Gene Kim and the DevOps Unicorn

A couple of weeks ago in a cramped IT office in Santa Clara, Calif., a hundred DevOps practitioners waited for Gene Kim to explain “How Do We Better Sell DevOps.” I had seen a couple of Gene’s presentations online, and we have covered his book, The Phoenix Project, on this blog, but I’d never had the opportunity to ask clarification questions.

Gene’s presentation “How Do We Better Sell DevOps” is intriguing. First off, it’s intriguing because DevOps isn’t something you sell but something you do. I mean, you can sell the idea, but you can’t “sell DevOps” because DevOps doesn’t have a price tag.

Or does it?

What does DevOps Cost?

It’s true that DevOps doesn’t cost any money. But refusing to streamline the production process does carry steep costs: Loss of productivity. Loss of quality. Loss of speed.

If you explain the way most software is built to any of your friends, neighbors or relatives who work in other industries, they would question your sanity. Think about what Henry Ford, Eli Whitney and other giants of the industrial revolution taught us about interchangeable parts and assembly lines. Other industries learned a long time ago how to build better products using data and metrics from the real world. Software, not so much. But who is to blame for that?

One thing Gene talked about was the myth that only California startups are capable of implementing a true, closed-loop software release process. Many enterprises believe such processes are unicorns – mythical creatures you hear about but never see. Those companies will tell you they’re incapable of implementing a DevOps culture. It’s just too hard, they say. They have too many legacy systems. Their organizations are too vertical. They quit before trying.

Can Horses Implement DevOps?

On the flip side of unicorns are the enterprises Gene calls “horses.”

Horses, he says, are catching on and creating huge efficiencies in continuous software delivery. Enterprise customers such as BNY Mellon, Bank of America, World Bank, Paychex, Intuit, The Gap, and Nordstrom have implemented a better way of delivering software to sell products and services. These companies are getting ahead because a leader somewhere inside these organizations had an “aha moment,” a realization that something had to change.

More “horses” are starting to think this way, slowly building out automation and metrics around critical processes. The smart ones know they don’t have any choice. Evolution is a matter of survival. Smaller, more nimble, companies are being launched this way. They come up with new products faster and are soon nipping at the heels of established competitors. Before long, they’re taking market share. It is really only a matter of time.

Studies have shown skepticism about DevOps will persist. And yet, the adoption rate is increasing amongst organizations of all sizes to implement continuous application delivery. Some companies are already delivering software changes several times in the same minute. The rate among other large – but less nimble – organizations must increase while keeping nightmarish failures out of news headlines.

Companies need to evolve to the point of delivering the right, error-free solution on time, when the business needs it. They don’t all need to deploy several times a minute. That’s a tall task.

Would it be too much to ask for several error-free deployments in the same year?

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