DevOps is a battlefield at the IT shop

Thinking strategically can help IT control the pace of engagements with competitors.
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408 readers like this
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David Lapetina. Modified by CC BY-SA 3.0.

If implementing DevOps practices is difficult, then maintaining them may be even tougher. Michael Nygard knows this—which is why he's turned to the language of warfare to describe the ongoing campaign that is the agile workflow.

In his upcoming talk at this year's DevOps Enterprise Summit ("Tempo, Maneuverability, and Initiative"), Nygard, VP of Customer Solutions at Cognitect, Inc., will draw several useful parallels between the theater of modern war and the scene inside the contemporary IT shop. He graciously agreed to tell us about them in advance of the conference, which begins next week.

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If the DevOps movement is part of broader trends in organizational structure and design, then what are these trends, as you see them?

There are two big trends at work over the last several years.

First, we see a reversal of the outsourcing trend from the early 2000s. Insourcing leads many companies, including ones that do not identify as software companies, to build larger technical teams.

At the same time, we see a push toward decentralization. This also seems to be a reaction against the trends of the 1990s and early 2000s. Then we saw flattening of the management structure and very wide fan-out or span of control. Both outsourcing and reducing middle management were aimed at financial efficiency.

The unintended consequence was slow reaction times and difficulty in adapting to changing market circumstances. Established enterprises found themselves on the receiving end of pure-play disruptors in nearly every market.

Now the enterprises want to learn from those disruptors and adopt the characteristics that seem to allow the disruptors to move fast and break their competitors. (For what it's worth: the IT talent shortage is a direct result of these two trends. It will no doubt drive salaries up, which will likely result in a future wave of outsourcing and efficiency-seeking. That is what makes these trends cyclical.)

You use the term "tempo" to describe something a DevOps transformation can affect. Why is the term useful?

Most people understand the word "tempo" from music. It doesn't mean "beats per minute," but rather the mood and pacing of the music. Is it relaxed? Anxious? Martial?

There is also a military meaning of "tempo," where it refers to the pace at which an engagement changes. With evenly matched forces, the one that operates at a higher tempo will be the one with initiative. That means they make actions and force their enemy into a reactive posture. The side that controls tempo will be able to force their opponent to accept unfavorable terrain or positioning.

Both senses of "tempo" apply in the commercial setting. Some companies set the pace that others must follow. Some companies take initiative and make movements to which their competitors must respond.

To increase military tempo, it is not just a matter of buying faster trucks and tanks. It is also a matter of training and mindset. Soldiers on the line and their commanders understand the need to cooperate across functional areas for the success of the overall mission.

We see the same thing in high-performing hospitals and operating rooms. The best patient outcomes are found in hospitals where teams work across functional boundaries to ensure that nothing falls between the cracks, and everyone works to eliminate systemic problems.

DevOps follows from the same principles. DevOps works to eliminate friction, find and solve systemic problems, and share knowledge so the people who need it have it at the right time and place.

This allows the organization as a whole to seize initiative and set the tempo.

What can we expect in your talk about the DevOps Enterprise Summit?

I will be talking about some of the transformation efforts I've seen and participated in.

Some of them have succeeded at their goals, while others have sputtered out. I will look at these in the context of "maneuver warfare," a military doctrine that has some striking parallels to DevOps and corporate competition.

Bryan Behrenshausen
Bryan formerly managed the Open Organization section of, which features stories about the ways open values and principles are changing how we think about organizational culture and design. He's worked on since 2011. Find him online as semioticrobotic.


I liked the article but lead to no real finish and or recommendations to resolutions. Be glad to have this discussion if in Las Vegas in the near future. From my experience in 22+ years in the IT industry and seen it all from, Us the self starters that learned it all from the ground up, to the silo IT business models that slowed it all down. Then back to the hybrid of the 2 today.

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