Victims of the system

Most people who seem to be blocking progress are in fact well intentioned and trying to do the right thing but they are victims of the system in which they work.

One of the main things that DevOps has taught me is systems thinking. [And Deming taught it to DevOps decades ago]

ImageIT has evolved as an industry, from our technology-centric origins through a phase of being process-centric, to in recent years understanding that IT is fundamentally about people and changing the way they behave. There is one more stage to this evolution, which is to understand that people process and technology are all simply nodes in a system, which we must understand as a distinct entity.
Having an engineering background I have understood systems thinking all my life and occasionally applied it in IT but DevOps has reminded me of how fundamental it is to understand IT as a complex system.

Complex systems have emergent properties which are not caused by any individual node in the system and which are beyond the control of most participants in the system. A famous example of this is The Beer Game which is a simulation game about the flow of beer through a system (note that it is not normally played with real beer). In the game, the flow of beer is made to oscillate wildly and the oscillations are beyond the control of the participants in the game (at least initially until they learn to change the whole system not just be a part of it).

So often when I speak to people that have been identified to me as the blockers in the system, I find that they are in fact the victims of the system.

© Copyright canstockphoto.comFor example, if the flow of work from Require to Deploy lacks sufficient quality, then the operational acceptance and change management people have to impose high levels of controls in order to protect production. Over time the change management team becomes seen as a blocker where in fact they are forced into a position of obstructiveness by the lack of defect control back up the flow.

As another example, developers working within a project construct are expected to deliver to predetermined time frames and requirement specifications with a limited budget. This means the only variable they have is code quality, so it should be no surprise that developers develop a reputation for cutting corners.

Both of these groups are victims of the system. In general they are good professional people trying to do the best for the organisation, and prevented from doing so by the system within which they are placed.

Of course incompetent people exist, but they are a minority. Next time you are going off about somebody, think for a moment about their situation and the constraints imposed on them by the system. If you sit down and understand their position, you will usually find that they are victims of the system.

Fix the system.

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