Julie Gunderson: Welcome to Page It To The Limit, a podcast where we explore what it takes to run software and production successfully. We will cover leading practices used in the software industry to improve both system reliability and the lives of the people supporting those systems. I’m your host, Julie Gunderson, @Julie_Gund on Twitter. Thank you for joining us all today. I’m very excited to have Matt Stratton back on the show today. He is @mattstratton on Twitter, and Matt is currently a transformation specialist in the NAPS Transformation Office at Red Hat and Matty for all of us, can you tell us what NAPS stands for?
Matty Stratton: Absolutely. So it really stands for North American Public Sector, but I really like to think about being someone who focuses on transforming naps as in I help people sleep better in the middle of the day because naps are important. And if you’re going to be a thought leader, why not be a thought leader about blankets and stuffed animals and cuddling up and having a friendly nap, but really it means so my main focus is I help government agencies, especially state and local and education agencies in North America, as they’re trying to transform how they work and basically do all this DevOps stuff that we keep talking about, and how do they kind of serve their mission better with technology.
Julie Gunderson: Thanks. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about today too, is that transformation, the digital transformation and for anybody who follows Matt on Twitter, he recently posted a great wrong answers only on digital transformation, but Matty, can you start talking to us maybe about the right answers of what is this digital transformation everybody talks about?
Matty Stratton: The reality is there is no right answer and that’s kind of the joke. So digital transformation is what you want it to be, right? And whatever will serve your purposes and your needs for changing your work. And because it can mean a lot of different things in a lot of different places. So transformation overall is very important and I’m not making light of that, but this idea of transforming in a digital way, what does that really mean? To some people that means we’re moving into kind of a more cloud native approach. Some people that just means we’re actually paying attention to tech and technology is moving from being a cost center to being part of the business. And some of it just means we needed another C-suite person so we could have a chief digital officer so we can put somebody else as an executive. So that’s why we had digital transformation. Some people think it means working remotely and COVID drove us to digital transformation. To kind of paraphrase Andrew [inaudible 00:02:48], you get the digital transformation that you deserve and you get the digital transformation that you ask for. So the reality though is you don’t have adoption of technology without transforming how you work. And that’s the kind of transformation that I like to think about. Why I like to think about transformation over modernization. So modernization is important. That’s moving to newer technologies, but that’s just part of that socio-technical system. It’s also the people part and the tech part, and those things have to evolve together.
Julie Gunderson: So when you’re working with these government agencies, what’s one of the things that you oftentimes hear when they’re talking about things they struggle with transformation?
Matty Stratton: Well, the interesting thing is right now, we hear a couple of different things. So, one thing I want to point out is a lot of times, so in the private sector, what do we hear all the time? We hear, “We’re not Netflix.” So in the public sector, we hear, “Well, we’re not commercial. We don’t have these problems.” So if I’m a government agency, I’m health and human services or something like that. And I hear these stories about why I have to adopt this new way of working, because otherwise Amazon is going to come and eat my lunch, or Uber is going to disrupt me or Netflix is going to come and mess up my entire business model. And if I’m in charge of providing health and human services inside a local government, I’m like, “Well, no, that’s not me. I’m not disrupted by startups.” Or as Corey Quinn would say, “Twitter for pets,” right? But you know what you are disrupted by? This little thing called COVID. We actually just saw this. You need to have adaptive capacity, not just about threats to your business model or your outcomes or your mission that come from competitors, but come from the landscape changing for your constituents and your users. So then what that plays into though is the challenge that a lot of these agencies are having now is they’re saying, “Well, we’re so behind because we have to adapt because of COVID, we don’t have time to talk about transformation now.” And the reality is, this is exactly why you need to work on it in parallel with this adapting that you need to do, because you have this brittleness that caused you to not have adaptive capacity and you need to have it so that you can respond. It’s a little bit of a virtuous cycle you need to kind of get into, you need to get out of that cycle. So these things go together. And the other thing that people have to remember is this is not a thing you do for your entire organization all at once. I’m fond of saying, if a large organization came to me and said, “Matty, I want to transform this giant healthcare company,” or, “I want to transform this large agency all at once, let’s do it.” I would say, “Absolutely not,” right? We need to do this in an iterative way. We build upon success. So we think of transformation as this giant thing that we can’t take on right now, because we’re dealing with putting out fires and responding to things like COVID, but that’s why we need it even more right now.
Julie Gunderson: So when you talk about that, and when you talk about adopting to new ways of working, can you walk us through some of just the piece of advices that you give on what are those ways of working? What are the top maybe two or three things that you can do right off the bat?
Matty Stratton: So a few things that you want to think about when you’re talking about this transformation, and it’s more than just, we think a lot about at the squad level about agile software development and working in sprints. And those are all things we’re kind of used to, but if we want it to scale to a larger organization, we need to bring that conversation higher than just software development. That’s one of those, and we talk about having five elements of transformation and those five elements are leadership, product, development, architecture and then operations. So development’s part of it, but usually a lot of times in IT when we’re thinking about transforming, we’re really hyper focused on just that one element of development. We’re thinking about agile. We’re thinking about how we do our software engineering and each of these elements is really key across all of them together, where they build upon each other. And especially when you think about leadership, leadership is helping enable those other elements and the thing that I want to bear in mind is those elements that I talked about they sound like job titles, but they’re not, right? They’re elements of your organization. And that’s the level we have to start thinking about. And we have to bring those things in. So a couple of things to think about, I mean, where do you start? I mean, start at the beginning, but a couple of key things about when you’re talking about transforming to think about across the different elements. Thinking from a leadership perspective is when you think about driving an organization to be more open, to drive more decisions down to what we would call the sharp end versus the blunt end, towards the people that are doing the work. Leaders are enablers and they help set direction. They’re not necessarily the ones who have to make all the decisions and creating this balanced system of increased strategic optionality, right? And then when we think about product, we talked about this a lot and in some organizations this is natural because you’re a product-based company, but to think more product-based versus project-based, right? So products, we think about having a culture around measurement so that we’re continually having feedback loops. Projects end, products don’t. I mean, they do eventually when you retire them, but we’re continually iterating. So moving towards a product centric mentality is really, really key. And it’s something again when you think about in a company like PagerDuty, right? That’s how are y’all work because you have a product, but then if you think about inside a healthcare company or something like that, these are organizations that are not used to thinking about the things they deliver as products. They are functions that are treated like projects, and that’s a big change. A lot of the stuff around the development element, we’re pretty used to thinking about high quality execution by aligning common tactics and practices. Whether we’re thinking about things like agile methodologies or building software factories, this is all just having a really common way of executing at high quality. And one of the ones when we think about architecture, this is really tricky. And architects need to be consultative partners versus kind of sitting in ivory tower dictating. And again, if we think about the difference between the blunt end and the sharp end of work, architects are used to sitting at the blunt end, right, where they’re not really connected to where we would say you chop wood and carry water and are actually implementing things. So they’re making these sweeping decisions without really seeing how that works. So when you think about embedding architecture into all of your delivery. And then finally the element that’s near and dear to my heart is operations. That’s where I come from. And this is really thinking about operational excellence. You’re trying to establish a foundation of resilience instead of just having merely reliable components. So operations really focusing on how you express and enhance the resiliency of the overall socio-technical system beyond what is just being robust, right? Which is high availability or something of that nature. When we think about robustness, that’s our ability to withstand and absorb a well modeled disturbance, right? The known knowns. So when you think about that, but resiliency is having that adaptive capacity so that we can rebound and we can flex, and we can gracefully extend to the things that we don’t predict, that we don’t expect to happen. So that’s a larger scale thing. I mean, granted, I realize you kind of asked the question like, “What’s the thing I should go do tomorrow?” And I kind of was more thinking about how to think, but the first thing is think about what that transformation actually means and think about it as a journey rather than a project is really important.
Julie Gunderson: Yeah, and I like that too because focusing on it as a product, regardless of what it is, puts that focus on the end user and on that customer, and what does their interaction look like? I know that you were telling me a story recently about what happened with Texas Workforce Commission and the COVID explosion.
Matty Stratton: Oh, absolutely. So this is again pointing out the necessity to be able to have resilience. So this really points out the necessity to have this resilience and have adaptive capacity to things that could disrupt you. So when we think about COVID, so the Texas Workforce Commission, their number of weekly claims went from a run rate of 6,000 to over 313,000, right? So that’s a massive jump. If we think back to the Great Recession, they paid out seven and a half billion dollars worth of claims over that entire recession. Due to COVID, they paid out $16 billion of claims just from March to June. This is massive. So and we’ll put a link in the show notes to all the stats you can look at. And this is not just about Texas. This is all of these health and human services are having to respond in this way. And these are systems that weren’t built to manage this flow of information. And this glut of users and this strain. We never built for that. So we have to, well, again, we’ve never been worried about being disrupted by Netflix if you’re in an employment system, but these things can happen and it won’t be COVID next time. It’ll be something else. It’s something you don’t see coming. We can’t predict it. That’s why we need to have adaptive capacity so that we can flex and rebound.
Julie Gunderson: Well, and let’s talk about that a little, because one of the things that has been coming up more and more is those hyper-care scenarios, right? It’s your Super Bowls or your Black Fridays, your Cyber Mondays, and how you just don’t make any changes during that time and you focus on keeping your systems running. Yet, COVID hasn’t ended. We’re dealing with a lot of the same struggles here in Idaho with our unemployment system and people not getting paid. And so what they’ve done is they’ve just brought a whole bunch more people on to answer the phones, which isn’t actually helping with the system. So this is in a way a hyper-care scenario that also needs to be fixed, especially if this lasts longer. So what would your advice be there when you really need to make changes now?
Matty Stratton: I mean, that’s the thing is don’t be afraid to make the changes that you have to make, because that’s where we want to go is we want to go into protect mode and say, “This is not the time to re-architect. This is not the time to change our methods because all we have to do is change this button or we have to scale up more. We have to do more,” but it will pay off those dividends because you’re right, Julie, this doesn’t end, right? This is not the Super Bowl. This is not like we just have to get through three hours and we know when it’s over. And the worst thing that happens is we lose a bunch of money, right? I mean, that is a terrible thing, but it’s nothing compared to what we’re dealing with. So this is also happening very similar, a lot of these systems are built on antiquated technology like COBOL. And the problem is we don’t have people, so they need to make these changes to the business logic of these systems, but there aren’t folks who know how to make that change because they don’t know COBOL. And the answer isn’t teach a bunch of developers COBOL. The answer is actually just use those subject matter experts that you do have to deconstruct the business logic and move that into a new application and you absolutely can do this and you can build bridges. And that’s the other thing too, is you’re refactoring does not mean rip out the entire thing. We build bridges and it’s okay to have disposable systems that just get us along, right? We’re building a shim that will get us to that next place. It’s not enough to just throw your COBOL app in a container and throw that in OpenShift, right? It’s like you want to be able to think about where you can start to move that logic. And when you think about architectural patterns like a strangler pattern, this is a great time to start to bring that in because it’s a little at a time, but you can still do it relatively quickly, but our gut tells us not to because you’re exactly right. It’s hyper-care. It is, “No, no, no. Don’t touch a thing. Just do the minimum you have to do,” but actually you have to do that work in order to enable that better rebound, that better resiliency.
Julie Gunderson: Well, absolutely, and especially as we’ve talked about this is something, A, that whether or not people foresaw some sort of large pandemic happening, I don’t think that people thought through the impacts of that longterm. Now, one of the things that you mentioned as part of your NAPS title is working with schools and education institutions. And I know there’s still a lot in flux as to what’s going to go on with school returning, a lot of schools going to the online experience. Where would you say they should be thinking maybe five years down the line?
Matty Stratton: Even trying to predict five years, at this point I think we’ve seen that this world has changed so much in the last six months that you couldn’t even recognize it. Julie, if we went back to the last time you and I saw each other, which was in February, the world was a very, very different world. We thought things were crazy because we were worried about washing our hands. We had no idea, and that was just in February. That was not that long ago. So everything, this is my problem with the whole idea of the new normal, there is no new normal. It’s so much in flux. So the first thing is move away from trying to predict, but what should you be focusing on is instead of trying to focus on this pre-work, because that’s what we’re used to wanting to do is saying like, “Okay, let me predict.” That’s the fallacy. So instead, how do you enhance the resiliency in your organization so that no matter what it is, you can rebound because that’s the thing. Even if you had a major plan, the whole world wasn’t planning for pandemic, right? And even if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten it right because there’s detail of that. So it’s getting away from having this perfect runbook of this is what happens if this thing happens. And that’s the sort of, we did the same thing after 9/11, right, where we’re like, “Okay, well a bad thing happened. So we’re going to focus on making sure that very specific bad thing doesn’t happen again,” but that very specific bad thing is unlikely to happen again anyway, it’s going to have a different shape. So instead we need to have resilience. So what you want to be thinking about, all these organizations, is how do you have plans and structure in place to enable? And this goes all the way back to when you even think about return to school and with educators. I know in so many of these districts how little, the sharp end people, the teachers are involved in the actual decisions. They’re feeling very left out, and this is a beautiful example of blunt end, sharp end, right? Where you need to enable the people who understand the strain on the system, understand the actual implementation are involved as much as possible where this can happen. So bubbling that through because that’s what’s going to let you, when you don’t know, when you have to respond to the thing you couldn’t predict, you’ll be able to get all hands on deck properly to the folks that are chopping wood and carrying water to know how they can do their best job, because they’re the ones who are the closest to the work.
Julie Gunderson: In a lot of what you’re talking to us about, Matty, it sounds like you really do need to have agility and be focusing on that. Can you tell us a little bit more about what in an ideal state that looks like, or even in a flux state?
Matty Stratton: Well, that’s a lot of what I would call lowercase agile, right, just having a, like you said, agility, the ability to respond, the ability to rebound. I’m not a big fan of militarized metaphor, but I’m going to use this one anyway. We talked about this before about a lot of the common management approach is this idea of command and control, right? And we want to have this because we want to feel like there’s this big strategy vision that permeates through everything and our leaders know all of the pieces. And the irony of that is that there’s no modern military that’s used command and control in 100 years because doesn’t make any sense. Instead, it’s this idea of maneuver warfare, right? And so you’re not going to have a four-star general that’s going to say, “Julie, take this rifle and run 100 yards and then turn left and then go five yards and then turn right and then sight this person and then throw this grenade and do this.” They’re going to say, “Go, Julie, go take that hill,” because you have the situational awareness with your boots on the ground to actually do that work. And that’s sort of this idea of the open organization and getting back to the sharp end and the chop wood, carry water. You need to have trust in your squads, who you give them something to do and they understand the mission. And that mission is not necessarily military mission, just the mission that the goal, the thing we’re trying to accomplish to service our customer, to service our user, to service our constituents and where that connects to. And they will do this if they’re empowered to do it. People want to do this work and they know it better than we do. And this is sort of the problem with a lot of these larger frameworks that we try to adopt around management where we want to be able to have this giant portfolio of understanding of everything that’s happening. And it’s just too much for anybody to consume. You just need to think about outcomes. So really the more that you’re driving the idea of outcomes through the entire organization and trusting your well-equipped squads to be able to deliver upon that contract to that outcome, that’s what’s going to give you that agility. Otherwise, all you’re doing is trying to do command and control, but you’re having standup meetings and you’re putting sticky notes on a board, right? That’s not agility. That’s not dynamicism. That’s just the same old Taylorism, but now you call it Scrum, right? That’s not helping. So think about that driving towards outcomes and having trust. You’re hiring good people who want to do good work and they actually know better than you about how to accomplish that part of the mission. And I will tell you one interesting thing I’ve seen in the public sector. So I’ve talked about before, I’ve had to reframe some of my Matty tropes with working in the public sector. So one of the things I’m fond of saying when I give talks as I’m talking to a bunch of developers or SREs or whatever, and I’ll say, “Do you know how your company makes money? If not go find out. I’ll wait.” Well, that doesn’t work as well when I’m talking to government agencies, because that’s not their thing. So I say, “Well, do you know what the mission is?” And the thing that’s interesting is in the public sector, employees tend to know that better than they do in the private sector. They do know what that health and human services or that workforce commission or the DOT or whatever it is that they’re doing. They know their mission. Now we have to help reframe that those decisions are making about Kubernetes or schedulers or orchestrators or Ansible or whatever are connected to that mission. But you need to know the mission of your organization. What are you doing to provide value? And if you know that and you know how to achieve those outcomes, and that’s on leadership, that is 100% the goal and the job of leadership is to provide that direction. Not those commands, not the, “Do it this way,” but the outcomes. That’s true delegation. Delegation is about trust. That’s what gets you agility. And if you don’t have that, if you are directing, instead of delegating, you do not have agility and you will be brittle and you will not be able to be dynamic.
Julie Gunderson: That is amazing. I love the way that you said that and I think that this will give a lot of people a lot to think about, especially moving forward through the next few months or the next year. As we’re running out of time, and you know that there are two reoccurring questions that we always ask our guests on the show. I’d like to start with asking you, what’s the one thing you wish you would’ve known sooner when it comes to running software and production? And because you have answered this question before, maybe I’ll say before you joined your new organization.
Matty Stratton: I don’t remember what I said last time. So we don’t have to worry about me repeating it, I guess. I think one thing that I wish I had known sooner, and this is just going to sound silly, but I wish I was better at bash. I’ve been afraid to go to bash. I’ve been wanting to solve problems in other ways, but having an understanding that minimum viable shell scripting is okay. It doesn’t have to be hot and amazing, but just chop wood, carry water, just get stuff done. That’s key. Understanding that, right, close enough for rock and roll. That’s the thing to know about running software and production.
Julie Gunderson: Thank you. And is there anything that you’re glad I did not ask you about today?
Matty Stratton: I’m glad you didn’t ask me about the time that I was going to rebuild a server for a certain insurance company in the Midwest and accidentally turned off a production server, instead of the dev server I was supposed to rebuild and quickly scurried out of the data center and watched to see anybody came running and they didn’t. And I somehow continued to have a career as a thought leader. So it can happen to you kids.
Julie Gunderson: And with that, I just want to remind everybody that you can join us this year at PagerDuty’s first ever virtual summit, which is September 21st through the 24th. It is free and you’ll get to hear from industry leaders, practitioners and more.
Matty Stratton: But before that, if you’d like to join another pretty awesome free event, DevOpsDays Chicago is virtual this year. It will be on September 1st. We have a very interactive and engaging participant experience. It’s not the exact same as being at a conference we know, but we think it’s a little more than a webinar with a Slack channel. So come join us, come to devopsdays.org/chicago for all the details. We’d love to have you come and it’s free. Who can argue with free?
Julie Gunderson: Actually, Matty, I’m really excited. I’m going. I’m going to help moderate a little bit. Who were some of your speakers?
Matty Stratton: Julia is going to be one of our moderators. So yeah, we have a whole bunch of really amazing speakers this year. Our keynote speaker is Lani Phillips from Microsoft, who I’m really excited. She’s a local Chicagoan. So the way we think about this by the way is this is our Chicago event, but this year we get to invite our friends from all over the world who might not normally be able to join us. But we also other good Chicagoans, we’ve got Jeff Smith who’s a stalwart of the DevOpsDays Chicago world. Quintessence Anx from PagerDuty will be one of our speakers. Jason Yee from Gremlin, Dr. Richard Cook from Adaptive Capacity Labs is going to be a speaker. I’m really excited about that. And a whole bunch more. So yeah, come to devopsdays.org/chicago, check out our speakers, check out our program, sign up for the event. I hope to see you there in September.
Julie Gunderson: Absolutely.
Matty Stratton: And then go to PagerDuty’s summit thing.
Julie Gunderson: And I’ll tell you what both of the links, we’ll pop them in the show notes. So just click on those. It’ll take you right to where you need to be.
Matty Stratton: Click on the doodly doo.
Julie Gunderson: And with that, this is Julie Gunderson here at PagerDuty wishing you an uneventful day. That does it for another installment of Page It To The Limit. We’d like to thank our sponsor, PagerDuty, for making this podcast possible. Remember to subscribe to this podcast if you like what you’ve heard. You can find our show notes at pageittothelimit.com and you can reach us on Twitter @pageit2thelimit using the number two. That’s @pageit2thelimit. Let us know what you think of this show. Thank you so much for joining us. And remember, uneventful days are beautiful days.
Matty kicks us off sharing a bit about his new role at RedHat. Working in the “NAPS” area of Digital Transformation, Matty discusses what digital transformation is.
Matty: “My main focus is I help government agencies; especially state, local, and education agencies in North America as they’re trying to transform how they work and basically do all this DevOps stuff that we keep talking about, and how do they kind of serve their mission better with technology.”
Matty talks to us about how there really is no right answer to what digital transformation is; it’s more about how you want it to be.
Matty: “This idea of transforming in a digital way, what does that really mean? Does that mean that to some people that means we’re moving in some kind of a more cloud native approach. Some people that just means they’re paying attention to tech, and technology is moving from being a cost center to being part of the business. And to some it just means we needed another C suite person so we can have a Chief Digital Officer, so we can put somebody else as an executive… So that’s why we had digital transformation. Some people think it means working remotely and Covid drove us to digital transformation.”
Matty continues to talk to us about the reality of digital transformation being about transforming the way you work and how he likes to think about transformation over modernization. He also talks about the socio-technical system and how you need to think about the people in tech as well. Matty draws parallels between the government sector and the private sector and how you need to have adaptive capacity.
Matty: “the reality is, this is exactly why you need to work on it [digital transformation] in parallel with this adapting that you need to do. Because you have this brittleness that caused you to not have adaptive capacity and you need to have it so you can respond… This is not a thing you do for your entire organization at once.”
Matty talks about transformation as an interactive project instead of trying to tackle everything all at once.
Matty talks about the things to think about when you are talking about transformation and thinking beyond the squad level and scaling to a larger organization.
Matty: “We need to bring that conversation higher than just software development. And we talked about having five elements of transformation, and those five elements are: leadership, product, development, architecture, and then operations. So development is part of it, but usually a lot of times in IT when we’re thinking about transforming, we’re really hyper focused on just that one element of development. We’re thinking about agile, we’re thinking about how we do our software engineering. Each of these elements is really key across all of them together.”
Matty talks to us about driving an organization to be more open and driving decisions to the “sharp end” which is the folks who are actually doing the work.
Matty: “Think more product based versus project based. We think about having a culture around measurement so that we’re continually having feedback loops; projects end, products don’t… moving towards a product centric mentality is really key.”
Matty continues to talk about how to think about establishing a foundation of resilience, and to think about what the transformation actually means for the business and its teams and people.
Matty talks about what happened with the Texas Workforce Commission in relation to COVID how the systems weren’t built to be ready for COVID.
Matty: “These are systems that weren’t built to manage this flow of information and this strain… these things can happen and it won’t be COVID next time, it will be something else, something you don’t see coming, you can’t predict it. That’s why we need to have adaptive capacity so that we can flex and rebound.” Don’t be Afraid to Make the Changes that Need to be Made Matty and Julie talk about how the current situation is not going to end, so don’t treat it like the “big game” and how to deconstruct the business logic to make changes now.
Matty: “Your refactoring does not mean rip out the entire thing, we build bridges and it’s okay to have disposable systems that just give us along, right, we’re building a shim that will get us to that next place.”
Matty talks about how getting the people who are closest to the work are the ones you need to have a plan and structure around because they are the ones who are able to respond to the things you can’t predict. He also talks about aligning folks to the mission to empower folks to do things better.
Matty: “The goal, the thing we’re trying to accomplish to service our customer, to service our user, to service our constituents, and where that connects to, and they will do this if they’re empowered to do it.” Parting Advice Matty shares about empowering folks, and trusting your folks to deliver. This will give the outcomes and the agility to get things done.
Matt Stratton is a Transformation Specialist at Red Hat and a long-time member of the global DevOps community. Back in the day, his license plate actually said “DevOps”.
Matt has over 20 years of experience in IT operations, ranging from large financial institutions such as JPMorganChase to internet firms including Apartments.com. He is a sought-after speaker internationally, presenting at Agile, DevOps, and ITSM focused events, including DevOps Enterprise Summit, DevOpsDays, Interop, PINK, and others worldwide. Matt is the founder and co-host of the popular Arrested DevOps podcast, as well as a global organizer of the DevOpsDays set of conferences.
He lives in Chicago and has three awesome kids, whom he loves just a little bit more than he loves Doctor Who. He is currently on a mission to discover the best phở in the world.
Julie Gunderson is a DevOps Advocate on the Community & Advocacy team. Her role focuses on interacting with PagerDuty practitioners to build a sense of community. She will be creating and delivering thought leadership content that defines both the challenges and solutions common to managing real-time operations. She will also meet with customers and prospects to help them learn about and adopt best practices in our Real-Time Operations arena. As an advocate, her mission is to engage with the community to advocate for PagerDuty and to engage with different teams at PagerDuty to advocate on behalf of the community.