[E5] DOES 2019 Las Vegas Interviews – Dominica DeGrandis on the Human Factor of DevOps and Shifting to a Product-Centric Model

By Jayne Groll  September 5, 2019

On this episode of the Humans of DevOps Podcast, Jayne Groll interviews Dominica DeGrandis, Author of Making Work Visible and Principal Flow Advisor at Tasktop, during DOES 19 to discuss the human factor of DevOps, as well as the new mindset people must have when they shift to managing work in a product-centric model.

The lightly edited transcript can be found below.

Intro:
You’re listening to the Humans of DevOps podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the humans of DevOps through skills, knowledge, ideas, and learning, or the S-K-I-L framework. Here’s your host, DevOps Institute CEO, Jayne Groll.

Jayne Groll:
Hi, everyone. This is Jayne Groll, CEO of the DevOps Institute, and we’re here for another episode of the Humans of DevOps podcast. I’m here at DevOps Enterprise Summit in Las Vegas this week, and I’m really excited to be joined by Dominica DeGrandis of Tasktop, someone I’ve known for now quite a few years and very excited to hear what she’s seeing and observing in the DevOps community, particularly as it relates to the human experience. So welcome.

Dominica D.:
Thank you, Jayne. So happy to be here.

Jayne Groll:
So for those that may not know you, and I think that’s probably very few in our space, you’ve been an influencer for a good long time, why don’t you introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about Tasktop. And then let’s start off with what are you seeing, in terms of emerging trends in the DevOps community, particularly from the human experience?

Dominica D.:
So Dominica DeGrandis. I’m author of Making Work Visible, and I work at Tasktop. I’m the principal flow advisor there. And so Tasktop, we’re helping organizations on their journey of moving from project to product with our integration tools and our flow metrics tools, so people have visibility on where their bottleneck is because often, we don’t know where that’s at, right? And so your question on… Sorry, I have to ask you that again, about what am I seeing?

Jayne Groll:
Yeah. What trends are you seeing? You know, you work with a lot of organizations and of course, everyone in the organization that we work… I always joke the CIO and the developer are equally human. Right? So what are you seeing from emerging trends, emerging interests?

Dominica D.:
Well, this whole human factors element that’s coming out from like John Auspa and Jessica Devita and build engineer, you know, Paul. We’re seeing an element of really understanding blame in the culture and focusing on do we really have a root cause. That’s been a big one and the problems that are associated with that. Because if you think you’ve nailed the root cause, and you don’t dive deeper, then you may be missing it. It’s sort of along the way of the “Do the five why’s really get down to the real problem?”

And so the whole human factors thing is interesting to me because I’ve always had some empathy for the worker bees who are being overworked and just too much work in progress. It’s not that people aren’t talented and can’t learn, it’s just they’re being interrupted all the time because they’re so overloaded and time thief, too much work in progress keeps surfacing again and again and again.

Jayne Groll:
Yeah. And I love the book. I mean, I loved your book Making Work Visible. I think that it opened up the eyes of a lot of people to realizing that first of all, the whole concept of work in progress, right? And not being able to manage that, really being able to understand where are the bottlenecks, right? What’s going on, again, which is a very, very human piece of it, right? It isn’t just the…

Well, before we started recording, we started talking about the rate of change, and I think that feeds into this, as well. That you have people that are overworked. You have people that touch a lot of things, but they don’t get anything done. You have people that are constantly saying yes to everything, right? And then the rate of acceleration of technology, the rate of acceleration of what the expectations are. And then on the outside of that, you have this huge talent gap, right? So it feels like I don’t even know what to do in order to be able to be successful anymore. I mean, are you seeing that? Based on what the work that you’re doing, of course, as a flow adviser, but also, I know you’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the book, are you sensing that as well? Are you sensing anything different?

Dominica D.:
Oh, I’m sensing there’s a tremendous amount of change in the need for people to continually reinvent themselves. And so you have people who have spent a good number of years mastering their technology and working on it, and then six months or a year later they got to move on to the next thing. And when you have a lot of energy and you understand that, there’s tolerance to continually change, but it’s not too hard to think of the burnout that people have from change, just consistently having to reinvent themselves. How much longer are they going to be up for doing that? Because we hear all the time, oh, another new way of working. Well, let’s just hold on because next year we’ll get another CEO in or another CIO in, and then it’s all going to change again. So why should I bother learning this thing? So definitely just resistance to change in that way. And that’s the worst thing anybody can do because if you just try and stay where you’re at, you’re already falling behind.

Jayne Groll:
Yeah. And that’s really interesting because we’re being propelled forward, and there’s only so much change an individual can process. And by the way, you and I process change very differently. Right? And the people that are listening process change very, very differently. Some will act on leaps of faith, some will act on proof of concept, right? So again, if you’re still processing and you feel like you’ve been left behind, the pressure is building and building and building, and certainly burnout factors are there.

But also I think part of what we’re trying to achieve in the DevOps community is passionate innovation, right? We want people to innovate passionately. We want them to exercise something that really only humans can do, and that’s the ability to think beyond what we’ve been taught, right? And some of the organizations, I think, that have been the most successful, it really groomed that. But if the change is happening so fast and we’re so busy trying to process what’s happening to us, you kind of lose a little bit of that.

Dominica D.:
Yeah, you bring up an interesting point. I don’t know. I think that even if they’re really passionate about what they’re doing and continuing to say “Yes” to all the opportunities that are out there, you could still end up in burnout because of all the conflicting priorities. I’m kind of an example of that. There’s so much I want to do, so many exciting things I want to do. I do want to learn more about human factors. I do want to learn more about how organizations are trying to define their products. It’s one of the biggest challenges we’re having right now is, in moving from project to product is how are they defining their product? It’s kind of up in the air, and if you can’t get your product defined then it’s hard to optimize that product value stream.

And so while there is pressure from above and from the outside to continuously learn and take on more things, I think we do often do it to ourselves because we don’t want to say “No.” I’m actually doing an Ignite Talk tonight about that. It’s called Saying “No” Doesn’t Make You an Arse.

Jayne Groll:
Well, no, but I love that, right? Because you feel that. You feel that if I say “No,” then the guy next to me is going to say “Yes.” Right? And so therefore I’m being left behind, or I am an arse. Right?

Dominica D.:
FOMO.

Jayne Groll:
Yeah, exactly. And so at the end of the day, we’re saying yes, we’re piling it on, we can’t succeed, and then we feel bad that we can’t succeed. Then the vicious cycle can… And I’m like you. I have a million things I want to do. And then I start to do one, and then I get distracted and then I start to do another. And at the end of the day, I really didn’t accomplish anything. And that’s frustrating, and you’re right. The passionate innovation, there’s a lot of shiny things that we face, right? We want to grab at all of them.

Dominica D.:
You know what I’m noticing now is people being willing, people in our area of work, in technology, are now feeling safer to be vocal about how stressed they are and the things that they’re trying to do to de-stress. I think the market out there right now that offers people ways to de-stress, if you look at how many people are getting into meditation now, and yoga, and breathing, and just eating better, trying to take better care of themselves because we’re just recognizing that if the stress continues, we’re going to have to seize on the body. People are getting sick. And it’s evident that people are really struggling trying to take good care of themselves and their families.

Jayne Groll:
Yeah, you have to be healthy. It’s funny because you’re very, and I’m very thankful for this, helping us on GlobalSKILup day. And so GlobalSKILup Day is 18 hours of how to do things. And one of the things… You don’t even know this… One of the things we’re working on is getting some short wellness videos in between, right? So every few sessions we’re going to do a recording of, “Okay, everybody stand up and stretch,” and one’s going to be a meditation moment and one’s going to be a, “Hey, it’s time for a snack. Have you thought about what healthy snacks may keep you energized through the afternoon?” And really just doing these little wellness breaks because I think you’re right. I think there’s a new awareness that burnout, that being healthy, that mental health is important. You know, we see that a lot in our space, right? And that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we certainly can’t progress. And if we can’t progress, then society can’t progress because they’re depending on our automation to do that. So I’m really excited about that. If you have ideas about little breaks that we could be doing, I’m really open to that. I think that’s really interesting.

Dominica D.:
Just breaks from the keyboard, breaks from the screens, particularly when it’s dark out. Because if we’re on our screens late at night, the studies show that it inhibits your sleep. And if we’re not getting the REM cycles and the sleep right, then we’re not performing as well as we can. There’s a lot of talks now on sleep and how we can get good sleep and a lot of advice on sleep and how important sleep is. And for a lot of us who are traveling in different time zones, that’s a huge deal.

Jayne Groll:
It is a huge deal. I mean, you travel a lot. I travel a lot, and internationally, when you’re doing something that’s anywhere from 6-14 hours difference, really kind of adjusting your body clock to that is important. But even people that work long hours, even people that work from home. I work from home. And so stepping away from the keyboard, not going back to it in the evening, really kind of separating out your work from your life becomes an important part of that.

And I think that’s all part of kind of this flow of work. You were talking about how organizations are having a hard time defining their products… And I want to drill into that just for a second because I’m really interested to understand kind of what sits behind it. But let’s finish this thought. They’re so baffled by so many things that there’s only so much your human brain can process at a single time or within a single period of time that I think that as part of the industry we are paying more awareness to it, but not enough yet. Right? Not enough yet. And I think that’s going to be something that’s going to differentiate my generation, the generation that comes before me, the generation before that, and the generation that’s going to enter the workplace and how they’re going to approach their work life balance and their continuous learning, which is something that we’re absolutely trying to encourage.

Dominica D.:
Yeah. I mean, our brains haven’t caught up with this century yet.

Jayne Groll:
No, I don’t think so. Evolution hasn’t-

Dominica D.:
Cognitively, we just cannot handle all of that.

Jayne Groll:
Yeah, it is-

Dominica D.:
Even though we want to.

Jayne Groll:
We do want to. Okay, so before we wrap up because I know we’re going to run out of time, real quickly so you mentioned about how organizations are really struggling to define their product. What do you think sits underneath that? Are there patterns?

Dominica D.:
Organizations are so used to managing and thinking and visualizing and measuring by projects, right? And so it’s all about optimizing for scope and for budget and for schedule. So when you make this shift to managing work in a product centric model, it’s just a new mindset that people need to have. Like now we’re interested in business outcomes and providing business value. So well then there’s the whole discussion of what do we mean by value? How does your company… What matters to them? And usually it’s about profit or revenue or happy customers. I mean, it could be a variety of things. Maybe it’s reduced risk or improved security. Speaking about jobs real quick, cybersecurity. There is 0% unemployment in cybersecurity.

And so the metrics are different because we’re no longer really interested in… Well, I mean it’s an interesting number, some of the metrics that we get with project-driven work, but there’s this whole new set of metrics, the flow metrics, that we’re interested in those based on business outcomes, and they don’t have ways to really… You know, trying to get their tools integrated so that they really can capture this end to end workflow, is one of the first hurdles that they could do, but what is that end to end value stream? So if you’re used to managing your work by project, just trying to define what the product is, and there’s different levels of products, then the easiest is, yes, the application that your external customers are consuming. Something that your customers gain value out of, right?

Jayne Groll:
A service. Right.

Dominica D.:
Like a service or application. But then there’s the internal product value streams. For example, your application platform that your internal teams build that other teams may consume. Right? Because they need those APIs to deliver what they’re making. Or we’ll call it sometimes IT for IT product value streams. And they may have dependencies… Part of those value streams may have dependencies on other value streams. And so we just… I was doing a lean coffee yesterday, the lean coffees here are-

Jayne Groll:
Oh, they’re fantastic, yeah.

Dominica D.:
They’ve just been great. And all kinds of questions all over the board. Can you have multiple value streams in one product? Well, but we have multiple products in one value stream, and where to delineate… Where does it start and end? Just massive conversations and differences opinion around that.

Jayne Groll:
It’s funny because in the project management model it’s a governance model, right? Because the project manager is governing the project, and again, probably for another podcast, but there is a very strong human element there because you’re mentioning discussions, conversations, negotiations. I mean, there’s a lot of elements that go into that that are soft skill-driven.

Dominica D.:
Yeah. And I’ll just say from a human element, we’re seeing a lot of project managers that are fearful with this movement. Somebody the other day told me that their senior director of PMO is terrified. Am I going to have a job in six months? And I do think that they have skills that can move into a product centric world, right? They know about cost management, they have skills in value management. I mean, do you want the social skills of a Tenex developer communicating with your vendors? And we’ve got revenue management, risk management. So all those skills are necessary and can move over, and that’s why we’re starting to see some organizations move from PMO to VMO.

Jayne Groll:
Oh, value management office. I love that. I had not heard that before. That’s fascinating. Yeah, I’ve heard the same thing about project managers, and for a while that was a very coveted role, a high in demand role. And you’re right, the skills are portable, right? We just have to develop the mindset to be able to port those over, instead of kind of… There’s a saying that says, “Honor the past, but move on,” right? And so recognizing-

Dominica D.:
Anybody who’s been in technology, roles come and go, jobs come and go. We constantly have to reinvent ourselves. I’ve been through that, you know? I used to be build engineer and it’s just now it’s PMO’s time, right? It’s their opportunity to think in new ways of working. And there are these new emerging roles. They can look at product management, a lot of opportunity there. We’ve got value stream architects coming up…

Jayne Groll:
Yeah, I know. I love that.

Dominica D.:
Value stream product leads and champions. I think there is a lot of opportunity, and so the message that I wanted to give to PMO was like, “Don’t fret, don’t panic. As long as you have a mindset of always be learning and continuous improvement that there’s opportunity there.”

Jayne Groll:
Yeah. And so just to wrap up, you and I met in 2012. I don’t know if you remember, in Mountain View. DevOps Days in Mountain View. Right?

Dominica D.:
Okay, I was thinking Austin.

Jayne Groll:
And so kind of looking from then to now, it’s really kind of a fascinating experience. You know, we were 300 people in Mountain View, California, and you were doing the combine game there.

Dominica D.:
Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Jayne Groll:
And then you know, to now. So I hope you come back, and we get a chance to talk some more about kind of what we’re seeing from, again, if you look at dog years from 2012 to 2019 and beyond it really is kind of fantastic. And I think that just kind of summing up some of the things that we talked about, humans have to develop resilience of their own. We talk a lot about resilience and automation-

Dominica D.:
And to take care of themselves in order to do that.

Jayne Groll:
And to take care of themselves in order to be resilient.

Dominica D.:
Go, go, go, go means you need to have some rest, rest, rest, rest.

Jayne Groll:
Yeah, absolutely. And so if you’re a human of DevOps listening to this podcast, please take that message very seriously because we are all supporting it. DevOps Institute, of course, our mission is to advance the humans of DevOps, and that means wellness, right? And it means upskilling. And it means finding that passionate seed.

Dominica D.:
Be nice to yourself.

Jayne Groll:
Be nice to yourself, and also be nice to others. Just kind of things we learn in kindergarten. Anyhow, we’re out of time, but thank you so much for your insight-

Dominica D.:
Thank you, Jayne.

Jayne Groll:
… And for everything you do for the community. Again, you’ve been an influencer contributor really from the very beginning, and I’m hopeful that it’s as satisfying to you, as you go through this journey, as your influence has been to others.

Dominica D.:
I’ve just been really lucky, just being in the right place at the right time and meeting these incredible people who have been so supportive all these years. Couldn’t be happier.

Jayne Groll:
Human at DevOps. There you go. Anyhow, this is Jayne Groll, CEO of the DevOps Institute. You’re listening to the Humans of DevOps podcast. I’m with Dominica DeGrandis of Tasktop, wishing everyone a great afternoon. Thanks very much.

Outro:
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