The need to change our mental models – A core idea behind DevOps for the Modern Enterprise

I always loved this quote: “Nothing is more dangerous than using yesterday’s logic for today’s problems” which shows you that you just cannot afford to get lazy and do the same thing again and again. This causes larger problems when you scale it up. Gary Hamel summarizes the problem our organisations face as follows: “Right now, your company has 21st century Internet enabled business processes, Mid 20th century management processes all built atop 19th century management principles.”

One of the main reasons for me to write “DevOps for the Modern Enterprise” was to help address this mismatch between the work we need to do, creative IT based problem solving, and the management mindset many managers still have, that of IT being managed just like manufacturing.

I like to use the term mental model to describe what having the wrong mindset means for the every day job of managers and other executives. Let’s take a very practical example to show you how your mental model shapes your view of reality. Look at the vase on the picture below. What do you see?

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Depending on how your brain has been shaped up to this day, you will see different things on the vase. Children predominately see 9 dolphins (see further below to help you see them). I guess that you saw something different, didn’t you? What does that say about your mental model of reality and your preferences 😉 What this exercise hopefully shows you is that each persons view on reality is not exactly the same and that the mental model you use makes an important difference in how you perceive reality and act.

Perceiving IT as being similar to manufacturing leads to management processes that are inappropriate, you are looking for productivity measures where there are none (more about that here), you expect people to be replaceable resources, you think that fixing the process will fix the end-product and that you can upfront plan for projects. Pretty much all of those have been shows to be incorrect.

As a starting exercise for changing your mental model, I recommend watching Dan Pink’s video on motivation (Watch it here). I leverage his idea extensively in my book and think it is a perfect match for Agile delivery where we provide purpose by providing the agile team with the context of the problem they are solving, we allow them to achieve mastery through quick feedback cycles and we created cross-functional teams that are reasonably autonomous. Once you understand Dan Pink’s mental model you can easily diagnose some of the common problems with Agile projects that don’t provide those three motivators.

This shift in mental model is exciting stuff and goes much further in areas of operations and working with vendors/partners, you can read more about it in my book. For now I hope I was able to motivate you to look further into the topic and for you to try to be more conscious of your own mental model. It is worth challenging the model you have and perhaps you are then able to see those dolphins too 😉

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