DevOps Enterprise Summit 2019

I had the opportunity to attend the DevOps Enterprise Summit in Las Vegas both this year and last year. In my view, this is the pre-eminent conference in the DevOps movement based on the quality of the speakers and the collective influence of the attendees. It’s also extremely well organized. Much of this is credit to Gene Kim, the conference organizer and possibly the most prominent voice in the DevOps movement. Here are some of the main themes I discerned from the conference.

The overriding focus of the conference (every year) is on enabling organizations at different stages to share their progress in improving how their IT organizations deliver value to the business. The other main theme is bringing industry experts to share their research with leaders from IT.

For at least the second year, much of the focus was on how companies are shifting from thinking of IT in terms of projects, to adopting a product mindset. The main thought leader in this area is Mik Kersten, author of Project to Product. This focus derives from observing the failure of many companies’ attempts at agile transformations (Nokia being a prime example). Although there are many reasons for these failures, the most prominent cause is companies attempting to become agile by simply changing the way work is done within their IT teams, without otherwise making changes to the way they work.

There are fundamental assumptions about work built into the fabric of every company. Among many other assumptions, the annual budget cycle is built around the assumption that work and markets can be predicted 18 months in advance. Approaching IT improvements as projects that assemble a team for a period of time, then hand operations off to a separate group is also based on the belief that IT systems can be treated like construction projects, rather than complex systems whose maintenance depends on stable knowledge from a stable team.

Another key belief is that IT should be viewed as a cost center rather than a value producer. That view is shifting, but its legacy is the massive IT outsourcing efforts that characterized the ’90s and 2000s. Relying on interchangeable, low-cost workers who are not aligned with the mission of the organization may cut costs in the short-term but will never lead to innovation. In-sourcing is a stronger trend today.

Similar points are made in Lean Enterprise and other books. Half of the S&P 500 is predicted to be replaced in the next decade (source). Software behaves according to fundamentally different rules than those which apply to construction projects or the manufacture of physical goods. For companies to capitalize on those characteristics requires that they restructure their business in fundamental ways.

The DevOps movement is only ten years old, but its focus has evolved from achieving collaboration within IT to transforming the enterprise to enable true agility. The conference hosted many CEOs and CFOs as both speakers and attendees, and the experience reports from attendees increasingly referenced transformation efforts that spanned every part of the organization. IT leadership has a clear understanding of how software requires a different approach, and business leaders are increasingly aligning with this, having recognized that their organizations are at risk of disruption from tech giants of every variety.