Ranger4 DevOps Blog

Setting an Organisational Why

Posted by Helen Beal on Wed, Jun 12, 2019 @ 12:06 PM

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle is a key tool we use when we are helping people understand DevOps principles. For people that are coming from a place where DevOps is about automation this can be a little perplexing, but this is a core cultural asset, and DevOps is as much about culture as it is about automation. I love Chris Little's quote from the DevOps Handbook: "DevOps is about automation, as astronomy is about telescopes."

We consider having a solid organisational why the foundational cultural artifact in a DevOps evolution as it has a number of effects:

  • Helping people believe that they are in the same boat thereby challenging perceptions around silos, 'them and us's' and encouraging behaviours that consider the end to end value stream and avoiding the definition of done being: "I did my job"
  • Setting the starting point for shared goals avoiding contention in KPIs and aligning these goals with the organisation's long term vision - everyone in an organisation should be able to trace the user story or feature they are working on to their CEO's top objectives
  • Aligning vision (which allows for experimentation through understanding long term vision and goals, current state, next target state and then PDCA between the states) and the how and what the organisation does

People often struggle with identifying their organisational why initially, and easily confuse it with the how and the what. Frequently when I introduce people to the concept, their initial reaction is that their organisational why or purpose is to make profit and shareholder value. As Sinek himself observes, this is the function of all capitalist companies and does not differentiate their unique purpose for whom and why they serve. I find it helps to consider some other organisational whys as examples:

  • “Think Different.” – Apple
  • “Helping Britain Prosper.” – Lloyds Banking Group
  • “We exist to make the lives of retired people better.” – Saga
  • “We connect people and strengthen relationships.” – Greetings card manufacturer from Karen Martin’s ‘Clarity First’
  • “Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive.” – Kellogg
  • “Empowering people to stay a step ahead in life and business.” – ING Bank

Sheila Margolis says there are six criteria for a purpose statement:

  1. Is it a contribution to society – not a product or service?
  2. Does it answer the question – Why is this work important?
  3. Is it inspirational and motivational?
  4. Does it use powerful words?
  5. Is it brief in length so employees will remember it?
  6. Is it broad in scope to allow for future opportunities and change?

When we perform a DevOps assessment, setting an organisational why is almost guaranteed to be a recommendation in an organisation where we haven't been able to discover one. It's one of those quick wins our customers love, but as they build out their DevOps evolution backlog, they often ask for specific actionable items in order to create their purpose statement. This is what we say: 

Action Items:

  1. Identify Organisational Why lead (OWL - usually a DevOps Advocate)
  2. Create and circulate by email and online survey collecting input
  3. Arrange, publicise and deliver a series of 1 hour clinics/workshops for input from teams
  4. Hold management workshop to review inputs from survey and clinics/workshops and agree organisational why (and values)
  5. In management workshop agree communication plan i.e. videos, blogs on Confluence, town halls, printed materials (posters for example)
  6. Create and circulate feedback survey to obtain response from teams
  7. Align team goals with Organisational Why, document in Confluence, share and agree continuous inspection and improvement approach

We use SurveyMonkey for all our data collection activities, whether that's preparing for a course, getting feedback on something we have delivered or doing something like this. There are other survey tools available but this is our favourite. You can see an example survey for organisational why here.

And finally, remember that a key principle of DevOps is to empower all to participate so the audience for this activity is everyone in your organisation and the workshops/clinics are open to all. Our survey specifically asks if people want to participate further and they  are designed to be short and available for people to drop into which gives flexibility around numbers, although the OWL works with team leads to schedule. Your organisational why already exists - maybe it just isn’t articulated or communicated yet in a collectively agreed manner.

If you need some help with your organisational why, just let us know at hello@ranger4.com or request a DevOps Assessment.

Topics: Leadership, organisational why, golden circle, devops purpose, devops assessment