Can continuous delivery succeed without management support?

31 Oct, 2013
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Last wednesday the first meetup of the Continuous Delivery Think Tank was held at Xebia offices in Hilversum. The goal of the Think Tank is to gather people that want to implement continuous delivery in their organisation, to help each other using the collective brainpower of the group. In this first session we explored what the first steps should be when you want to successfully introduce continuous delivery into your organisation. The level of experience varied widely across the participants (from doing 1000s of deployments per day to just starting to explore the possibilities), so there was something to learn and share for everybody. This lead to lively discussion and by using the 6 Thinking Hats method we ensured that   the question was approached from different viewpoints. The conclusion was that trust and cooperation are key and although this can start small, it does have to spread across the organisation to be really successful.

So how did we get to this summary? Michiel kicked of the session by explaining his vision on Continuous Delivery (it is a prerequisite in order to get new functionality into production faster, cheaper and with higher quality) and ended with the statement:

In order to start with Continuous Delivery one must first convince management that Continuous Delivery is the way to go. A grassroots approach is doomed to fail.

Grumping and mumbling  amongst the participants……. Instead of diving heads first into a heated debate, Mark took control and guided the discussion using the 6 Thinking Hats approach. Everybody was invited to give feedback on this statement from different perspectives, but we did it one "hat" at a time:

  • Red hat: What are you feelings, hunches about the statement?
  • White hat: What are the facts?
  • Yellow hat: What are the positive aspects?
  • Black hat: Caution and critical thinking
  • Green hat: creativity, what are alternatives and new ideas?
  • Blue hat: manages the Thinking process, basically Marks hat?

Most people felt (red) it would be nice if management would be backing the idea from the start, but did not think it was realistic to just start with this. The general consensus was that although management would have to buy in at some point to really implement it successfully throughout the organisation, most felt that starting small and showing results was the best approach to get buy in. The term guerrilla tactics was used more than once.
Then we collected some facts (white) in the group. Of the 17 participants 3 had successfully implemented continuous delivery by first having convinced management. 4 did the grassroots approach and the rest did not start of had not yet finished a successful implementation. No fails were mentioned.
Quickly putting on the yellow hat, which was quite challenging for some people to not mention black counter arguments at the same time 😉 The positive aspects of having management on board from the start are focus/priority by the whole organisation, less struggle to get things moving, easier access to budgets, higher chance for success, continuous delivery requires organisational changes and having management on board makes these changes easier to realise and the earlier the better.
The black hat took us to the dark side, why is the above statement completely stupid? Convincing management can be hard, an energy drain and some of them only focus on short term goals. The was serious fear that management could start to micromanage the initiative and one of the foundations for doing continuous delivery (as explained by Michiel) is having an Agile organisation. Micro management could frustrate the whole initiative. Another challenge is building a  business case and express the advantages in $$$.
Then we left the dark side behind us and tried be creative (green), what else could we do to make it a success? Visiting other organisations to learn from their experiences (both good and bad) is vey valuable. Everybody also agreed that having continuous delivery pipeline in place would bring back the fun to work and eliminate lots of the current (often painful) handovers and transitions. Projects can focus on the functionally they need to deliver and rely on the continuous delivery pipeline to to get it into production. Although is not easy to express in money, these are aspect that should be stressed introducing people into the concepts of continuous delivery.
In the wrap-up one of the participants emphasised that  road to success is to embark on this journey together, trust and cooperation are the two mandatory ingredients that summarised it. You can start small (with just support of one level of management), but cooperation with the rest of the organisation is required to make this a success and you’ll need to get everybody on board. In that sense there is a parallel with the introduction of agile in organisation. You can start bottom-up or top-down, but in the end everybody needs to buy into the idea to make it a success for the organisation as a whole.
We have some interesting subjects lined up as output from this first session, so join the Continuous Delivery Think Tank group and come and participate in a next session.


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