The Human DevOps - 26th May 2024 - Ideas are More Powerful Than Transformations


I'm sitting on the sidelines watching another big digital transformation roll into town. Those who have tried this before before know that big digital transformations don't work, so we're better not calling them that. Instead, these days we talk about cultural change.

Realistically though this means the same thing.

How can you recognise one happening in your firm? Well, suddenly there are a lot of meetings, and workshops looking backwards and training looking forwards. Some people might call it a cultural change now but Mao Tse Tung got there first.

From Wikipedia:

The Red Guards sought to destroy the Four Olds (old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits), which often took the form of destroying historical artifacts, cultural and religious sites, and targeting others deemed to be representative.

A cultural change at work can unfortunately seem similarly rabid in some ways. New ideas are thrown into the pot, consultants are everywhere, piles of books are bought and stacked in offices, old ideas are thrown away or challenged. It is chaotic. It is proven not to work. So why do executives still go for it? My theory is that they have to be seen to be doing something and this is the price. However, real, effective change comes from the bottom up. It comes from people wanting to change and given the space to do so.

I've managed to achieve change in individual and team behaviours through planting the seeds of ideas in people's heads through use of language in meetings. Sometimes introducing a concept or a trope such as "observability and not monitoring" or "going slower to go faster" can become an emblem of what you're trying to achieve. A measure of its success is when you hear others using the same phrases or talking about it in front of the whole department or company, or seeing it on a slide which you didn't write. This type of change is more effective but more subtle. It's also more difficult to quantify than any top-down cultural shift. And sometimes these ideas only take root after I've left the company.

This goes to show that ideas are more powerful than people.

-- Richard


Was Waterfall Actually Better?

Published on May 21, 2024

A recent conversation and a Cory Doctorow rant have led me to think about how much more complicated our development lives are these days. And how much less fun. If you’re old enough to remember Waterfall – the software development methodology we did before Agile – then you perhaps couldn’t wait to see the last… Read More »Was Waterfall Actually Better?

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Human DevOps

DevOps at is the heart of modern software systems. In my regular newsletter, I dive into the human factors that make successful engineering organizations where teams and platforms thrive at the heart of your socio-technical systems. From leadership to team setup, maximizing performance, tools and techniques.

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