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Q&A With Robert Scherrer: DevOps on the Backbone of the Swiss Financial Center

| by João Miranda Follow 2 Followers on Jul 11, 2017. Estimated reading time: 4 minutes |

As InfoQ previously reported, Robert Scherrer shared with the DevOps Enterprise Summit London attendees how SIX went DevOps. Starting with a small core team, and a DevOps approach around 5+1 dimensions - skills, organization, process, infrastructure, architecture + mindset & attitude - SIX has been steadily transforming how IT and the business work together to break the silos and align themselves along value streams. InfoQ took the opportunity to talk with Mr. Scherrer about this journey.

InfoQ: Can you tell us a bit more about your current role?

Robert Scherrer: I am heading the software department at SIX, which operates Switzerland’s financial market infrastructure and offers on a global scale comprehensive services in the areas of securities trading, clearing and settlement, as well as financial information and payment transactions.

InfoQ: How did DevOps get started at SIX? What were the first steps taken and why?

Robert Scherrer: I had brought a proposal to a strategy workshop of our IT management and we decided to start a DevOps initiative. Then we carefully selected a core team consisting of thought leaders in development and operation, so-called pioneers that represented the first projects and products we wanted to transform first and representatives from middle management to support the idea. With this core team, we started defining the vision and principles.

InfoQ: Which DevOps initiatives are currently going on at SIX?

Robert Scherrer: We bundle the DevOps activities under one roof, the Haka project. Out of this project, we set up infrastructure and tools, e.g. our OpenShift platform, drive lean principles like value stream mapping workshops and coach agile methodologies and cross functional collaboration. We enable business and lifecycle projects to implement according to our DevOps principles.

InfoQ: Last year you talked about how challenging internal directives is crucial, as often times they are stricter than the external regulations from which they are derived. Even starting this conversation can be notoriously difficult. How did you go about doing this?

Robert Scherrer: We used our personal relationships to the audit, risk, and security departments and involved them early in discussions about how we intended to change processes and to ask them what aspects they judged as crucial for the company.

InfoQ: How did you bridge the language gap with the auditors to achieve consensus and ensure compliance, given that some of your solutions can be seen has highly technical (e.g: code reviews, release automation)?

Robert Scherrer: We are lucky to have great expertise on both sides. Our audit department has a team of IT experts, one even coming originally from our software department.

InfoQ: Which other cultural challenges have DevOps initiatives faced in your organization?

Robert Scherrer: Bringing all developers into the on-call duty rotations was initially a hot topic and needed lots of discussions to convince some developers. There were and still are operation and test teams anxious about their future role or uncomfortable with the "shift left". And of course, by more directly connecting the DevOps teams to the business, intermediary roles disappear, which creates losers within the organisation.

InfoQ: Nurturing a certain mindset and culture is a continuous job. What initiatives do you have at SIX to keep DevOps and Agile processes alive and well?

Robert Scherrer: As part of the Haka project, we keep the DevOps core team together with weekly stand-ups, have taken new members into the core team, demonstrate the results every few weeks in front of audience and give awards for special DevOps achievements. This way we keep our employees aware of the DevOps journey. Beside this, we discuss the progress twice a year with every team and transparently show the result in the form of a maturity meter. The teams can see how their maturity develops, where they stand compared to others and where they can improve. We offer coaching for agile methodologies as well as for technology to bring the organisation forward.

InfoQ: Can you tell us a bit more about your maturity meter? Which dimensions does it cover?

Robert Scherrer: We are very proud of our maturity meter, help other companies to adopt it and even have two public speeches at conferences about it. Unfortunately, everything is in German so far.
We have the following dimensions:

  • Team
  • Customer
  • Process
  • Methodology
  • Tools

First, we ask a yes/no question for every dimension:
Team: Are team members more than 80 working on team outcome instead of individual targets?
Customer: Have the team members at least monthly contact to a customer?
Process: Can the software be built, tested and deployed automatically?
Methodology: Does the team apply an agile methodology?
Tools: Is the centrally supplied tool stack for CI/CD used?

If the answer is no, the team has to explain what hinders them to do so. If the answer is yes, we assess the maturity on the basis of a questionnaire. I cannot translate this material over night, but I can give you a rough idea. For the customer dimension, we ask about the involvement of the customer, the business know-how within the team to support the customer and who the customer out of their perspective is. Then, if applicable, we evaluate the satisfaction of the customer the team has named. With all these results, we give a value between 1 and 10. With all dimensions together, we build spider web diagrams for every team.

To conduct this process, we send an agile coach to each team twice a year. So this is quite some effort. On the other hand, I see this as part of the agile coaching and not as an administrative task. Behind this is a self-developed software to store and display the results.

 

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