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Why are Clients Disinterested in Agile and DevOps?

Mirco Hering, Agile and DevOps consultant with Accenture, elaborates on Australian tech culture, and why clients find it difficult to adopt agile and DevOps practices.

· DevOps Zone

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I spoke with Mirco Hering, APAC lead of DevOps and Agile at Accenture. In preparation for his talk at the DevOps Enterprise Summit in San Francisco, we discussed his experience at Accenture, other regions of the world, and introducing DevOps to legacy systems. 

Could you give us a little background on yourself and your expertise?

At the moment I’m the agile and DevOps lead for Accenture in APAC. Eight years ago, I went through the Accenture school of project management like everyone else did, so I learned everything about MSP and Gantt charts and the like. I was on a project that just had more requirements than normal, and I had this guy on the project who had come through smaller companies and learned agile there. So we tried it his way, and ran through an education session. It was hard for me to let go of my MSP and Gantt charts, but in that project we really turned everything around based on incremental delivery. We brought stakeholders on board, and it was a very different project than what we started. A 12-week project became a 6-month project that was incredibly successful because every incremental change put in place actually solved a problem.

My whole career I've worked on development tools like IDEs. I’d been advocating forever that this is important to help people focus on the creative side of software development and not the repetitive side. When DevOps became something cool, all of a sudden what I’ve been talking about became sexy, and gave me opportunities to talk to a lot of different companies in APAC, but also in the US and Europe.

Do you manage all of Accenture's clients who are looking for that transformation?

We’re a very large organization, so I’m not in charge but I help manage those accounts. I run a large training program for DevOps and Agile. The assignments usually need a coach, who will be there for a period of time, or the clients go through a training program. One of the challenges we have is that clients are not as involved as we’d like them to be. They want to be agile, but when they learn that means being part of the team every day, they start backing off.

Why do you think clients aren’t as involved as much as they should be? Seems counterproductive to hire Accenture and not be completely invested.

Early pilots are great from what we’ve seen. People are really motivated by them and they can see there’s a better way of doing delivery. What happens is that when you scale out, you have to define everything because of how people are used to being managed. Getting into Agile is initially more difficult, because you need to understand your context more, and treat your delivery team as more than just a black box, where you enter and input, get an output, and scream that it’s not the right one. To me, that’s the power of transformation that you see. All these discussions are opening up, and no side needs to guess what another does because decisions just happen, but you need a certain type of stakeholders. Some people, particularly some project managers, just don’t have that kind of experience. It’s a bit hit-or-miss.

Is there a difference between working with APAC countries vs. the US or EU?

Australia is definitely ahead of the rest of the region in terms of adoption. If you look at the companies that are vocal about DevOps and agile a lot of them are in Australia. We’ve started seeing more interest in India, but China and Japan are not quite on the same level. There are a few interested parties but not a lot. 

I’ve had a lot of conversations in the US with media, communication, and tech companies. They seem to be leading the charge. Most of the telecom companies are looking into this, and so are a lot of the broadcasting companies. It’s the industry where IT is the most transformational and where competitors are coming up so quickly-like the Netflixes of the world. If you see what Netflix can do with their IT and compare it to the traditional delivery cycle of large broadcasters, it is very significantly different. Financial services has also exploded in the past 12-13 months. I think the Fintech companies are getting to the point where banks seriously have to think about it. That’s the bit I find very interesting: we take an IT problem, put it in an industry context, and everything fits together.

Have you noticed any cultural changes between how APAC vs EU/US are adopting agile practices? 

In Europe it’s a lot more “textbook,” asking themselves what is the “real” agile or DevOps, which is interesting but quite challenging to implement. In APAC, challenges range from “wanting the right outcome” to “we’ll be happy if whatever we do can get us called ‘agile.’” There is sometimes that balance to be found as a consultant: how much do you challenge the client vs. how you communicate clear value to the stakeholders, which leads to some bastardization of the methods. But a lot of successes do come from a pragmatic approach to getting those results.

You’re speaking at DOES 2015, called "Adopting DevOps Practices for Systems of Record." What do you mean by systems of record? Could you expand on that and give us a preview of what you’ll be discussing?

Systems of Record is a term that’s often used, I think Forrester coined it, for the systems sitting in the backend. Not the frontend UI or mobile apps, it’s the backend that does a lot of batch processing, holds customer records, financial transactions, that kind of thing. With clients that are open-minded I would use the term “legacy” but that offends some people. The nicest term is probably “enterprise applications.”

I go to a lot of these conferences, and what frustrated me is that when people talk about DevOps or Agile, they seem to be talking about it in an environment that, from a tech perspective, seemed short-sighted. They weren’t talking about the digital space or java space or what have you. I’ve always been in the legacy space, working with very large projects and clients, and no one talksa bout it. There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t work as well anymore, a lot of old, dirty stuff. I want to share that with the audience: there are things that are possible and you can get good results with enterprise applications. If you can get to hour-long deployments with legacy apps that can be huge for that industry. We have to try it out, we can’t just say “agile or DevOps can’t be done here.”

Anyone you’re looking forward to hearing at DOES 2015?

Gary Gruver, who was at HP and Macy’s dealing with firmware, which fits a bit more into my world, was great. Scott Prugh from CSG, whose talk last year—“10 principles of DevOps”—was amazing. He has a lot of practical experience and talks about what you can do once you take the evangelism out of the picture. Of course, it’s always good to hear Gene Kim, Jez Humble, or Adrian Cockcroft talk too. There’s also Em Campbell-Pretty who’s an Australian SAFE coach.

Mirco will be speaking at the DevOps Enterprise Summit in San Francisco. 

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