Lessons for DevOps Leadership Success from the Military

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Lessons for DevOps Leadership Success from the Military

Here at G2G3 we like to take inspiration from the military on occasion. Our love of simulation was originally borne from the use of simulations and experiential learning in the military as a means of powerful mission rehearsal. Our company name was even military inspired! So, how can the military help us think about how best to deploy DevOps?

Adoption of DevOps

DevOps is on the up. Adoption continues to grow, with a recent Gartner adoption survey suggesting that all IT organizations should be investigating the benefits of DevOps. But when Gartner recently surveyed organizations who had implemented DevOps ‘what was the biggest obstacle to adopting DevOps’ – the answer was clear (and surprising!). The biggest obstacle to successfully adopting DevOps is PEOPLE, with over 50% experiencing people issues of some sort; resistance to change, absence of trust, lack of motivation, confusion around what DevOps actually is, skills gap and more.

This evidence creates a challenge. Because addressing these people issues to ensure DevOps success requires a focus on strong leadership, communication and ultimately culture.

The problem is that way too many IT leaders just don’t have the leadership skills to successfully transition people through periods of change. They may be great managers, but they’re not necessarily great leaders. There’s a difference between the two. A leader inspires and motivates, whilst a manager plans, organizes and co-ordinates.

In the military, officers are recruited on their leadership potential and then trained on a specialist subject.  In contrast, within IT and enterprise in general, it’s the other way around. People are more likely to be recruited and promoted ‘through the ranks’ based on their technical and tactical ability. But are they actually given the training and support they need to become leaders? No. A recent survey by HBR.org stated that ‘only 12% of respondents believed their organization currently invests sufficiently in the development of frontline managers towards leadership’.

Military Thinking

Managers (and lets be honest, especially ‘techies’) also start (and far too often end) with the ‘HOW’. For example – ‘How do we leverage DevOps in the infrastructure team?’  ‘HOW’ is their comfort zone. But good leaders should start with the ‘WHY’, and then move to the ‘WHAT’, before they even consider the ‘HOW’!

This is what the military do; they start with the ‘WHY’ and work their way towards the ‘HOW’.

  • Why – What is the problem? Why are we doing this? (linked to the intent of the higher commander)
  • What – Set a clearly defined mission, and communicate the vision to all
  • How – How are we going to achieve this? Plan and brief all stakeholders, then execute accordingly.

The military focuses on higher purpose. They are entirely people-focused with an unshakeable teamwork ethic. This ensures preparedness, accountability and a sense of responsibility. Military leaders are engaging and inspiring; they communicate vision in order to create forward momentum.

These impressive qualities of military leaders are formed in a progressive and sequential series of carefully planned training, educational and experiential events. Vital to this is the mission rehearsal. This is a military exercise, designed to simulate real life scenarios, ensuring maximum effective combat readiness. This experiential approach creates preparedness for complex situations, whilst instilling a sense of belief (we can do this!).

This power can be brought to the enterprise. By undertaking experiential activity in the form of simulation, people can experience the DevOps difference. A DevOps simulation can address all the people challenges previously mentioned, by bringing to life the business value and positive impact of a DevOps approach and clearly communicating the DevOps case for change.

Culture trumps tech in the DevOps success stakes; and IT would do well to look to the military to ensure they experience success with their DevOps initiatives!!