CIO Quick Takes: How IT leaders employ agile and DevOps for strategic advantage

IT leaders reveal their unique strategies to harness the power of these process-driven methodologies

How IT leaders employ agile and DevOps for strategic advantage
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“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously remarked. Plans of any sort require retooling once they collide with the hard reality of execution. But the act of planning—and, by extension, the creation of a strategic environment where such rapid iterations are possible—is paramount.

Agile and DevOps are disciplines that can undergird this sort of strategic environment in an IT department. They represent the rapidity and quality control that IT leaders and customers demand.

In this edition of our ongoing Quick Takes series, IT leaders from the CIO Executive Council describe how they have employed agile and DevOps for strategic advantage.

Raj Singh, CIO, FordDirect

raj singh FordDirect

Raj Singh, CIO, FordDirect

In my opinion, agile is a discipline, a rigorous process, that allows all the stakeholders to participate in the delivery process with a shared accountability. This is a process where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams and end users (business customers).

At FordDirect, we use agile techniques, a Scrum methodology and Kanban. We use the Atlassian product suite (Jira and Confluence) to keep track of the sprint tasks and project execution as well as project-related documentation. In the case of Kanban, we create multiple boards in the Jira tool to help the team achieve prioritize tasks, manage the workload and provide transparency for both business and IT. Kanban is also being applied in production support and maintenance to meet agreed upon service-level agreements (SLAs).

In my opinion, agile works well for new projects, and Kanban is better suited for operational support and service delivery. We use our Jira sprint boards to perform our standup every morning; this is very effective, especially when you have resources all over the globe and need clear, daily communication.

For those new to agile, I would suggest starting with a small project with engaged business stakeholders and a strong project champion favoring an agile approach with frequent feedback loops. Start slowly, celebrate the successes, and learn from the retrospectives. Apply the Scrum practices consistently, and commit to delivering using this model. You don’t need to jump to test-driven development or paired programming on Day 1; just start with the fundamentals and realize the successes. Don’t get lost in the agile jargon. Continue to focus on the activities that produce consistent and incremental business value creation.

Angela Yochem, CIO, Rent-A-Center

angela yochem photo Rent-A-Center

Angela Yochem, CIO, Rent-A-Center

Adoption of a DevOps model is not just about the practices (continuous delivery, automation, speed to recovery, and so on) but also about values (such as extreme collaboration and health-over-heroes). DevOps for us has been a natural and critical cascade from adopting an agile- and product-focused engineering discipline, which is required to meet our digital business ambitions. 

One of the myths around DevOps—and agile methods as well—is they are only applicable to new development efforts. Most of our estates are a mix of old and new; bought, built, and found; on-premise and off-premise; and in the field (such as tech we have in our stores). Building a strong DevOps capability in support of an agile culture is applicable across the board to any updates or enhancements, regardless of the age or type of system involved.

We’ve all heard about the notion of bi-modal IT. I would prefer to think about an IT shop running at multi-speed. DevOps culture enables multi-speed responses and deliveries. The world isn’t binary, fast or slow. The world—and change—varies by external factors and events, and our ability to meaningfully absorb change and deliver accordingly is a key success factor for an IT group. DevOps is a core component of the digitally infused organizational fabric. DevOps may have begun with scripts but in a “scripts eating the organization” kind of way.

Raj Kushwaha, managing director and CTO, Warburg Pincus

raj kushwaha photo head shot Warburg Pincus

Raj Kushwaha, managing director and CTO, Warburg Pincus

As a private equity firm, we have some portfolio companies that do very well in delivering to the promise of high-velocity agile, while some do not. A key determinant of success in agile is the degree of maturity in DevOps.

Agile is predicated on frequent short sprint cycles that deliver quality code that can be rapidly promoted to production. If the process of promoting and managing code through its lifecycle is not in line with agile principles, the agile journey falls behind very rapidly.

Enter DevOps. When implemented successfully within an agile framework, our dev teams are achieving 2-3x productivity gains. Core to DevOps maturity is a simple philosophy of maniacal automation across all aspects of the code lifecycle. It begins with containerization to manage/eliminate dependencies, continuous integration and testing for quality, and continuous automated deployment to minimize errors in configurations and code promotion.

Also, another determinant of rapid results is using as few a set of tools as possible to begin with and then iterate to automate. Keeping it simple is key to rapidly maturing the capability. We also found colocation of the DevOps teams is an important consideration in accelerating DevOps maturity and therefore success in Agile. The best outcomes is when the DevOps and development teams are all collocated. Best tools, among others—Docker and Jenkins!

Renee Zaugg, vice president, infrastructure and development services, Aetna

renee zaugg print 73 Aetna

Renee Zaugg, vice president, Aetna

We have achieved much success as a result of our DevOps and agile strategy. In under one year, we developed a platform that created a holistic integrated view of individual health services in our consumer markets. The adoption of DevOps and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) allowed us to configure and integrate products/applications with a new state-of-the-art integration engine with quality.

The integration of DevOps in the delivery lifecycle resulted in significant automation of code deployment, code quality reviews, and testing, allowing us to shorten our development cycle and increase our release velocity by dropping code twice a day. It enabled our business to be competitive by offering a simpler consumer product that provides an all-inclusive approach to individual health and wellness.

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