Our Walls are Thicker

 Posted by on Sep 25, 2011  Add comments
Sep 252011

A couple of years ago I found myself immersed in a devops dialog with an executive of a fully integrated service provider. I forgot how many hundreds, if not thousands, of developers reported to her. While all might not have been well with the way software was produced in her organization, the bigger problem she was wrestling with was time-to-value. The software might be done, or even ‘done done’ as Agilists would often say, but its deployment unto the data centers owned and operated by the very same service provider was agonizingly slow. In particular, time to deployment of anything that touched legacy code was “infinite.”

Figure 1: Wall of Confusion Slide By Patrick Debois and Andrew Shafer

As the dialog took place a short time after colleagues Patrick DeBois and Andrew Shafer delivered their landmark presentation on the subject in Agile 2009, I borrowed their Wall of Confusion slides (Figure 1) to bolster my conviction that the walls between her company’s development organization and the data centers they operated could and should be breached. As I happened to know and think highly of her boss, who “owned” both development and IT, I expressed the opinion that it will be much easier for her and him to do so than it would be for the average CIO in a company for which software is means to an end, not the business in which the company is engaged. To my great surprise she gave me a wry grin and uttered the following four words:

Our walls are thicker.

Indeed, not only were their walls thicker, they actually seemed to have razor wire on top and armed guards with vicious dogs patrolling each side of the metaphorical wall. As the dialog did not seem to be promising much from a business perspective, I dropped it and completely forgot about it until the CIO of a client company has recently told me:

This is huge.  After ~7 years of building up silos, essentially training our staff to pass things along to the next group and only allowing for new product development w/o looking back on either infrastructure or overall health, has definitely created a suboptimal culture.

Whether you metaphorically perceive it as walls, silos or a cultural form of passing the buck,  the question, ultimately, is that of generating value for the end customer through horizontal services. A certain set of tasks needs to come together from a user perspective  irrespective of your internal organizational structure. Moreover, the tasks that need to come together typically involve various partners, and these days, prosumers. Thick walls, no matter how strongly they reinforce efficiency in one department or another, are not too helpful when it comes to overall effectiveness, let alone exceptional effectiveness of the form “You [the customer] Above All” practiced so successfully as a business strategy by JetBlue.

Walls, as history teaches us, might or might not suffice in the face of barbarians in the gates. The “barbarians” nowadays are hyper-segmented markets that form and vanish faster than ever. The fractal segment these days might be as short lived at as a Google G+ Circle. You need to be able to identify such fleeting segments, understand their needs and fulfill them ‘real time.’ You can’t do so if your staff needs to engage in an obstacle race in which the walls are thicker, taller and impenetratable.

I propose to Cutter clients to think of their walls as a degenerate form of the Berlin Wall of the cold war era. Right or wrong, it was very clear who the enemy was back then. These days I cite a very simple question to my clients with respect to their walls:

Who is your true enemy nowadays?!

Figure 2: Juggling on the Berlin Wall (source: Wikipedia)


Israel Gat

Israel Gat served as Cutter Fellow and the Director of the Agile Product Management & Software Engineering Excellence practice from 2008 until 2015.


  One Response to “Our Walls are Thicker”

  1. […] Click here for details of my Cutter blog post on the subject. Until you have the opportunity to do so, the picture below will quickly gives you the gist of it… […]

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