Execution is not Enough
Showing up on a Tuesday night in high school for 5000 kick night at Tae Kwon Do practice was always fun. By kick 3000 form deteriorates and focus wanes. This is when Master Charlie started:
“Practice does not make perfect!”
“Perfect practice makes perfect!”
“If you practice it wrong you will do it wrong.”
And then we had to do it again. Some nights 5000 kicks could become 8000 kicks.
In the same way I infer from our CEO Jim Weiss’ statement not that we are to focus on execution. That is akin to: “Just do it.” Instead when I hear the word “Execution” used as our tag line for 2014, I think, “Execute with Excellence.”
Executing with Excellence
The other day our Director of Digital Technology walked me over to a developer’s desk and said, “Watch this!” Being a system administrator at heart I, of course, thought, “Great, what now?!”
What I then got to see was the result of some code for the newest digital customer. In 15 minutes the developer had created a working development environment and was able to write and test code. When asked how long it would have taken him to switch from his current project to a new project using the previous method, he said “Most of an afternoon and the next morning.”
This is a situation where the Ops (aka DevOps) team, in concert with the Development team, identified the biggest bottleneck to delivery. Developers switching from one project to another previously cost hours of time. With this bottleneck identified as the biggest obstacle to delivery, DevOps delivered a new process. The software/technology/training was given to the Digital team in January. We (Ops and Development) have been honing it over the last couple of months. Today we just saved six hours of time. We will save this time a developer must switch from one project to another.
If you think of our Digital Development effort as a manufacturing process, this is a pretty obvious problem to tackle. In the late 1950s Shigeo Shingo, consulting for Toyota, birthed the notion of Single Minute Exchange of Die. This notion and many like it inform what we know today as the Lean Manufacturing movement.
The technology to make W2O Digital’s “15 minute exchange of project” possible is quite complex and its use is revolutionary. But the surprising thing is that its development should have been the easiest part.
In any organization, paradigm shift is a difficult thing. It becomes even more difficult when the organization is struggling. Digital Development and DevOps were (and are) in this spot. My team (DevOps) and the Digital team should have resisted change. They should have pushed back saying: “We cannot absorb this revolutionary change right now, we have to survive all these bad things that are happening to us!”
Instead the Digital team clamored for improvement. They jumped on board. They became invested in the change. The reflection on this team in terms of its commitment to improve execution is fantastic. As someone brought in to be a thought leader, it is extremely gratifying to work in the service of such a group.
Lessons for All
There are four salient points that generalize to any aspect of W2O that have to do with delivery:
- Identify the biggest bottleneck and solve it.
- Self actualize on how you do your job rather than doing your job.
- Reason by metaphor
- Look outside of your team
The Biggest Bottleneck
If you are bleeding from a gunshot, putting a new bandaid on your paper cut is useless. Work to improve only the thing that matters most.
When done, work first to identify what is now the new biggest bottleneck. Take the time to ensure you are working on the right problem. Remember anything else is a waste.
Self Actualize on the How
Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Know why you practice your craft the way you do. If you can only say: “I do it that way because that is the way it has always been done,” then you are only executing. Excellence, in this case, is an accident.
If you can justify to your methods, if your colleagues understand why you go about your craft the way you do, then you are on the path to excellence.
Reason by Metaphor
You are not special. Neither is your problem. Instead of reinventing the wheel, look for similarities in what you do with sectors that have a long standing history.
Manufacturing and the industrial revolution inform the computer revolution and DevOps movement of today. They do so in such a deep way that our seminal text, The Phoenix Project, is a proud derivative of Eliyahu Goldratt’s The Goal — a book about manufacturing. Instead of inventing a new way of thinking, the problem is much simpler: Apply a way of thinking that is tried and true.
Look Outside your Team
DevOps has a huge dependency chain for success at W2O. Here is a small sample:
- PMO get a project from Account
- Creative does creative stuff
- Digital gets the creative and does Digital stuff
- DevOps gets the stuff and is told where to put the stuff
If any part of the chain is late in delivery, or makes a mistake, that costs time. Deadlines do not move. This leads to the fact that DevOps will not get the time it needs to do its job. We can moan, kvetch and generally be grumpy about this. Generally we are, but, hey, we are system administrators after all.
Our alternative path is to do some social engineering along with our software engineering. We can talk to our project management office and suggest a way of working that reduces the likelihood for problems of quality and poor hand offs. That is where the story of honing our craft will lead us next time.