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InfoQ Homepage News Mark Schwartz on DevOps, Bureaucracy and His Upcoming Book at 2019 DevOps Enterprise Summit (DOES)

Mark Schwartz on DevOps, Bureaucracy and His Upcoming Book at 2019 DevOps Enterprise Summit (DOES)

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Mark Schwartz is speaking at the 2019 DevOps Enterpise Summit in Vegas. He gave us an interview about his presentation and his new upcoming book about bureaucracy.

InfoQ: Thank you Mark for answering few questions for our readers. Could you tell us what you do at Amazon?

Mark Schwartz: At Amazon, I'm called an enterprise strategist, which means that I'm part of a small team of people who were senior IT leaders before joining AWS and who made the journey to the cloud and digital transformation. We help our customers in part by meeting with executives of large enterprises and to solve some of the impediments to transformation, impediments that are usually not technical. We help them address things like cultural change, organizational structure, financing models for IT investments, coping with bureaucracy, and getting their employees the right skills to make these transformations. We learn from our customers what their impediments are, and we find that the same questions come up very consistently. I talk to over a hundred enterprise leaders each year and speak at conferences. I also write books and articles about what we've learned from our customers about what their hurdles are. Our role is purely to help them in their transformation journeys.

A transformation can be a very difficult journey for an enterprise. Moving to the cloud itself is very straightforward and the same can be said about DevOps. You can learn to do DevOps, and it’s a route that others have gone through. The challenge for large enterprises is actually getting the business value out of it. Actually, doing DevOps is not difficult, but to really get the full power of it, you need to make changes in how you structure your organization, how to make the work flow through your organization, and how to make investment decisions - what IT initiatives to fund.

One of the goals of DevOps is to deliver value very quickly, using very short lead times. But if you think about it, the time from when you decide to do something to the time when you finish the product and deploy it, most of that time is not the part that DevOps covers. DevOps is primarily about the time from when code is completed to deployment. But the process of going from an idea to a deployed capability is much longer and touches on a lot of other things. In particular it includes a lot of things before development starts. It includes collecting requirements, building the business case, justifying the business case, and the governance process, which takes most of the time. And if you don't address that, then we are not getting all the value out of DevOps.

This is what I work on - how can you structure your organization for short lead times, and how we can rethink the processes of overseeing an investment, because in the old ways, you write a lot of requirements, you make a project timeline, you check progress against that timeline - and if you're going to do that, it’s going to take a lot of time. Your lead time is going to be longer. But there are better ways that drive results and value quickly, and that give you even more control over your investment.

InfoQ: Your presentation is titled "Eating a bureaucracy one bit at a time with DevOps". Can you tell us a little bit more about your talk and your upcoming book?

Schwartz: The book doesn't have a title yet and I'm in the middle of writing it. But the subject is bureaucracy, so it's the same subject as my talk and I'm using the talk as a way to try out some of the ideas – to think it through iteratively. Bureaucracy is something I became very interested in when I was working in the government. I realized that there's a lot more to bureaucracy than most people think. Most people use the word bureaucracy for anything that gets in their way; it’s like a generic word to describe their challenges and hurdles along the way and what I found is that bureaucracy is put in place for a reason, although there are ways to accomplish what it's intended to do that are much better. Many times, our IT organizations, even though they dread bureaucracy, contribute to creating it through standardization and through processes they put in place to solve problems as they find them. So, I think it's possible to take bureaucracy, which is typically such a terrible impediment, and find ways to make your bureaucracy leaner, by eliminating waste, and unnecessary steps.

A second issue with bureaucracy is that it doesn't change fast enough, so we need to make our bureaucracies learn, to make them change and adapt to change faster. Usually bureaucratic rules tend to stay for a long time, but there is no reason why that has to be. You can make bureaucracy learn through fast feedback cycles and continuous improvement. The essence of bureaucracy is that the rules are applied strictly to everything and there are no variations from the rules. But that doesn't say anything about how the rules are created in the first place and they can easily be created through a learning cycle where the rules are constantly changing. My presentation is going to walk people though a sort of personal journey of my battle against bureaucracy during my time working with government agencies, and the steps we successfully took to overcome the obstacles it presented.

If you do those two things – make the bureaucracy lean and learning - then bureaucracy becomes one of many different ways you can establish control over process. We've already done this in the DevOps world for example, where we automate a lot of bureaucracy. For example, a lot of the compliance controls and things that would normally be bureaucratic constraints, we automate them to enforce them. Note that we're still enforcing bureaucratic rules, but we do it in an automated way which makes it much leaner. We take waste out of the process, we increase velocity and throughput. So, I think bureaucracy can be made lean and that's the first important thing to do.

I am developing a playbook that describes the series of steps you can take to cope with bureaucracy. It is true for both governmental organizations and for commercial enterprise. It's really similar in so many ways and it's interesting to compare the two and see how bureaucracy works in both environments, what the differences are.

InfoQ: How do you approach bureaucracy? Do you approach it one team or VP's org at a time, and then you scale what can be scaled, and descale what needs to be descaled, or do you tackle it from the top?

Schwartz: I didn't coin this term, but I love it: "Provoking and observing". I think that's the technique that works. As you're trying to move forward with the transformation you try something with the intent of finding out where the obstacles are. So, you provoke, and you observe what happens. That will tell you where bureaucracy is, where and what are the hurdles getting in people's way. And then you devise the strategy for getting around that problem and then you provoke again in a different way and you just keep doing that because that's how you learn where the bureaucracy doesn't fit the process very well, which informs what you need to do.

InfoQ: In this effort, do you need the commitment of executives?

Schwartz: Yes, you need the commitment of people high in the organization, but I think people make the mistake of thinking that you have to have that commitment before you can act, and that's always a mistake. Instead, you can start acting right now and then you learn what you need to convince the CEO and leadership with the results you have delivered. It becomes a matter of influence or selling ideas, which is also part of the transformation. You can do a proof of concept, for example, and use it to eventually get the CEO and leadership's commitment, but you don't need that to start.

InfoQ: We often talk about the role of the CIO, but not enough about the CEO or their partnership in transformations and why it’s so critical for them to partner. I think that as we are looking at the structure of our organizations and at influencing so many important changes that need to be concurrent in order to be successful, and not siloed, such as enterprise Cloud and DevOps, Agile, business innovation, product organizations, and culture across an entire organization, I think the CEO and CIO need to partner even more closer than never before.

Schwartz: That's what my last book, War and Peace and IT, is about. The worst silo problem that organizations have is that separation between something called the "business" and something that we call IT. These two are the most damaging silos because it means that the business has to write requirements and toss them over the wall to IT. Most of the process that creates is a waste. A lot of that process doesn't need to be there if you get rid of those two silos, business or IT. There is just one business and IT is part of it, not a separate silo. So, the picture I touch on in War and Peace is what it could look like if the business and IT are actually the same thing, a single unit together. So, when you talk about the CEO or the CIOS working together, that's what I think will happen. Actually, what’s happening is that the CEO’s organization is creating goals for the business, and everybody - business and IT - is just working together towards those goals. That’s the way I see it. We have to confront a lot of bureaucracy but it’s possible.

InfoQ: Who is your new book intended for?

Schwartz: As with my previous books, there's a sweet spot for my writing that includes non-IT executives and senior IT leaders. But I think that so many people are frustrated with the bureaucracy they face that it will have something for everybody, perhaps software developers in particular. Everyone seems to have a different definition of bureaucracy. And it matters because if you understand what the bureaucracy consists of you can figure out how to get beyond it, how to nudge it out of your way. So, the book will help just about anybody in organizations who cope with bureaucracy. When I talk about these ideas to leaders of the companies I meet, they are all enthusiastic about having a book to address these common challenges.

InfoQ: When will it come out?

Schwartz: The book is in its infancy phase. I plan to finish writing it early in 2020, but the publication process can take a while. I’ll let you know as release gets closer!

Mark Schwartz also spoke at DOES London 2019 about his book War & Peace & IT, spoke at DOES 2018 about the role of the CIO and gave InfoQ an interview about his book A Seat at the Table.

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