your DevOps teams? How do you know? And if those motivations aren't the right ones, how do you re-direct them?
Metrics, it turns out, may hold the answers.
The Danger of DevOps Narcissism
Many of us know what it's like to be in a relationship with a narcissist. Narcissists can actually be very attractive. They maintain the best possible outward appearance and exude confidence. They can also be quite charming and seductive.
But relationships with narcissists ultimately turn out to be quite toxic, because narcissists only love themselves. So they use our feelings for them to meet their own emotional and material needs—giving us little or nothing in return.
Left unchecked, DevOps can easily devolve into a similar state of narcissism. Technology professionals, after all, typically love technology. So as they catch DevOps fever, they start to view DevOps, agile and continuous delivery as objectives to be pursued for their own sakes.
There is nothing wrong with having a DevOps team that is super-enthusiastic about DevOps excellence. You want your team to be excited about DevOps best practices and DevOps-enabling tools.
But enterprises aren't investing millions in DevOps so that IT can congratulate itself. It's investing in DevOps to address an existential business challenge. DevOps narcissism is thus potentially quite toxic.
One way to detect creeping DevOps narcissism is through the metrics by which DevOps performance is measured. Narcissistic DevOps teams focus on narcissistic metrics (also known as "vanity" metrics). These metrics include lines of code produced and function points created. Leaderboards and gamification can also both indicate and promote DevOps narcissism — especially if they utilize vanity metrics to keep score.
Romancing the Business
The proper object of DevOps affection is, of course, the business. The whole point of DevOps is to accelerate time-to-benefit for business-driven digital deliverables produced by agile development — while also diligently addressing performance at scale, production economics, security, compliance, business continuity and other digital business requirements.
DevOps therefore can't just look inward. It must look outward to see how well it is communicating and collaborating with all relevant digital stakeholders in order to achieve the goals of the business.
What metrics best indicate alignment of DevOps efforts with the business? There are several—but I'll just highlight one here: NetPromoter. NetPromoter scores (NPS) are broadly used by organizations to quantify the customers' perceptions about the quality of their engagements. I won't weigh in here regarding the concerns CX professionals have about excessive reliance on NPS vs/ other CX metrics. I'll simply point out that, whatever its flaws, NPS is a far more business-directed metric than lines of code or function points. And, as such, it is a much-needed antidote to DevOps narcissism.
NPS is also practical to obtain and immune from corruption by DevOps staff — two key requirements for any management metric.
Other metrics (cycle times, FTE-to-customer ratios, MTTR, etc.) can also be very useful for DevOps leaders. And I'll write more about them in future blogs.
But on Valentine's Day, it's appropriate to ask a relationship question. Yes, everyone loves DevOps. But who does DevOps love? If it's not the business, then there's going to be some heartbreak. And that heartbreak is likely to come in the form of failed expectations and subpar business outcomes.