Michael Lanyon's Blog Notes and thoughts from LanyonM

Innovation in a Creative Company - DevOpsDays NYC 2015


I had the privilege of giving an Ignite at DevOpsDays New York 2015 this past week. The theme of the event was inclusivity, complexity, and empathy, which really made for a great event.

My talk was about some of the successes and failures I’ve experienced when trying to bring DevOps values to my organization and explain how empathy, inclusion, and communication are integral to the successes. I discussed a handful of ideas, including surprise reduction, curiosity, and sharing, and briefly touched upon how diversity in teams enables stronger ideas and better innovation. The journey of cultural change will be different from one organization to the next, but I hope to ignite more conversation on this topic by talking about the changes we’ve attempted.

Ultimately, by working to understand other disciplines and finding empathetic, inclusive ways to bridge the gaps between “us and them,” technology can work more collaboratively with other disciplines, and we can create better, more innovative products as a result.

Here’s a transcript of the talk:

  1. Hi, my name is Mike Lanyon, and I work at an ad agency called Critical Mass. We are a digital experience design agency with a relentless focus on the customer. We’re comprised of four primary disciplines: Strategy, Design, Technology and Marketing Science, and we work together to design experiences for large brands.
  2. We are not a technology company, but as a digital agency, technology is essential to what we deliver. I like to say that software is the delivery mechanism for brand experiences. And our challenge is to have our disciplines work together in a way that delivers the most innovative yet intuitive experiences.
  3. Creating a culture where the disciplines work together to innovate is difficult. Creating a Kata that we practice across the disciplines has been exceedingly difficult. I’m going to talk about some of the qualities that I think help lead us in the right direction.
  4. If you’ve been part of the DevOps community for a while you’ll be familiar with lessons of Deming, Goldratt, and Shewhart. While I have found their teachings of statistical process control, system of profound knowledge and theory of constraints valuable, they alone are insufficient to unlocking innovation in our organization.
  5. When we look at what drives and delivers value in our organization, we find communication, empathy and inclusivity. You may be thinking, “yeah, duh.” but I assure you that if it was as simple our theme at DevOpsDays New York wouldn’t be what it is.
  6. One of the ways I look at communication is surprise reduction. People like to know what’s going on and what to expect. Secrecy is toxic. We’ve all experienced this, whether it’s not knowing enough context for an assignment or simply not knowing that a project is underway.
  7. It seems intuitive to keep others in the loop, but surprise reduction is more than that. It’s about understanding what you already know that others may not, and anticipating their needs. This takes a level of effort that goes beyond common sense, but it’s well worth the energy.
  8. When everyone is on the same page - it’s more likely that you’ll get diverse creative contribution from all disciplines. Innovation sprouts from this proactive communication.
  9. I have found that curiosity is another key quality for nurturing innovation. When you’re curious you want to know how things work, you want to know what motivates people. I believe it to be an innate quality of intrinsically motivated people.
  10. Curiosity has driven designers to learn how to use the web inspector. It’s driven information architects to understand how javascript and css power animations, and it drove me to learn about operations. These pieces on the screen where created by my cousin, Sarah Walker who happens to live and work in Brooklyn. These pieces were inspired by how technology has interwoven itself into our lives.
  11. If there is one thing you take away from this talk, reflect on your curiosity and act on that interest. If you know someone with that talent or knowledge, ask them about it. Start a conversation.
  12. Now put yourself on the other side of that interaction. When you’re in the position to answer questions or teach, please, please, please take the time to do so. Continuing the conversation will start a relationship that lasts longer than the dialog.
  13. Early in my career, I didn’t value sharing. I wasn’t confident enough to share work-in-progress and documentation wasn’t valued until after it was needed. As I matured I came to understand how sharing enables the organization to gain knowledge as a whole.
  14. I came to understand much more holistically that the creative process depends on sharing. I still struggle with how to keep the sharing feedback loop going within the creative process, but the Chicago voting mantra applies: do it early and often.
  15. Communication, curiosity, and sharing ladder into a what I believe to be a higher order humanistic quality: empathy. Empathy is understanding and sharing in the feelings of another. And empathy is requisite to innovation. Good design is rooted in Empathy.
  16. Imagine trying to design a product without understanding the motivation of the consumer - ok, that’s kinda unheard of, but consider the value of understanding and sharing in emotional needs of both your consumers and your team members.
  17. At Critical Mass we not only consider how our software will be received by operators for example, but also think empathetically across discipline lines. Contextualizing a decision with an anecdote while not hiding the details helps the other disciplines relate to what we do in technology.
  18. Inclusivity is not to be discounted. It too is requisite to innovation. Ensuring your culture is aware of exclusive behavior and discourages it will allow a more diverse set of contributors, which will ultimately lead to greater perspective and thereby innovation.
  19. The creative process, supporting structures, and empathetic culture will never be available as a service or written as code. But we can most certainly apply the values that we hold dear in the DevOps community to this challenge and succeed.
  20. Thank you.