A Story of DevOps >> Episode 6. Kryptonian (Value, Flow and Quality in a Complex World)

A Story of DevOps >> Episode 6. Kryptonian (Value, Flow and Quality in a Complex World)

"People have power, don't take it away" Powerful; Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, McCord

OK. We are getting there now – we have the right people on the bus in the right seats – and they all have the right tools. We have talked about their environment a little – in terms of Value, Flow and Quality rather the Cost, Time and Scope and we have talked about Complex Work instead of Complicated Work and we have shared the difference between the Knowledge Worker and the Manual Worker. The former of each one of these drives a very different perspective into your environment and, if done correctly, can have considerable impact on the productivity of your organisation…


Superman. Kal-El. A boy from space comes to our planet and has extra-ordinary powers. The one that really captures our imagination is his ability to fly – to defy the law of gravity and to be able to go anywhere at any speed. Take the physics and biology of Krypton and apply them in Earth and you have super-human powers and, as stated by Superman himself, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Other hero’s are from other world’s or have been ‘altered’ through some form of DNA mutation or experimentation (e.g. Spiderman, Hulk, Wolverine, etc.). Finally, there is Neo, who realises that although he is of this world but he is not part of this world and therefore, physics doesn’t apply.

Put the right people under the right conditions and amazing things happen.

"Is that really air you are breathing?" Morpheus, The Matrix


Here is the problem, we may not be setting the right conditions for our people to thrive in!

From Taylor’s Scientific Management through to the industrial revolution, man has optimised the methods and practices of Manual Work. This has transformed the world and we can design, build and support amazing products, from goods on your supermarket shelves, to Typhoon Jets. What the likes of Taylor, Ford, Deming and Ohno did for mankind has been truly amazing and they did this by creating the right environment for the optimisation of manual work. Taylor stated that “In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.” – It was all about the system.

However, Drucker declared that increasing the productivity of knowledge workers was “the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century.”

The dimensions that optimise Knowledge Work differ to those that optimise Manual Work:

  1. Complex Work over Complicated Work
  2. Value, Flow, Quality over Cost, Time and Scope
  3. Culture over Processes

Use the same terminology as the Agile Manifesto, although we value the statements on the right, we value the statements on the left more…

Complex Work over Complicated Work

For complicated work; inventory is visible, requirements are defined, scope is bounded and the work is repetitive. Complicated work is optimised through improved processes and systems.

For complex work; inventory is invisible, requirements evolve, scope is unbounded and work is unique. Complex work is optimised through improvements in culture and environment.

Value, Flow and Quality over Cost, Time and Scope

For complicated work, the focus is on establishing the defined scope and delivering to an agreed time and cost. If the ‘system’ is optimised, quality will consistently be high. This is where the fundamentals of Lean and Six Sigma are defined.

For complex work; the focus should be on delivering value with consistent flow where quality is never compromised. Lean and Six Sigma principles still apply but in a manner which enables learning, course correction and fast feedback as the understanding of the output evolves.

Culture over Processes

For complicated work; process is king – optimising the ‘system’ delivers the goal of high profitability. As Taylor states, the system comes first over man. Goldratt in the Total Systems Thinking and Theory of Constraints teaches how to optimise the processes, bottlenecks, costs and measurements of the end-to-end process to increase manufacturing productivity. These are the cornerstones for the Industrial Revolution.

For complex work; people are king – optimising the ‘environment’ for knowledge workers delivers the goal of high profitability. In this case, man comes first, over the system. Agile represents this distinguishing factor through the Agile Manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The Agile Manifesto states that although the items on the right are valued, the items on the left are valued more. This is great illustration as the items on the right are artefacts of Manual Work, whilst the items on the left are artefacts of Knowledge Work.

DeMarco and Lister, in their book Peopleware (1987), describe the environment in which knowledge workers (in this case specifically developers) thrive. This great summary of the book is worth a read, the structure and the key messages of which follows.

  1. Somewhere Today, a Project is Failing – although you were probably good at technical things as a developer, you must now realise that your work is people-oriented and not technology oriented.
  2. Make a Cheeseburger, Sell a Cheeseburger  – knowledge workers don’t work the same way as factory workers. Overtime does not mean more product. See Dan Pink’s talk.
  3. Vienna Waits for You – people under time pressure don’t work better – they just work faster and sacrifice quality.
  4. Quality – If Time Permits – “Quality is free if you’re willing to pay for it”. If you “pay” for quality in the short-term, you’ll be rewarded in the long-term.
  5. Parkinson’s Law Revisited – Parkinson’s law states that work expands according to the time that was allocated for it. This is proven as false by showing studies that indicate how productivity is optimal when people estimate their own work.
  6. Laetrile – there is no magic solution to problems. New technologies introduce new problems and should be carefully assessed before using them to solve an existing problem.
  7. The Furniture Police – office space today is designed to minimise the cost per seat instead of maximise workers’ productivity. Simple maths shows that the resulting waste (in time) far outweighs the savings made by conserving office space.
  8. “You Never Get Anything Done Around Here Between 9 to 5” – if you find yourself arriving early or staying late, it means that your office isn’t designed with productivity in mind. Knowledge workers must have quiet and non-intrusive working conditions.
  9. Saving Money on Space – conduct a careful study of what kind of space your employees need. It will save you money in the long-run.
  10. Brain Time vs. Body Time – there’s a big difference between ‘being in the zone’ and ‘being physically there’. Developers must be in the zone in order to do their work best, and we have to do whatever it takes to keep them there.
  11. The Telephone – the phone is an excellent tool to take you out of the zone. Get rid of it.
  12. Bring Back the Door – having private/small offices allows better working conditions.
  13. Taking Umbrella Steps – create yourself the optimal working environment (even if it’s outside the office) to get things done.
  14. The Hornblower Factor – “don’t judge a book by its cover” is also true when you’re hiring. Our natural tendency is to go with something similar to ourselves or the company standard. Diversity can be good for you and your team.
  15. Hiring a Juggler – always make sure that you’re recruiting the right person by asking him/her to perform the job you’re expecting them to do.
  16. Happy to Be Here – keep your employees happy. Your employees should feel like they’re part of the whole and are constantly progressing career-wise.
  17. The Self-Healing System – introspect, get rid of needless bureaucracy, and always strive to improve work conditions.
  18. The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts – having a good team is much better than having a great individual. Allow your team to grow and become all that it can be.
  19. The Black Team – a jelled team speaks its own language.
  20. Teamicide – some pointers to prevent your team from jelling: defensive mgmt, bureaucracy, physical separation, context-switching, reducing quality and creating fake deadlines.
  21. A Spaghetti Dinner – give your team as many chances to interact as possible. More interactions lead to better team collaboration.
  22. Open Kimono – managers must form great teams and trust their employees to do a good job. This is the opposite of defensive management.
  23. Chemistry for Team Formation – there are several rules for creating a jelled team: (1) keep a high standard of quality, so the people can take pride in their work (2) maintain the feeling of an ‘elite’ team (3) give general direction but don’t micro-manage (4) constantly give feedback, even if it’s positive.
  24. Chaos and Order – some of the fun is attributed to the chaos feeling that accompanies new projects. As a manager, your job is to maintain manageable chaos – initiate pilot projects, conduct competitions, brainstorm, send people away to ‘non-controlled’ conferences, etc.
  25. Free Electrons – some employees require a lot more freedom than others. Learn to appreciate what employees need what and adapt accordingly.
  26. HolgarDansk – don’t be afraid of initiating change.


We look at Google and their unusual offices, family days, unlimited holidays, free food, office and personal perks, pool tables, etc. and we partly wish we were there and partly wonder at why they have attributed so much time, money and thought to their workers environment?

Amazon’s culture has been seriously scrutinised but there is still so much we don’t know about what goes on behind closed doors. I have heard that there are two types of culture in play at Amazon; one for the manufacturing and distribution areas and another for the software area. I am not sure how true this is but it would reflect the difference between Manual Work and Knowledge Work.

Either way, from the research done by the like of Drucker, Collins, etc. and the recorded culture of organisations like Google, Netflix and Spotify. Organisational culture orientated for maximising the productivity of knowledge workers has a marked impact on organisational performance.

These organisations break the iron triangle of scope, time and cost and replace it with value, flow and quality as the key dimensions of work. They recognise the differences of complex work over complicated work by building environments of high trust and collaboration and they know what is needed for knowledge work in place of manual work by facilitating environment of trust, energy, creativity and space to perform.

Local teams (squads, two-pizza teams, etc.) can develop a local culture which enables increased productivity and creativity. These teams are then loosely coupled to scale an organisation. To make substantial difference, this needs top-down sponsorship and bottom-up energy which needs to permeate through the organisations.

Organisations that have both Manual Work and Knowledge Work need to be able segregate and traverse these at the same time. Where organisations have internal and external customers as well as a supply change for Knowledge Work, the challenge of nurturing the right climate (and contracts) for knowledge work becomes significantly amplified.

It was Mental Health Awareness week a few weeks ago and I was fortunate enough to attend an excellent Mental Health Awareness workshop. The early session was led by a professor of psychology and he called out the differences between someone who may have broken a leg to someone who may be undergoing a mental health issue such as stress. In many ways the two examples are great comparisons to Manual Work and Knowledge Work and Complicated Work and Complex Work.

A broken leg is complicated but repairable, with a set of routines and processes that when combined together and diligently followed will result in the repair of the leg and hopefully full restoration in a set period of time. There is a pattern, a process and the injury is visible to the person, the doctor and the people around them.

Stress is complex, invisible and there is no set pattern or process that is repeatable that addresses every situation. Psychologists will spend time on their patients and healing may takes months or years, it’s a voyage of discovery, feedback, failures, successes, etc. A very different set of practices and disciplines are needed than those used to fix a broken leg.

In the same way as different plants grow best in the right conditions, as leaders, as teams, you need to think about your environment and you need to look at the rules that you operate against. If you are Knowledge Workers, your productivity is essential and if you are involved in Complex work, you need to learn, understand and apply a new set of rules that will boost your productivity, increase the value you deliver and improve both morale and customer satisfaction.

"There is a superhero in all of us, we just need the courage to put on the cape." Superman

Take the challenge and give your people a cape – give your knowledge workers the environment where outstanding performance is achievable.

More in the series:

  • A Story of DevOps
  • Episode 1 >> Origins (Traversing the Change Curve)
  • Episode 2 >> One Ring (Alignment and Empowerment)
  • Episode 3 >> Freedom (Leadership)
  • Episode 4 >> Assemble (Productive and Teams)
  • Episode 5 >> Shield (Tools of the Trade)
  • Episode 6 >> Kryptonian (Value, Flow, Quality in a Complex World)
  • Episode 7 >> Jedi (Mastery)
  • Episode 8 >> Balrog (Confront the Brutal Facts)
  • Episode 9 >> Kryptonite (Anti-Patterns of DevOps)
  • Episode 10 >> The Suit (Digital Transformation)
  • Episode 11 >> Infinity (Automation and Orchestration)

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