Operations is Dead

"At a macro level, operational excellence is not a role, it’s an emergent property. It is how you get shit done." - Charity Majors
Operations is Dead
Published at: 2021-04-07, Last updated: 2021-04-07
4 min read

Long live operations.

Everyone wants to be in developer relations. Operations relations doesn't exist. Operations as a role is dead. Everyone is in operations now.

"At a macro level, operational excellence is not a role, it’s an emergent property. It is how you get shit done."  -  Charity Majors, WTF is Operations,

Ye Olde World (aka pre-2010) operational models for IT were closer to late 1800's industrial revolution factory operation models. Strict processes, defined roles with clear boundaries. Each station in the line doing their bit to create the finished product.

Business Analyst defines a spec, developer builds to that spec, hands off to an application support team to deploy, who work with segregated infrastructure teams to configure and deploy network, firewalls, servers, storage and operating systems. All controlled through strict process theater, guided by an over arching thing called an "Enterprise Architecture Framework".

You truly do not know hell if you have never been involved in an enterprise technical design process. The result is often a 100+ page architecture design document in Word that has taken over a year to create. It's hallmark characteristics are a manually edited table masquerading as version control in front pages; and 10+ pages of assumptions made in the process of designing this "architecture", the primary function of which is to cover the asses of the authors of the document. Devoid of user needs, but full of role justification.

These old models, defined with acronyms like ITIL, TOGAF, PMP, and Prince2, segregated the delivery of technology into bite size pieces of work disconnected from the overall goals of the greater business. There is no greater indictment of the failure of this model than the perceived no.1 goal of an enterprise CIO to deliver "alignment between the business and IT". In this world IT is actually a separate thing to the business, with it's own rules and targets, devoid of business outcomes.

Operations in this world of strict processes, and segregated delivery, are the people tasked with keeping everything going. The other folks, the ones with responsibility for talking to users, understanding their needs, and building applications and services that meet those needs, are not operations in this world. The folks at the end of the value chain are defined as "operations". Too often disconnected from the outcome they help deliver, having to justify the amorphous cost of this thing called "IT' which is forever trying to align itself.

Operations are the first to carry the can in times of failure. Under investment in security leading to a breach? It's poor operational practices blamed, not the systematic organisation failure.

New application delivered needing 5 nines uptime, but with a budget to deliver 2 nines? It's operations fault when it fails.

CIO wants to speak on a vendor keynote stage, drives a "transformation" program that goes over budget and doesn't solve any business problems? It's operations fault for pushing back and not transforming.

Established enterprise losing to a smaller, nimbler, more agile, tech enabled competitor. It's operations fault for not being more flexible, more agile. Not the metaphorical expectation of an elephant being as nimble as a cheetah

The old model incentivises each station in the production line to pass it's task onto the next station. Operations is the last station in the production line of delivering "IT". They have no-one to pass it onto. Operations in this world is setup to be the proverbial "department of No". They are the last opportunity to say no, when everyone before them is incentivised to say yes.

To remove the department of No, you need to destroy the old model. Responsibility for success and failure needs to be shared. Movements like Agile (or agile, depending on whether you like your A's big or small), DevOps, and Project to Product, help with this, and should be seen as part of bigger programs to move delivery of "IT" into the business, not as another thing that needs to "align".

The operations team needs to die, everyone needs to be in operations. Everyone needs to be "getting shit done" to paraphrase Charity. With this death of the operations team, I now wait Charity's follow up to her 2016 blog, "WTF is Development".

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About the authors

Ant Stanley - Ant is a community organiser and co-founder of Interrupt and Homeschool by Senzo. He founded the Serverless User Group in London and is part of the global ServerlessDays leadership team.