The Soul of Innovation

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In this post, Sr. App Dev Manager Stephen Abdo discusses the soul of innovation in DevOps – people and culture.


Our Microsoft Developer Support team works with dev teams across the globe. As Application Development Managers (ADMs) and Consultants, our job is to help Microsoft’s customers and partners achieve their technology and business objectives using Microsoft’s technologies. To that end, DevOps has lately generated a lot of excitement and buzz for its potential to balance innovation and speed to market with business continuity and system resiliency. Innovation enables organizations to deliver competitive solutions. Speed to market enables organizations to deliver more features faster to their markets while still improving the system’s stability at the same time.

DevOps concerns itself in three areas: people, process and tools. I will focus on people in this post. I notice that most discussions regarding “people” in DevOps are about the top-down culture. Culture is clearly essential to DevOps. Supported by leadership, a successful DevOps culture requires a continuous-learning and a growth mindset ethos. Most organizations are aware that DevOps initiatives fail due to the limitations of some management approaches to enabling a DevOps culture. What tends to get lost in these conversations, however, is the personal responsibility and influence of each and every individual team member.

The question is this. Why do two development teams with access to the same tools, using the same processes and in the same organization (i.e., with the same culture) innovate with varying degrees of success, deliver with varying quality and have different speed to market? My assertion is that individual team members tend to underestimate their influence on their own organization. Someone once told me, “You are more influential than you realize.” You, as a team member, can choose to acquiesce to the malaise and your perceived ills of your culture. Or you can choose to be an agent of innovation, creativity, and excellence for your team, your organization, your company, and your customers. Do you not feel like it? Here are a few suggestions from my observations of teams across cultures, industries, and geographies:

Understand your organization’s mission, values, and goals.

It is always unsettling to me when I know more about an organization’s objectives, goals, and aspirations than some of its team members. No one should know more about your organization than you. While technical competence is necessary, it is not sufficient for innovation. Find your purpose at what you are doing by connecting it to your organization’s mission. You will be inspired to find solutions for the constituency that your organization serves. Whether you work for a bank or a non-profit, in the private or the public sector, your organization is doing something that is improving people’s lives or it would not exist. Our (Microsoft) mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. I get inspired to do more and learn more every time I reflect on that.

Develop a love for learning and for community.

Our team has written other blog posts regarding the need for having a continuous-learning mindset. Nevertheless, this is something worth repeating. The pace at which technology is changing is increasing. Your willingness and ability to learn affects your ability to be a competent technologist, to communicate effectively, to think critically, and to influence others. One of the most effective ways to learn is by learning in the context of a community. Teach others and learn from others but bring your energy and enthusiasm. Present at the next lunch-and-learn for your team. If you don’t have a lunch-and-learn, start one. More importantly, don’t wait for your supervisor to tell you what you need to learn. Take ownership and initiative in your learning roadmap.

Learn to embrace ambiguity.

As application developers, we get a lot of satisfaction by seeing the successful compilation messages and the green checkmark next to every unit test after hitting that Build/Compile button. Our world is unambiguous. The application compiles or it doesn’t. There is a finality to that. Have you ever wished there was a Build/Compile button for everything else in your life? When it comes to innovation, however, the greater the level of innovation needed, the greater the uncertainty of the scope is. It is a mistake to go into that uncertainty blindly, but it is also a mistake to never even start. Learn to embrace and handle ambiguity. Help your team build trust. Help your team learn how to handle conflict. Not only will you improve your team’s ability to innovate but you will become a better person for it.

What’s the soul of innovation? It is energy. It is knowledge. It is having a purpose. It is a DevOps culture. A better question, however, is “who is the soul of innovation?” You could be the soul of innovation for your team, your organization and even your market.

Do you still have questions about DevOps? Let us know how we can help.

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