What is the purpose of your organization? A lesson in DevOps

I’ve been speaking a lot on the topic of DevOps lately, and there’s a question I like to ask.

What is the purpose of your organization?

I get all kinds of answers.

“We make software that delights our customers and makes their jobs easier.”

“Our company makes low-cost widgets. “

“We make the best gizmos around.”

My answer to these is always a single word: WRONG!

So, what, you may ask, is the correct answer?

The purpose of any organization is to make money.

I realize that may sound a bit mercenary but think about it. Why do you get up and go to work every day? To get that paycheck at the end of the week. You may love your job, but I suspect if you quit getting paid, you’d soon be spending your days at a place that was friendlier to your wallet.

The purpose of your job is to make money. What you do for a job is how you make money. Likewise, the answers I received all indicated how organizations make money. Making money is the goal, not making software, or widgets, or even gizmos.

At this point, I’m sure someone is ready to bring up the subject of non-profit organizations. Think about it, when was the last time you heard of a non-profit that wasn’t trying to raise money? They don’t need to make a profit, but they do need to make money.

Now that we’ve established the true goal of your organization is, in fact, to make money, the next question would logically be:

How do I know if my organization is making money?

This question is a bit more difficult to answer, as most organizations have their own measurements. Some of these will generally include some combination of these items:

  • Revenue
  • Market share
  • Profitability
  • Accounts receivable
  • Time to market
  • Customer retention
  • Inventory

Each metric can be a bit deceptive, as they are often made up of a collection of other measurements. As a first step, find out the overall goals of your organization. It’s amazing how few people outside the executive management structure know or understand these goals.

After learning the overall goals, learn the measurements that go into making each goal. What data is needed in order to measure against the list of organizational goals?

With this list in hand, you are ready to ask yourself the next question.

Does what I am doing contribute toward achieving these goals?

If not, then stop! You don’t have time to waste on work that doesn’t contribute to the success of your organization. In fact, by working on non-goal activities, you are actually hurting your company.

Knowing how your activities affect organizational goals can be critically important in the DevOps decision making process. In organizations that have embraced the DevOps culture, small teams look at a list of requests and decide which requests will make it into the next sprint/release cycle.

But how do they determine which items need to be included? All too often it is because someone is screaming loudly for their feature, because it has been on the list for quite some time, or because it “sounds like fun to do.”

With the list of company goals in hand, teams have a way to measure the importance of each request. The team should be asking which goal (or goals) will this request positively contribute to. Typically, the work with the most impact gets first priority.

This way of making decisions has other benefits. First, it gives us a way to measure effectiveness. After each feature has been released, the measurements it was supposed to have aided should be looked at to see if the feature did indeed have a positive outcome. This guides the team in future decision-making processes.

It can also be used as a way of fending off the people who walk in demanding their feature gets worked on next because “it’s important.” Having your goal list allows you to challenge them. Make them justify against the list of measurements how their feature will contribute to the company success. Who knows, maybe it will! But you won’t know unless you ask.

Bear in mind some requests may be measured in terms of negative impact. For example, if a company’s customer order entry system goes down, the company loses X number of thousands of dollars per hour. Knowing this figure, “X,” can help justify the cost of a secondary server, or allocating time to work on keeping your servers patched and up to date.

While it seems obvious, being reminded that “making money” is the purpose of your organization can be a great tool for focus. Knowing the measurements used to determine if we’re meeting our goal, we can make our daily decisions based on measurable outcomes and have the satisfaction of knowing we did indeed make a positive impact on our organization.

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