Chocolate Covered DevOps Culture

By Dana Pylayeva

Fostering DevOps culture is essential to the success of your DevOps initiative. Your organization may bring in new automation tools and cloud infrastructure, but if you see a newly formed DevOps team on your org chart - it missed the point. Short-lived DevOps team may be OK as an interim strategy with “train-the-trainer” learning model. However, creating a long-lived DevOps team only perpetuates departmental silo state and limits flow of information across internal boundaries of organization.

According to Ron Westrum’s studies, the quality of information flow is deeply linked to a safety culture of the organization. As such, by amplifying feedback loop, by fostering cooperation between development and operations, aligning goals and focusing on shared mission, DevOps brings in a brand new culture. As cooperation between development and operations improve, it leads to better quality of a decision making and improved quality of life in the organization.

If culture is defined by set of values and observables behaviors, than how do you train someone on new behaviors? Just like it’s hard to learn to play a game by only reading rules or watching others play, you need to practice new behaviors to adopt them.

What if your teams or management can’t grasp the value and the urgency of DevOps transformation? Help them experience the benefits of DevOps culture through a simulation game. By playing Chocolate, Lego and Scrum game they will develop empathy for different roles and feel the need for faster DevOps adoption. This game starts with an end-to-end simulation of issues experienced by many organizations. Quite often they have development teams using Scrum while operations function as an organizational silo with its own process. Trapped in a waterfall land, the operations team becomes a bottleneck in a flow of value through the organization. Lack of timely customer feedback due to the limited number of releases, misalignment of goals between the groups: these are just some of the systemic problems highlighted by the game.

The game combines ideas from “The Phoenix Project” with the experience gained from real-life challenges encountered by development and operations teams in many organizations. Security vulnerabilities, environments patching, deployment code freeze, development and operations silos: the game helps simulate an end-to-end product delivery process and visualize the bottlenecks in the value delivery flow. The gamified format helps create a safe place for participants and facilitates their experimentation and learning

Why such a strange choice of materials for this game? 

Studies at Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School have found that our brain assembles data received from sensory inputs into a complete picture that becomes a memory of an event. Engaging multiple senses while learning helps amplify learning effectiveness. Additionally, when we experience an emotional reaction, it becomes a part of the memory, strengthening it dramatically. 

Sharon Bowman in her “Training from the Back of the Room” work emphasized positive emotional experiences, multi-sensory stimulation and novelty among the elements used in brain-friendly trainings.

The Chocolate, LEGO and Scrum game is designed to engage all five senses and tap into the emotional side of the brain. Working with LEGO and Chocolate, participants experience the downside of local optimization and learn to expand their view to include the entire system. Using avatars, personas, and role cards, participants gain an understanding of Dev and Ops roles as well as their interdependencies. They try out a mindset of each role for the duration of the game.

Throughout the game they experience a range of emotions and learn to expand the boundaries of individual roles, acquire T-shaped skills and expand the Scrum-team circle to include Operations. They build new environments; protect them from Hackers’ attacks and work with demanding customers, trying to satisfy their ever-changing demands. The game takes players through a gamified DevOps transformation journey, facilitating their first baby steps towards embracing the DevOps culture.

If your organization is considering DevOps, a great way to start is by generating some interest and excitement around the topic. Using the Chocolate, Lego and Scrum game as part of your DevOps adoption strategy will help you popularize the DevOps ideas and make them digestible at all levels of organizations.

About the Author

In her 17 years of industry experience Dana Pylayeva has been exposed to different areas of IT as a Java Developer, an Architect, a DBA Manager, a Scrum Master and an Agile Coach.

Dana holds MS in Robotics and Mechatronics from Moscow State University of Technology "STANKIN" as well as CSM, CSPO and CSP certifications from Scrum Alliance. She speaks internationally on a variety of topics: DevOps culture, User Story Mapping, working effectively with distributed teams, designing and facilitating agile games.Dana enjoys taking an active role in the Agile community by volunteering at Agile 20xx conferences, assisting as a submission coach and a reviewer at conferences organized by Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance.

Dana is one of co-organizers of NYC Scrum User Group, Play4Agile North America, Agile Coach Camp US 2017 as well as the founder of Big Apple Scrum Day community conference in NYC.

This article is excerpted from DevOps with Chocolate, LEGO and Scrum Game by Dana Pylayeva.