DevOps Enterprise Adoption at Hearst Business Media with Pauly Comtois
Following our series of live interviews on DevOps Enterprise adoption, InfoQ has reached out to other technical leaders in large organizations to ask them about their DevOps initiatives. What challenges have they faced? Which improvements have they seen? What lies ahead?
On this occasion we're talking with Pauly Comtois, Vice President of DevOps at Hearst Business Media's and speaker at the last DevOps Enterprise Summit.
InfoQ: Can you tell us a bit more about your current role?
Pauly Comtois: I am the Vice President of DevOps for Hearst Business Media. This is a new role for my organization and is focused on supporting our business units with DevOps cultural efforts and Agile. It can be thought of more as a Continuous Improvement role rather than DevOps. Hearst is focused on developing innovative and collaborative cultures to help improve our products, employees and customer experiences.
InfoQ: How and when did you first hear about DevOps?
Comtois: I first heard about DevOps when I was working at Silverpop in Atlanta, leading their operations teams. At the time, we were already focused on the type of culture that DevOps seeks to achieve, we just didn't label it. I was intrigued with the idea of culture being the driving force for developing, deploying and running high quality software. I had lived through the time-motion-studies of the TQM era, and felt that in the modern world knowledge workers (and how they interacted) would be the true competitive advantage.
InfoQ: How did DevOps get started in your organization? What were the first steps taken and why?
Comtois: We have many business units that were already on the path to DevOps when I joined Hearst. In some cases, they too were performing the actions without needing the moniker. The first steps were simply recognizing that there was a disconnect between how the software was created and how it was run. Beginning the conversations around this dichotomy was a great starting point as it was a preexisting aligned goal.
InfoQ: Was it mostly a grassroots movement? Or was there a top-down understanding that DevOps was needed?
Comtois: It was both really. The groundswell came from the people that were (and are) interested in the benefits of knowledge sharing and transparency. The top down came in the form of hiring someone that could support the efforts on a day to day basis and ensure that the feedback loop remained small, frequent and on point.
InfoQ: Which DevOps initiatives are currently going on at your organization? Did they involve organizational changes?
Comtois: Automation in many forms is a key initiative for us. With so many bright and driven people working at Hearst, we knew that we could see greater value and satisfaction if we could remove some of the manual tasks. Testing, systems configuration and application deployment are just some ways that we seek to automate and free up time for our most valuable assets, people. These initiatives have the added benefit of bringing disparate teams together. We ensure that all teams work as one to select the tool, create the automated process and reap the rewards.
InfoQ: How are you planning (or already working on) to disseminate DevOps in the larger organization?
Comtois: We work towards creating two communities within Hearst. First is fostering the DevOps community within the business units themselves. Second is creating a broader community across all of the business units. We agree upon norms that fit both the micro and macro communities without constraining either. We encourage the behaviors that drive those beliefs and let the communities govern themselves. It has been very rewarding both intrinsically and extrinsically.
InfoQ: Have you witnessed any culture shocks, for example from risk management and/or security/compliance teams?
Comtois: The teams that support the technology teams sometimes struggle with the new way of approaching software development. These can include product owners, finance and project managers. We have software development teams creating high quality software at rates never before seen. The teams are nimble and pivot when needed even if it is mid-sprint. This can be difficult for other departments that are still approaching targets in a waterfall approach. The key now is to share the knowledge and experience with those other teams, and bring them along on the Agile journey.
InfoQ: What other cultural challenges have DevOps initiatives faced in your organization?
Comtois: As with any change that is cultural in nature, it takes time and steady effort. Too much too fast can feel like ice water being dumped on you. It is natural to react to sudden massive change by reaching for something solid to hold on to. Distributing control to the locations closest to the work makes a lot of sense in most cases, but can also feel scary. Not only for the managers that give that control, but also for the employees now expected to wield it. This is where shared accountability and aligned goals help in the transition. My role is to make sure that everyone understands that they are critical to the success of DevOps initiatives and not being automated out of a job.
InfoQ: What have been the greatest achievements and failures in your organization's DevOps journey so far?
Comtois: Greatest success is clearly the creation of the larger community. Seeing people working together across geographies and disciplines is wonderful to witness and be a part of. The value that we have gained is enormous and we see dividends from these efforts on a daily basis. The failures are all mine and not the business units. My first year on the job I did not pull in the business units enough and let them be the masters of their own destinies. I recognized that and resolved it in 2016 and we are already moving at a pace that is spectacular. We all, including myself, can fall victim to getting too close to a problem. We get into our daily grind and lose sight of the bigger picture. I took a step (or three) back from the challenges and tightened my own feedback loops.
InfoQ: In both cases which were the most important factors from your point of view?
Comtois: People. It is the men and women that pour their heart and soul into a product that are the center of any organization. It is less about understanding how people work and more about how they work together. Teams are the competitive advantage and there is no one formula for making a team great. Each one is a living breathing organism with a symbiotic relationship between its members and its whole. Approach each team as unique, see how it thrives and how it withers. Foster its growth and be willing to allow it to form its own norms without pushing yours onto it.
InfoQ: The "2015 State of DevOps Report" suggests that investing in DevOps and Continuous Delivery practices leads to faster, more reliable delivery of business value. Do you agree? And if so have you come across concrete examples in your organization backing up that claim?
Comtois: Certainly automating a long list of error prone and manual tasks will add consistency and therefore reliability. It came down to taking the knowledge out of the individual human and building it into the process and tool. In this manner, we can now have any authorized person invoke the process and see the intended results. In the past it was up to the individual caped hero to swoop in and save the day. This harkens back to the concept of distributed control and pushing decision making closer to the work at hand.
InfoQ: What kind of metrics or feedback are you collecting in order to validate the value (or reduced waste) accrued through your DevOps transformation?
Comtois: We use many standard metrics such as MTTD, MTTR, successful code release and defect measurements. For us it is all about streamlining and automating the already successful processes and workflows in place. We didn't need to rebuild or overhaul everything; we only needed to refactor those processes that were unnecessarily heavy or complex. Because we took an iterative approach to improving how code was created, deployed and operated, we were able to use the original base line and measure success iteratively as well. The urge to measure everything can be strong but I encourage you to start small and build your measurements off critical needs first.
InfoQ: The final question is about the challenges and road blocks that lie ahead in your organization's DevOps journey?
Comtois: The key for us is to not lose the momentum we've created. I started out too big, dialed that back and found smaller key wins early. These wins built upon themselves and created the momentum to take on larger projects. The challenge now is to recognize that there will be setbacks and projects that die on the vine. We, as a culture, have to be ok with these setbacks and view them with a healthy perspective. They truly are growth opportunities, however too many of these can wear away at the confidence of a team and culture. I believe the key to successfully traversing these setbacks is focusing on the culture and the people. With the right DevOps culture, you can weather the storm, build each other up and push forward towards achieving your goals, together.
About the Interviewee
Pauly Comtois has over 20 years' experience in building, developing and leading high performing IT, Support, Operations and Development teams in rapidly growing organizations. Pauly is a seasoned leader of cultural change efforts in unifying Development and Operations through training and mentorship in Incident Management, Blameless Post Mortems, Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment. His current focus is on building Agile and DevOps communities in over 13 business units at Hearst Business Media, and a broader community that binds those business units together. This effort is underpinned by Agile and DevOps methodologies and cultural concepts. Pauly is based in Seattle, WA.