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Five Takeaways from DevOpsDays Seattle

Here are my five inter-related takeaways from DevOpsDays Seattle 2017.

I’m not a developer, nor am I in operations, but I love attending DevOpsDays. Many of the attendees are local, there is diversity in the speakers and attendees, and the format provides a way for everybody to contribute to a single track and many open space sessions. Last week, I attended DevOpsDays Seattle for the second year and had the honor of speaking there for the first time.

As one of the main principles of DevOps is collaboration and sharing, it was no surprise that many of the talks focused on people. Much of what was shared not only applies to business but can apply to our day-to-day interactions with others around us.

Here are my five takeaways from DevOpsDays Seattle:

1. Let go of being right and meet people where they are.

New products come to market to solve a problem. But in a rush to be first to market, companies sometimes miss the mark and don’t provide a solution to the right problem. Instead of listening to customers and providing a solution to their problem, we provide a laundry list of features that aren’t necessary for the customer. For technology to be implemented it has to solve their problem, not yours. Today a customer may not need all the bells and whistles your product has to offer, meet the customer where they are and as their needs evolve, their use of the technology will evolve.

2. Someone is more likely to listen to you if you listen to them first.

One of my favorite quotes from Greek philosopher Epictetus is, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” When information is shared in a post-mortem or a daily stand-up, are you actively or passively listening? An active listener is engaged, they focus on the details and understand what is being conveyed. Active listening requires more mental effort than passive listening. A passive listener exerts no effort, information isn’t retained and they aren’t engaged. We need to actively listen to others to effectively solve problems.

3. Ask one thing you can do to make the lives of others easier.

Everybody can use a little bit of help. From a product perspective, what are features you can build to make life easier for your customers? Can you create internal tools to help automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks? Small wins can make you look like a big hero to customers and others in your organization by asking a simple question and then solving it.

4. Learn the dialect of others around you.

Even if we’re all speaking the same language, there are often different lingo or dialects within teams and organizations. Do you throw acronyms out in conversations assuming everybody knows what you’re talking about? Stop and ask questions if you don’t understand the acronyms or phrases being used. One company I previously worked for actually provided a glossary of acronyms and phrases to new employees, this was a tremendous asset and helped to reduce miscommunication. It is better to learn the language to save wasted time down the road during a critical time.

5. It’s not a people problem, it’s the systems and processes.

It’s easy to blame people, especially other people for problems, but often the problem isn’t with the people. You can replace the people and if the underlying processes and culture are what is broken, the same problems will continue to exist. A prime example of this is the NUMMI auto manufacturing plant, where a factory was transformed from dysfunctional into a model plant with the same workers. What changed-was the employees were empowered to successfully do their job, If a problem occurred they could stop the line, ask for help, and receive the help they needed. When processes and systems exist that make it difficult for employees to succeed, changing the people will not change the results. Look at the systems and processes in place and identify where improvements can be made.

These five takeaways are inter-related. To fix the processes and systems in place you need to ask what can be done to make their life easier, listen to and understand the answer, and focus on solving that problem. There may be a larger problem, but tackling issues in smaller chunks can provide quick wins and progress towards a greater goal.

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