Shaaron Alvares, Sr. Agile & DevOps Transformation Coach at T-Mobile, joins Jayne to discuss why inclusiveness and diversity are critical for transformational managers and teams, how the executive role is changing, and her work on playbooks.
The lightly edited transcript can be found below.
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 SKIL framework. Here’s your host, DevOps Institute CEO, Jayne Groll.
Hi, everyone. This is Jayne Groll, CEO of the DevOps Institute. Welcome to another episode of the Humans of DevOps Podcast. I’m excited today to be joined by Shaaron Alvares, who’s been working with T-Mobile, particularly on their inclusiveness in product initiatives. Hi Shaaron.
Hi Jayne. Thank you very much for having me.
Shaaron, tell us a little bit about yourself, and particularly, why this interest in product teams inclusiveness?
Yeah. That’s a really good question. Like you mentioned, I’ve been working at T-Mobile and I’ve been focused mostly in workforce transformation, workplace transformation. In the last few years I worked on Agile and DevOps transformation within the domain, so I was really a DPM that deal with teams. Now I’m a little bit more focused on workplace transformation, cultural transformation and teams. I’m also preparing for one of the largest telco merger integration.
So I’ve always been very, very interested in diversity and inclusion, being a woman myself and working for the last 10-plus years with DevOps teams, engineering teams. I also live in Seattle, which is the hub of a really large education hub. We have University of Washington that’s welcoming a lot of international students, and based off my experience working with some of the largest Fortune 500 companies, I can see that diversity today is really the new normal. It’s really something we have to get to used to.
We also have more data around the fact that, when we don’t practice inclusiveness enough, we miss out on innovation, market opportunities. That’s because we don’t include the needs of really large underrepresented populations. We have seen in the last five to seven years ago separate product failures simply due to the lack of inclusiveness at the design level. We have a lot more data right now. For example, we know that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by 35%. The reason why I am personally very interested in inclusion at the workplace, it’s because it’s not only beneficial for the business, for the products and for the teams, but it actually benefits us individually as humans.
It’s interesting you say that, because DevOps Institute recently released its 2020 upskilling enterprise DevOps skills report. For the second year in a row, human skills, we used to call those soft skills, but truthfully, soft skills are hard. We’ve reframed them as human skills. Human skills have been really validated to be as important for hiring and for upskilling as technical and process skills. So the combination of technical skills, process skills and human skills, really makes what we’re now calling the hybrid human. And so, when we look at those human skills, the number one human skill that unequivocally year over year has been demonstrated to be the most important by all of the respondents is collaboration and cooperation. You can’t collaborate if you’re not being inclusive, right?
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I love it. Yeah. Absolutely. In fact, the way I look at inclusion, for me, it’s not just diversity, gender and so on. For me, inclusion, it’s very much about collaboration. It’s simply including everyone in the creative process, in the design process and in the decision-making process. This is what I’ve been fostering for the last few years when I work with teams, product teams. It’s really allowing everyone to include each other’s voice in meetings. I really foster collaborative teams, collaborative participation, and also collaborative practices. So I very much agree with you. Collaboration is really important. It also leads to a safety because I think when people feel that they are included in the creation process and the decision-making process, they feel a lot safer. They feel that they are integrated part of the team and they are integrated part of the organization. It creates that feeling of belonging that’s so important. I absolutely agree, yes.
Absolutely. I like to say that the difference between collaboration and communication is, in collaboration, you ask for somebody’s opinion. You ask for their expertise. You ask for that.
What about executives? The role of the executive is absolutely changing. I mean, we see terms like servant leaders or transformational leaders. What about executives? How has their role changed, and what are some of the things that executives are doing, and in particular, some of the things that you’re doing to help managers and executives adapt to new ways of working?
Yeah. That’s a really good question. I saw that there’s been a lot of new trends and a shift in the role of executives and the role of managers. In fact, we are moving towards a more human and more inclusive leadership, and we see a lot more publication and research around that. The mistake that is commonly made and that was made in the last few years is we believe that diversity and inclusion is the affair of HR or the executive and leaders, and mostly HR in fact. But today we’re moving towards understanding that it’s everybody’s responsibility. It’s no longer just HR’s responsibility. At the CEO level, there was a movement called the CEO Act!on and several CEOs signed a manifesto for inclusion. We definitely need their sponsorship and continuous support across 12 day employees life cycle.
We’ve seen some really interesting change in titles at the HR level. We’ve seen more and more chief diversity and belonging officers, for example. And that’s really good that we include the belonging aspect in those roles. Some of them, for example eBay and LinkedIn, are doing some really great work in the domain of inclusion. We look at the traits that they need to foster emphasis. So we’re looking at the traits that we want them to drop or do less of and they are traits around, more human traits. Traits that are very much valued, such as visible commitment. Humility, for example, which is strange. Leaders are known to be strong. We want them to be very strong and have strong decision-making skills, but today we’re looking at humility.
We looking at having them be more aware of bias and showing genuine curiosity about others, which means keeping an open mind and also including their teams and also management and development teams into their decision making. So there’s a lot of changes that I’m seeing at the leadership sponsorship level and that’s really good. I think they’re taking a stand. Actually, they’ve started to becoming more pragmatic and they’re starting understanding that it’s really not just an executive responsibility and they’re starting developing pragmatic programs that we can apply across an organization. That’s very positive.
Absolutely. Because you can’t mandate this. You can’t from the top say, “Thou shall be inclusive.” It is something that has to be much more pragmatic.
You’ve been doing some very cool things with building some playbooks. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been focusing on?
It’s not directly part of the work I’m doing at T-Mobile. I’ve been more focusing on change management as we are getting ready to onboard and integrate a large number of new employees. But I’m very mindful of the importance of being inclusive and collaborative when we onboard the people. Yeah, I’ve been looking at … I see two really important opportunities and we can see those trends as well in the community.
The first opportunity is at the managers level. I think that managers are being asked a lot, so it’s not an easy role because we often develop strategic plans and specific plans, transformation plans for the executives and for the development teams, which are really important roles, obviously. But we tend to neglect, we tend to not think enough about the role of the managers and how that role is shifting, is transitioning towards a more people and human type of a leadership.
So I’m looking at a lot of practices, very simple practices, and most of them inspired from Agile facilitation techniques, in fact. That managers can very easily deploy when they lead their team, during team meetings and also facilitation and leadership skills that they can teach their teams in order to develop leaders. Some of them, for example, I think what’s important for them is to show that inclusion and collaboration is a priority. To do that they definitely need to model the behaviors at all time.
To do that, again, they need to understand what it is. They need to be aware of what unconscious bias is, what microaggression is. I think nobody comes to work with the intent of being mean, but we’re not always aware because we function in a specific manner we’ve been used to leading, managing, people and teams in specific manners. So educating our managers and helping them understand what’s unconscious bias, what is the psychology behind fees, what are the key basic needs that people, teams, and individuals need in order to be safe at work. All of those things are really important and we need to equip our managers with that understanding.
Then there’s more pragmatic practices. For example, delegating the facilitation of the meeting, for example. I’ve been doing that for the last few years. When I have team meetings, I don’t necessarily facilitate those team meetings. I actually like to delegate that facilitation to everybody on the team. So not just the strong communicators, but also to people who may be more introvert. So neuro-diversity is also something that’s really important, it’s becoming more important. It’s important to understand what it is and it’s important to place to people who are maybe less outspoken and have them feel that they also belong to the team.
It is a skill. I mean, I think sometimes that we assume that some of these human skills, whether it’s overcoming unconscious bias, whether it’s understanding how to be a new manager in a new paradigm, how to manage a team so that the team is naturally inclusive and diverse. Those are learned skills, and so when we talk a lot about upskilling, upskilling managers is an area that I think … We talk a lot about executives, we talk a lot about practitioners, particularly on the technical side, we don’t talk a lot about upskilling managers. It sounds like this is very much an intentional effort, your playbook is really an intentional effort to help the managers upskill in this regard.
Yes. Yes, absolutely. Yeah. I think that the teams need their managers. They absolutely need to have a good relationship with their managers. They look up to their managers, so it’s really important to invest in managers as their role is shifting, as their role is transitioning to becoming more human and it’s shifting towards becoming more leaders than managers, so that’s really important. I think the technology, the technical aspects are also extremely important. They are not less important, but it’s really important to start upskilling our managers and really helping them understand the psychological and the aspects of team collaboration. Absolutely. So I think you are doing a lot of great work in that area as well at the DevOps Institute.
We’re trying. Our mission is to advance the humans of DevOps. Whether you’re the CEO, the CIO, a manager or a practitioner, at least for today, we’re all still human. And so, we want to make sure that we’re addressing the needs. All of the humans at DevOps, globally and organizationally, so that everyone is there. That leads me to my next question, Shaaron, is that, well, we certainly want the managers to be able to have a playbook that helps them be more inclusive, to lead in a different way, to manage diverse teams, to encourage that behavior. They can’t do it alone. They need the support of their team. Their team also needs some guidance in terms of how to overcome unconscious bias, how to really take some intentional steps. You’ve also been working on a second playbook, right?
Yes. I’m also working because, you’re right, it’s connected. There’s a lot of connection between, we can’t silo the collaboration between the teams and the manager. The manager is really part of the team, but I’ve been also working on identifying practices and also very much inspired from all the Agile facilitation techniques that I actually used in the past to help teams be more aware of their behavior and more inclusive and help them understand the power of collaboration, have them understand why it’s really important to allow everybody on the team to voice their opinion.
A similar technique, in fact, retrospective, I’ve always made sure that these activities are highly inclusive of everybody’s opinion. When we identify experiments at the end of a retrospective in order to implement an improvement, I really make sure that we have the consensus of the entire team, everybody had an opportunity to share their ideas. I generally not contribute, I only facilitate this activity. So there’s a lot of activities and known activities and very easy to implement that teams and managers can leverage to make their collaboration a lot more inclusive and to develop greater products actually.
Just the facilitation of their ceremonies or of meetings of backlog refinements, it can be a lot more inclusive of everybody’s opinion. I think it’s super important to include the development team as well when we do backlog refinement. And when we talk about DevOps, for example, I always ensure that our developers, not every organizations have full-stacked teams, so I make sure that testers have an opportunity to understand the development side of the product. The developers include testers and then they all communicate effectively with operation when teams are still structured that way. So there’s a lot of opportunities in the DevOps areas. Absolutely.
Just to wrap up, one of the things, DevOps just crossed 10 years, which is remarkable. Truthfully, even though we say it’s 10 years, it’s probably the last three or four years that it’s crossed over into the enterprise space. Where there’s a lot more intentional effort from merged enterprises to change the way they build, deliver and operate software. We’ve also seen over the course of that time that one of the reasons that organizations fail at DevOps is because they ignore the cultural or the human aspect of this and focus too much on the technology. Now you just said it really well, we’re not saying technology is not important.
Absolutely, a large part of DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering is based in automation. We need to, in some ways, stop talking about the word culture because it sounds like in surgical, like you could surgically remove the old culture and then mandate a surgical new culture. That’s not the way it works. It’s people, it’s the humans that are going to be able to do that. So just to wrap up, Shaaron, if you had just one piece of advice, if I could do one thing tomorrow that might make me as a human act a little bit differently and be a little bit more inclusive, what do you think that advice would be?
Yeah. That’s a really great idea. For me and from my personal lessons learned and also from the huge benefits I’ve seen on teams I work with, is be open. Be open and be curious about what people have to say around you. Listen and be curious about what someone on your team or your managers, your leadership has to say and believe that everybody has something valuable to say. That’s my motto, in fact. Everybody brings value to the table and everybody is an integral of the team. So be open and listen and see the value that we are all bringing to the table.
I love the, be curious. Be open, yes. Be respectful, yes, but be curious. Because if you’re curious, you’ll ask. You’ll ask that person’s opinion and you’ll ask for their expertise. That’s really brilliant. I love that. Well, thank you. Thank you for spending some time. Thank you for the work that you’re doing because I think it’s really important work and it emphasizes the fact that, well, we know that the world is accelerating its use of technology. It really is going to be humans, all kinds of humans. All kinds of humans and diversity addresses all kinds of diversity, but it’s going to be the humans that are going to actually drive the transformation to success. So I applaud you for the work you’re doing. I’m looking forward to engaging with you more and following your work so that we can bring it to our humans at DevOps.
Thank you very much, Jayne. It was great being here. Yeah, I love what the DevOps Institute is doing. Thank you very much for having me today.
Great. Thank you. For those of you listening, that was Shaaron Alvares, who’s been doing a lot of work with T-Mobile and their transformation, but has also been introducing concepts of manager and team inclusiveness playbooks. We’re going to follow the work of Shaaron as we move forward to make sure that, as she builds them, hopefully, she’ll come back and join us again. This is Jayne Groll, CEO of the DevOps Institute. You’ve been listening to another episode of Humans of DevOps. If you have not yet downloaded your copy of the Upskilling Enterprise DevOps Skills Report, I would encourage you to go to www.devopsinstitute.com and get your coffee today. Wishing you all a safe, healthy, and inclusive rest of your week. Thank you.
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