The High-Performance Organization

13 Jun, 2017
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Traditional organizations are confronted with competitors that are able to deliver value from innovation quickly. Companies that successfully make the change to complete digitization are enabled to deliver value to their customers in lightning speed, while traditional organizations struggle and only deliver new value in months or years. In order to survive the digital revolution, organizations need to become High Performance Organizations (HPO).

Reset your defaults

IT is the fundamental enabler of innovation and the move towards a High Performance organization. Separating business from IT is a strategy for failure. To transform your organization, you need to align business and IT. Especially on the IT side this means big changes in the way we think and operate. We need to get rid of the way we have optimized It organizations to work according to demand supply. The IT organization needs to transform and fully integrate with the business.

Instead of thinking in traditional concepts like: private datacentre, organizational silos, layered architectures, projects, doing what you know, it is now time to reset and start thinking in terms of: Cloud, DevOps, Hexagonal Architectures, Micro Services, Event driven, products, and rethink what you have been doing.

Michiel Sens, a solution architect and internationally acclaimed DevOps trainer summarizes: “An innovative market leader empowers autonomous HPTs with the authorization to make decisions; a controlled flow of (single piece) work and ideas; constantly adapting processes; and end-to-end responsibility. Its software architectures can scale up and down easily and allows for renewal without breaking other components. Every aspect of bringing software live is automated, included a constant measuring of failures and successes. An organization that understands all this creates a culture that enables high-performance. It’s capable of inspiring and fostering the ideas and power of its teams and people to do their best at whatever they’re handling. Keep creating with this end in mind, and the necessary means will follow.”

Organize around capabilities – In a HPO you organize teams around business capabilities in contrast to organizing teams to achieve operational excellence and grouping people together on the fact they do the same work.

Continuous Delivery & DevOps

The concept of continuous delivery and continuous deployment was introduced several years ago and there is a clear trend in adoption at many organizations. Continuous Delivery is all about getting your software to production in a fully automated, reliable and repeatable way. Organizations that have started with this, found after the first iterations that not the tools but the organization itself became the bottleneck. To remove the organizational bottleneck in Continuous Delivery the concept of DevOps was introduced. The idea behind it is to get rid of organizational silos and have teams work together on business goals instead of goals that are only beneficial for the organizational units but don’t keep the business goals as the leading decision making factor. With the removal of the silo thinking organizations became more successful hence the concept of devops and High Performance Organizations are thought of as synonym.

HPO’s organize teams so they are responsible for a full business capability and they can use any tools and technology they like, as long as they provide the capability as fast as possible and in a cost-efficient manner. This means: no central authority that dictates technology or cloud services to be used. Each team is autonomous and can make the decisions themselves to build and run their capability as efficient as possible and with high customer satisfaction.

Modern architectures

In a Micro Services Architecture (MSA) you build services that address specific autonomous business capabilities. An autonomous business capability is completely handled by one service and there are no interdependencies with other services to provide the service, otherwise it would not be autonomous. You have one team responsible for designing, building and running the service and they can release new versions of the service without any coordination with other teams. MSA embraces the concept of fault tolerance and they can handle outages of other services and underlying services. This makes them a perfect fit for continuous delivery since you can deploy to production without any other system being affected during deployments.

You can state that a Micro Services Architecture is congruent with High performance organization.

The Three Ways of Becoming an HPO – To transform your organization into a HPO you need to work on the Three Ways: Systems thinking, improving and emphasizing feedback loops and Continuous learning. Let’s elaborate a bit more on The Three Ways in this context:

Systems thinking lets you look at the complete organization. Many organizations group people into teams based on the type of work they do. This is usually the result of optimizing for operational excellence per department. There are even formalized processes and certifications for this: IT-departments for example can be ITIL, ITSM or ISO certified. But what good is this if this results in overhead and bureaucracy when it comes to communication between departments? These organizations are merely serving the process rather than the end goal, which is fast market response and good customer perception. Systems thinking focuses on end-to-end customer journeys and lets you optimize processes and team structures around these.

Improve and emphasize feedback loops helps you get insights into what you are doing and how well you are doing it. Feedback loops help you detect inefficiencies and defects in the system as soon as possible in the process. This helps us to fail fast so we can remediate the problem before it ever hits production.

Continuous learning is all about creating a culture that fosters things like: continual experimentation, taking risks and learning from failure. This embraces the understanding that repetition and practice is the prerequisite to mastery. In most organizations people are incentivized to be risk averse, so they start to behave accordingly, thereby slowing down on innovation and speed. Instead we should encourage people to experiment in a controlled environment where you set up the experiments to learn and to do short iterations that help you fail fast when needed and provide insights that help you make the next iteration until you get it right.


Cloud has proven to be a big enabler for HPO. The cloud and the trend for organizations to implement continuous delivery and DevOps (see Continuous Delivery & DevOps) are a perfect marriage. The cloud provides many things that will benefit the implementation of Continuous delivery and DevOps:


  • The concept of Systems thinking is supported by the fact that the compute resources previously provided by an IT-OPS organization are now provided by the cloud providers using a self-service model. No long waits anymore for your tickets to be handled, now teams just go to a portal and provision the servers themselves.
  • When it comes to feedback loops, many cloud providers provide solutions for application telemetry and monitoring of applications. The delivery pipelines show progress of your features from dev to test and production and give you insights in product quality, scalability and usage from the get-go.

And setting up experiments and getting the data on how the product is performing and used provided by all clouds by default. You can get many insights that can help your team to learn how to optimize the customer journeys and build the best experience.

When the cloud is a given, when organizations are moving to DevOps and everyone is striving to get things done better, cheaper and faster, there is only one way to stay relevant in this business. You need to reset your defaults. And adapt to the change or become obsolete before you know it!

This article is part of the Urgent Future IT Forecast 2017.

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