Sprinting on the Treadmill


Shortly after Pete Cheslock’s talk at DevOpsDays Pittsburgh, I tweeted:

Wanting execs to value trust & learning will be a losing proposition until we stop firing ‘em for missing a quarter’s numbers #devopsdayspgh

The context was about building DevOps culture and practices within the organization, and giving people the time and space they need to learn and adjust. Andrew Shaffer talks a lot about this as well in his talk on building learning organizations.

I was reminded of this dichotomy (and probably the largest, most difficult-to-solve elephant in the so-called DevOps room) in an article in the Harvard Business Review about high-frequency trading:

Now, there are some rockstar CEOs — who oftentimes happen to be founders, such as Bezos, Steve Jobs, Reid Hastings — who have the ability to resist the pressure that the markets put on them. But what about everyone else? Well, it’s becoming increasingly hard to resist that pressure. The financial markets put pressure on you to generate the type of returns they’re looking for: quarterly results. If you’re an executive and your job lives and dies on those results, then you begin to realize that that’s what you need to deliver. Projects that take longer than that to materialize — particularly those that result in an upfront dip in earnings due to investment — get deprioritized.

In effect, financial markets are pushing companies to run a marathon… by having them sprint every lap.

I hear colleagues and clients murmur about this problem in various contexts, often in relation to how Agile is applied in an organization: once a cadence is achieved on the team and working well, the desire to “optimize” it starts to rear its head.

I think we have a similar problem within the DevOps space… and we’re going to have to find a credible way to address it. Or we’ll continue to remain stuck on “Why didn’t that DevOps Tool I bought solve our problems?”