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DevOps cries out for updated management structure

NEW YORK -- The management structure at work in most business and IT organizations today is outdated, according to Greg Bledsoe, managing consultant at Accenture Technology. It's based on command and control, rewarding people for overproducing and punishing them for underproducing.

"And that worked OK in the 1800s when it came about," Bledsoe says in this video. He spoke to SearchCIO at Cloud Expo in June. "The problem is that it reduces people to cogs."

Bledsoe helps steer organizations toward DevOps, the methodology that promises faster, more efficient software development. For it to work, he says, organizations need to overhaul the undergirding management structure. Employees can't think solely of their individual functions; they need to be reoriented on "the value of the end product, of the company mission, of the organizational mission."

For CIOs, reforming a management style that has been in place for hundreds of years isn't easy -- "You can't really turn that on a dime," Bledsoe says -- but it's imperative. Some organizations are already managing in new ways -- and succeeding.

"If you look at what fintechs are doing to the big banks" -- Bledsoe says, referring to startups using cutting-edge financial technology to carve out a new market in financial services -- "it's because they don't have all this legacy infrastructure, they don't have all these legacy practices, they're leaner, and they can be more agile."

Change starts with education, he says, about reshaping management structure and about the important components of DevOps, such as sharing, or ongoing communication among employees and teams.

There's no shortage of literature, but Bledsoe says outsiders also need to be let in and have a look at how things work -- and don't work. That could mean consultants or new hires who have "seen it done another way."

"You've got to bring in that fresh perspective, somebody with a wider view," Bledsoe says. "The wider their view, the better off."

Do CIOs need to rethink how they direct their teams?

Greg Bledsoe: They do. It is a desperate need that we are way behind the curve on doing. We manage according to a very outdated model. A guy named [Frederick Winslow] Taylor came up with a management strategy to increase productivity that became known as scientific management, or Taylorism. There's a little distinction there, but they're mostly the same thing. And his theories were about command and control, reducing your dependence on labor so that you can punish people for underproducing, rewarding people for overproducing in order to get the maximum productivity out of each person.

And that worked OK in the 1800s when it came about. It gave them a framework to start thinking about these issues. The problem is that it reduces people to cogs.

The most powerful problem-solving engine in the world is the human brain. And you are limiting, intentionally, the visibility that each of your cogs has into the overall process. What is even the mission? Most people don't even know what the mission of the company they work for is. They only know that they have a piece to handle. So how can they maximize their contribution to the overall mission? They can't. It's impossible. 

So we have to start looking at empowering the individual in a culture of collaboration, orienting them towards increasing their productivity, towards the value of the end product, of the company mission, of the organizational mission -- reorienting people around that.

And it's a completely 180-degree turn from the way we have managed everything in Western Civilization since the Industrial Revolution. It's a very difficult thing to get your head around. We've been doing it so long that we don't even know what we're doing or why we're doing it. It's impossible to even conceive of another management structure besides this vertical command and control that we have, that we don't even really know why we have. We just know that this is the way it's always been done.

Getting yourself outside that box is very difficult. And it often takes somebody from the outside to come in and say, 'These are some of the things that are creating the pathologies that are fouling up your efforts.' 
How can CIOs get started?

Bledsoe: So first of all, educating yourself. Another one of the very, very powerful things about DevOps is the sharing culture. We talk in DevOps about CALMS -- culture, automation, lean, measurement and sharing. But the most powerful thing in there is the sharing.

So there's a lot of great books: The Phoenix Project, [The] Lean Startup, Lean Enterprise, Effective DevOps. There's lots of great resources out there to start getting your head around what it is that is pathological that needs to be fixed to maximize the value of your organization. But it also does help to either hire someone who is experienced in these new paradigms.

Because the largest companies in the world, the largest companies in this country have been doing business exactly the same way since they began. You can't really turn that on a dime. The problem is, if you look at what fintechs are doing to the big banks, it's because they don't have all this legacy infrastructure, they don't have all these legacy practices, they're leaner, and they can be more agile. So if you want, as a big company, to scale back some of those so that you can act with more agility, so that you can be leaner, then you have to get somebody who understands that mindset, who's seen it done another way. 

Because if you've worked your entire life in Fortune 100 companies, it's hard for you to understand how people are doing it differently. So you've got to bring in that fresh perspective, somebody with a wider view. The wider their view, the better off, right? The more variety of ways they've seen things work and fail, the better equipped they'll be to help you get your organization on track.

This is where consultants can come in handy, but it doesn't have to be a consultant. You can also make direct hires. But you're looking for the cultural knowledge more than the technical or procedural knowledge.

Greg Bledsoe says DevOps flourishes in a "blameless" workplace culture. Learn about it in this SearchCIO video.

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How would you describe your organization's management structure?