Dr. Nicole Forsgren of DORA on the State of DevOps

Friday, 21 December 2018

Dr. Nicole Forsgren discusses the state of the DevOps industry, why the cloud is so important to continuous integration and continuous delivery and how organizations need to place the time and investment into DevOps to truly succeed. 

DevOps transformation

Andre Pino: In this episode of DevOps Radio, I’m joined by Dr. Nicole Forsgren—co-founder, CEO, and Chief Scientist of DORA. Welcome.

Dr. Nicole Forsgren: Thanks so much for having me.

Andre: Great to have you here at Jenkins World.

Nicole: It is amazing! Okay, so I’ve been here before, but I was just talking to—I was gonna say someone. I’ve been talking to so many people about how great this conference is. Right? It’s got strong developer content, but it’s got this amazing energy—I love it here.

Andre: And you know, we renamed it DevOps World | Jenkins World this year to actually create a larger umbrella for the DevOps community.

Nicole: Yeah, which is great.

Andre: Yeah. So, Nicole, maybe you can give our listeners a little bit of an understanding of your background and how you got to DORA and what DORA is all about.

Nicole: Sure. So, my background is, I started in tech, right? I was a software engineer, I ended up building systems and then maintaining systems. So, I was a sys admin for a little bit, I kinda worked on both sides of the fence. And then I ended up getting a Ph.D. because I wanted to do research and understand what things actually made a difference, and made a difference not just for this one team or that one team or “it won’t work here.”

Andre: Right.

Nicole: And then I was in academia for a few years, because that’s where you do research, and then I came back to industry. And so, I was at Chef for a couple of years. I’ve been working on the State of DevOps report for several years. And at one point, me and the other co-founders of DORA—Jez Humble and Gene Kim—sat down and said, “You know, maybe we should start a company and build a thing.” Because so many people were reading the reports and saying, “This is amazing. I wish there was some way I could benchmark my own teams in my own organizations. And I really wish”—and this is the most important part—“I could know where I should start.” And we’re like, “We can build it.” And so, it’s been almost two years now. It’s been a crazy ride, but I’ve loved it.

Andre: So, what does DORA do, in addition to the surveys and the report?

Nicole: So, we do, like you said, the surveys and the report, and that’s kind of the, I guess you could say, the open source piece of it, right? It’s free, we offer the report to everyone, because we really want to make it possible for everyone to get better. And for everyone to know what’s possible. We also offer a product—again, for that kind of customized, specific solution. And it’s an assessment product. So, if you really wanna know and understand how you measure, how you benchmark against the industry, and then what specific things you should do within your teams, within your line of business, within your organization to get better, faster, to really accelerate your transformation. We have a software product for that.

Andre: Great, great. Well, you’ve recently released the 2018 version of the report, right?

Nicole: Yes!

Andre: And we were a sponsor. How did we do? Nicole: Oh, okay. Well, the report is amazing. We’ve gotten some of the most interesting and insightful findings ever. And I have to thank you for being a sponsor. So, this year, we asked all of our sponsors to help us collect data, because it gives us stat stuff, right? So, I’ll just say stat-centered stuff. But CloudBees was the best, strongest sponsor. You drove the most responses back, so yea!

Andre: That’s awesome, that’s awesome. That’s awesome, that’s great. So, what were some of the key findings from the report this year?

Nicole: Oh, gosh. I mean, there’s so much. We had to try to cut length because we ended up being longer than most. One thing that I love is that cloud is important. And I’m sure some people are like, “Nicole, of course. We know cloud’s important,” right? Like you’re laughing right now. I can see your face.

Andre: [Laughter]

Nicole: If I said this to anyone else here, I’m gonna say it in my keynote, right? So—spoilers, everybody. Teaser. Cloud’s important. But at the same time—and I think you’re gonna agree with me—we’ve talked to executives or leaders in organizations and they’re like, “But we’ve moved to the cloud and it didn’t work. I’m not seeing the benefits or the impacts.” So, what we’ve found is that, when we compare the people and the teams and respondents who say they’re in the cloud versus those who follow the five essential characteristics of cloud computing that come from NIST. Only 22 percent of people who say they’re in the cloud are actually in the cloud.

Andre: Mm-hmm.

Nicole: The right way. Like, doing all the things.

Andre: Right.

Nicole: And not just, I mean, in the most well-intentioned way, not cheating, right? You really have to do it. And I’m sure you’ve seen that even with—especially with CI and CD and ARA. All of the things that we do, you really need to do, and it’s hard.

Andre: It is.

Nicole: I understand it. It’s difficult. But when you make the investments—and not just money. Time, discipline, getting all the teams involved to broaden that umbrella—which is why I love that you renamed it DevOps World, right? Broaden that umbrella and do the work—the payoff is there.

Andre: Yeah.

Nicole: And so, for those teams that are doing all five characteristics? They’re 23 times more likely to be elite performers.

Andre: That’s amazing. Nicole: It’s huge! Andre: That’s amazing, that’s amazing. So, in the report this year, you also looked at the outsourcing of IT and software. What did you see there?

Nicole: Ugh. Okay, so the data’s in, it’s decisive. Outsourcing—and I’ll say functional outsourcing—is a bad idea. Low performers are almost four times as likely to be using outsourcing. Okay, now, I clarified that. I qualified it. I said functional outsourcing. So, what that means is taking all of dev or all of QA and test or all of ops, picking it up and shipping it out. Now, it doesn’t have to be to an external provider, it could be to another division of a business. It just doesn’t work. We even found a new profile called Misguided Performers, that thing that’s a huge.. 

Andre: [Laughter]

Nicole: I know, right? The thing that’s a huge thing for them—they are most highly correlated with outsourcing.

Andre: So, is it because—it seems to me that outsourcing is like the anti-DevOps to me. Because to me, DevOps means you’re trying to streamline everything, small batches, move quickly, product orientation. It just seems that outsourcing is the anti-DevOps to me.

Nicole: Yes! And I love that you mentioned those things specifically, right? Small batches, streamline, pull everyone together. When we do functional outsourcing, entire functional groups, we’ve created a new silo. We’ve handed everything off. Now, we call it, we are careful to say it’s functional outsourcing, because there are ways to do—I’m using some of your quotes, here—outsourcing and make it work. Because there are times where we need to bring in other teams. There are times where we need to do staff augmentation. And if those teams are part of our regular cadence of work…

Andre: Right, if they’re integrated into the process, right?

Nicole: Yes, exactly! It’s gonna work, and we’ll still have good outcomes.

Andre: Right.

Nicole: But if we think we can just pick something up and hand it off to someone else—again, back to what I just said about cloud—it’s kind of cheating.

Andre: Yeah.

Nicole: You can’t take the hard work and hand it off, or the work you don’t wanna do and still expect to see the benefits.

Andre: Right, right. Interesting. So, what are some of the other notable trends that you’re seeing in the report this year?

Nicole: Oh, so, the nice thing is that we’ve been able to reconfirm several findings over the last several years, right? Core technical practices like CI and CD, test automation, things out of lean product management culture are still predictive of software development and delivery, still predictive of organizational performance.

Andre: Mm-hmm.

Nicole: Which, at least from a research standpoint, right, is still promising and fantastic, right? Fifth year in a row. In terms of trends, we’re seeing the highest performers continuing to be able to optimize for speed and stability, which I think is great. The low performers, though? They’re struggling. They’re falling farther and farther and farther behind.

Andre: Yeah. And, you know, the theme of our conference here is transform. And so, I suspect that a lot of what you look at in the report is about how these organizations are transforming and the speed at which they’re transforming. What can you tell us about what you learned this year?

Nicole: So, there are a few things, right? So, transforming—the one thing I loved that we see in the report that a few other people have commented on, and I have already kind of touched on it—it’s all about execution. If you focus, if you dedicate resources, you can do it. The highest performers are still optimizing on everything. The high performing group, another group, is getting larger. So, there is movement in the industry. Now, how fast are they getting better? It depends on what strategy they adopt, right? If you just kind of take a shotgun approach or you’re not doing this intentionally or thoughtfully, you can have a slow transformation—or if you decide it’s not a priority. And I know you’ve seen this at companies, right?

Andre: Yeah.

Nicole: However, if you take a very careful approach that’s capabilities focused, if you look at what your constraint is, what’s slowing you down, if you dedicate resources to focusing and fixing that, you can really accelerate your transformation, which is really exciting.

Andre: But there’s still no one size fits all for transformation?

Nicole: No, there’s not.

Andre: Yeah, yeah. Well, great. Well, what else do you wanna tell us about the report? Because I know it’s very exciting. You’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of energy on it.

Nicole: I know! There’s so many great things. So, in terms of technical capabilities, we found a few new, exciting things. Focusing on the database is important, and it’s important for everyone. And integrating it throughout that continuous integration, ARA process, right? Using version control, visualizing the process, treating it just like code through the process is really important. You can influence culture. Now, we had touched on it in prior reports, but I realized that I didn’t make it big and bold enough. So, how can we influence culture? One way is by changing our tech and doing right capabilities. We know this, right? If we change the way we do our work, it changes the way our work fills, it changes the way our teams work together.

Andre: Right.

Nicole: So, investing in good technical practices makes our work better. Investing in good lean practices makes our work better. But we also wanted to dig into a few more things—Gene especially, right? He always wants to really dig into leadership and culture. We found a couple other things here. One is autonomy. Leaders can give their teams autonomy, which then contributes to voice and trust. So, what do I mean by that? If we trust our teams, they trust us back. And they feel more free to speak up about what things are going well, what things are not going well, how we can improve the process.

Andre: Right.

Nicole: Which, in turn, influences, impacts, improves our culture.

Andre: Yep, yep.

Nicole: The second piece of culture and the way that we can improve that is by investing in creating a learning climate. Things like retrospectives, but retrospectives done right, right? It’s so funny, because I keep saying “doing it right”—executing in the way that we need to execute. Finding out what’s really gone wrong and what’s really gone right—also do retros for good things.

Andre: Sure.

Nicole: And then pulling those learnings back into what we do at work.

Andre: Awesome. So, if somebody wants to get a copy of the report, how do they do that? Nicole: So, you can go to the DORA site, DevOps-research.com, and we have a pointer. Or we can, I can also include a link to the show notes.

Andre: Great.

Nicole: We’ve got a link out there.

Andre: Well, great. Well, be sure to say hi to Gene and to Jez for me.

Nicole: I will, for sure.

Andre: And thanks very much and we’re looking forward to your keynote this afternoon.

Nicole: Great! Thanks for having me.

Andre: Thanks. Bye bye.

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Andre Pino

Your host: Andre Pino, CloudBees (also sometimes seen incognito, as everyone’s favorite butler at Jenkins World!). André brings more than 20 years of experience in high technology marketing and communications to his role as vice president of marketing. He has experience in several enterprise software markets including application development tools, middleware, manufacturing and supply chain, enterprise search and software quality and testing tools.

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