It’s Natural to Avoid Problems

The hardest part of transforming to a lean, efficient process is the culture change necessary to get a team to work together. It doesn’t matter if the team builds software or vehicles, the change to working in a new way, into disclosing problems, admitting issues, working without blame to fix them, these are very, very difficult changes to make.

Dr. Edward Deming and his work with the Japanese have been the source of many ideas on how to improve a manufacturing process and increase quality. The ideas and principles are incorporated into The Goal, a novel that inspired The Phoenix Project. I recommend both those books for people interested in DevOps because building software is very similar to the manufacturing process used for other goods.

Toyota has been one of the leaders of quality manufacturing and the Toyota Production System has been used as a model and adapted by many industries, including software. One of the ideas used in manufacturing is the ability of anyone to highlight potential problems. In car plants, this has been implemented with an andon cord, a way to stop production and have others help diagnose and solve a problem early in the process.

Some have thought this is a culture issue where the Japanese might be more willing to highlight problems and work as a team, something that many Westerners have struggled to do. At the lean blog, they talk about how this isn’t the case. In fact, the Japanese, in general, seek harmony and might be less likely to raise potential issues. In fact, I think most workers are hesitant to raise potential issues, for a variety of reasons. Often anything that slows down work is frowned upon by management, which often leads to issues lingering on, or substandard products being produced. This also happens in software.

I might argue that changing culture for developers is hard, but even harder for managers. We often don’t train managers well, and certainly we don’t often have good systems for coordinating work between and among knowledge workers. The systems that help with manufacturing give us a base, but they don’t apply quite the same way when your “machinery” is another human. Culture change for DevOps must include management and that means less oversight and interruptions, blameless reviews, and embracing mistakes and small failures. Those are often very hard for managers but necessary if you want to improve your software.

Steve Jones

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