Jack Maher, Standing on Shoulders LLC, joins Jayne Groll to discuss the disconnections in digital transformation, key takeaways from his new book Standing on Shoulders, challenges of value stream management, and gives a hint on what his new book will cover.
The lightly edited transcript can be found below.
You are listening to the Humans of DevOps podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the humans of devops, through skills, knowledge, ideas, and learning or the SKIL framework. Here’s your host, DevOps Institute CEO, Jayne Groll.
Hi everyone. This is Jayne Groll, CEO of the DevOps Institute. Welcome to another episode of the Humans of DevOps podcast. I’m joined today by my good friend, Jack Maher, president of Standing on Shoulders, LLC. Hey, Jack.
Hey, Jayne. How you doing today? Thanks for having me on.
Oh, my pleasure. Jack, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, and also tell us about the origins of Standing on Shoulders. Such a great name.
Awesome. Thanks. Be happy to. The past few years have been very focused on how folks can leverage the contemporary technology to really change the way they operate their businesses. The Standing on Shoulders concept comes from the work that I did with my good friend and yours, Carmen DiArdo As we rolled out the DevOps and lean and agile practices across a very large organization, one of the things that we realized quickly was that we weren’t really bringing out a lot of new ideas. Instead, what we were doing was synthesizing ideas that a lot of really smart people had. We’re not geniuses, but we had the opportunity. Like Newton referred to, of being able to see further because we were standing on the shoulders of giants. So many smart people had done so many smart things, and what we really did was come along, and we happened to be in the right place at the right time and connected dots for folks.
As we rolled these practices across multiple organizations, we heard the same messages time and time again, where the senior leaders were like, “Come on guys. You’ve got to be kidding me. We did a lean transformation. We’ve done agile transformation. We’re spending money hand over fist on software pipelines, and we’re not seeing return on investment from this.” These were really smart people in a really good place to see what was going on, but nobody helped them connect those dots and so that’s what we did. We realized and then after we did that, we realized that if these folks weren’t seeing how these dots connect between lean and agile and devops, for example, nobody had a prayer.
What we wanted to do was to help share with senior leaders in particular, those folks that set out organizational strategy that had the ability and opportunity to do the planning and resourcing for their organizations. To help them see these dots, because we knew once they saw that, it would be very clear to them how we could forward. The book is a relative short read. It’s 170 pages including the title page and the index and it’s a great way for folks to see this higher level view and be able to recognize the work that needs to be done so they can then prioritize and resource appropriately.
And I love the fact that you honor other very smart people in your organization because hearing you talk about investments, right? We know that enterprises have been investing in agile transformations, lean transformations, ITIL transformations, automation transformation. Digital transformations. All of that and unfortunately, in my experience, all of those happened in separate lanes, all right? We know that the agile transformation was really limited in many ways to the development teams, right, so that they would start developing code in a different way. And we know the ITIL transformations happen more at the operational level than at the developmental level. The lean transformation, something like Lean 6 Sigma might have been a business transformation. But the problem is they don’t really do them together. Is that part of the reason why the dots weren’t really connected? I mean, they don’t even have the same vocabulary, the same tools, the same ways of working.
Yes. Exactly. Bingo. You hit it right on the head and in fact, I’ve started a group on LinkedIn around leadership and digital transformation. Specifically to that point. We’ve all been really working in our own competencies. If we look back over the past 50 years, we didn’t know what the heck we were doing, and we weren’t very good at it either. We weren’t in a position to start looking at what other folks were doing and try to interact with them because we were very internally focused on getting our own competencies together. As a result, we’ve grown up with different language. But we’re really at a point now where it’s all coming together.
In fact, I’m going to be doing a presentation in Cincinnati in about a month, that I call Convergence. It looks at the way that these different paths have all started to come together. It really started in my head when I sat in on an ITIL four presentation and I marveled at the dramatic shift in where they have been to where they are now. And as we look across the various domains, folks like PMI have purchased a disciplined agile. We’re all coming to this very similar conclusion that it’s not a serial event. That we need to be iterative. That we need to be collaborative. That things like psychological safety are critical to us, and a realization that the ways that we’ve acted in the past in a function format, in a commanded and controlled environment were arguably somewhat affective in the past. They’re clearly not going to be affective for us going forward.
A lot of my focus has really shifted from the technology domains that I’ve known and loved for the past 20 years is going back to where I started in business, back to the leadership side, and saying, “Guys, we need to do things differently,” and it’s been a big shift. It’s going to be really hard for a lot of our senior leaders right now who grew up in an environment where commanding control was how they got things done. They’re used to be a saying that you couldn’t rise above the first level manager until you had blood on your shoes. You needed to fire somebody before you could be considered for a significant promotion. And that just is not the world that we’re in today.
When we look at the workforce that we have, when we look at what we know about how people perform, we need our senior leaders in many cases to transform themselves and their own ways of thinking and then lead that transformation through their organization. That’s a little bit different twist than where I’ve been for the past 20 years, but it really draws on my history before that coming from the business into IT.
But it’s interesting because when you talk about 20 years, you were astute enough to see the paradigm shift. Right? To realize that the way we’ve always done it isn’t the way we can continue to do it. There’s so many recent examples. I mean, this unfortunate health crisis that the world has been facing. Organizations are really struggling for the remote worker. Right? Whereas some organizations have definitely moved in that direction, but it’s interesting when you talk about this alignment. Right? We use the word, “business IT alignment” for a really long time and it implied we were traveling in parallel lanes. Right? We’re on the same highway, going in the same direction in parallel lanes, and the problem was, we were in parallel lanes going at different speeds, driving different cars. You get my analogy, right?
What people didn’t realize is we didn’t need to be in parallel lanes. We needed to be in the same car. Right? And again, take that analogy one step further when you look at some of the organizations that have really struggled, either because of digital disruption. Right? They found that there was a competitor. Completely unexpected competitor and they didn’t have the agility to be able to adapt to that, right? Keep your blinders down. Keep going. Well in situations like this human crisis, right? Where suddenly their human powered organization, their human powered technology is very, very difficult to do.
Jack, let me ask you a question and I said I really loved Standing on Shoulders. I thought it was a great read. I thought it was an easy read, which these days when media tells us it’s only going to take you two minutes to read an article, sadly we all suffer from some type of attention deficit. But I also think it was very, very actionable, so share with us some of the key takeaways. Inspire others to want to read those 170 pages. What are the key takeaways? If I’m a leader, if I’m going to stand on somebody else’s shoulder, what do I need to know?
I think the key takeaways are how do we make this change and make it sustainable because what we’ve seen so many times in the past is that we have these transformations, but they’re a lot like weight loss. I’ve struggled with weight my whole life. When I got divorced during a period of a lot of stress, I lost a bunch of weight, but I didn’t change my eating habits or my exercise. When the stress went away, what happened? All that weight came back. That’s the problem that we’ve had with our transformations. We haven’t had the underpinnings, the support for it to be sustainable. And that’s one of the key things that we bring together in this book is that we need to look at how we build an environment that will sustain the kinds of changes, on every level, but most importantly, at the human level.
And there are a lot of very old approaches that have been around and that have proven themselves, whether if we listen to the eastern culture in Shu Ha Ri or the western analog of apprentice journeyman and craftsman of developing people in organizations in this generative environment where collaboration becomes a natural act, and some of the changes that we have to make to do that. For example, things that we talk about in the book are organizational change impacts. If we continue to define roles as individual contributors and the way that we define work and the way we evaluate performance and compensate folks is at an individual contributor level, then we’ll never get to that collaborative environment that we need.
Building these sustainable relationships, do a whole lot of good things for us. It used to be, as we talked about before that it was an individual competitive world, but in today’s world, we need that collaborative approach. The only way we’ll get there is if people feel safe to act in that way, and to build the relationship so that when we spend the vast majority of our waking time at work, we’re doing it in a way that enables us to grow personally and professionally, and to see this strong contribution of value to the organizations. As we look at the leaders that we have, they need to do things a lot differently in order to make that happen.
One of the things that we’re typically not that clear on, although we sometimes think we are, is how, when, and where do we actually create and delivery value to our customers, our clients, our constituents? And so that’s why I think there’s a strong resurgence in tools like value stream mapping. Taking that customer’s perspective of when and where creation of value and delivery of value take place. That enables us to be more focused on those things that are really important to us. Our core mission and our defining value, so starting off with what Simon Simek says, “Your golden circle,” or “Your organizational why,” and then aligning what you do with those things helps us live the lean approach of eliminating or reducing or refocusing how we deliver those things that aren’t core to us that we have to do. Right?
We talk about all these different things. Software as a service as one example. I would say anything as a service. But as we look at those things that are not differentiating to our organizations, that aren’t driving our valued proposition, those are the things that we should look at how we could do differently. Using HR in accounting as an opportunity. Typically, not a differentiating factor. A great way for us to change the way we resource that. Utilize those services and enable our folks to be very focused on the creation and the delivery of the value that is unique to us that differentiates us. That does what our organization was intended to do.
Well, and it’s really interesting that you bring up Value Stream Management and value stream mapping. As you know, DevOps Institute is introducing a series of virtual micro conferences for free, beginning in April on a really cool conference platform. You’re going to be one of our featured speakers and the topic is going to be about Value Stream Managements because we feel that there are some topics in devops that really need to go under the microscope. I don’t know if you would call it a resurgence or a surgence of interest in value stream mapping and Value Stream Management. Mostly because we talk a lot about value creation and of course the go-to for us is always, “Well, let’s add some technology.” And the reality is that most enterprises have figured out they have to step back because you can’t understand how you deliver value if you don’t understand what your value stream is or what is actually even considered value.
There’s been a rise of value stream mapping as an exercise. A human exercise, right? Value Stream Management and being able to manage and measure what’s going on. You’re going to be a featured speaker. Tell us a little bit about, give us a teaser Jack. What are you going to be talking about?
Sure, so I think that one of the challenges with value stream mapping and Value Stream Management in the past is it’s always felt like this one off activity. You go through the time and effort and energy to build the value stream map, for example. And then what do you do with it? You can’t maintain it. You can’t measure it. And that’s been a real problem. I’ve certainly had many clients who have said, “Yeah, we did that once and it was interesting, but we really didn’t have anything to do with it after that.” A big change as with many different things. We see a lot of old things becoming new again in that we have technology today that enables this to not be a once and done.
The other big difference I think is that there’s a 3-D dimension or a multi-dimensional approach to this where it’s not just this linear stream but because of the abilities that we have with tools, and there are many of them out there. Of course, I like to point at Tasktop, that are good friends of ours, and they have the tools that will not only help you to document your value stream map, but to also then apply those key outcomes and the most important results and measure those so that we can have this as a living mechanism to ensure that we’re doing the right things. That we’re applying our resources in the right ways because we can then see how those outcomes move based on data.
I think that’s part of the big resurgence, is it’s not just this pencil and paper approach any more, and the realization as we build out things like software pipelines that these are directly applicable. I think that’s been the big difference in the academic approach of the past versus what we can do now. There’s still some of the same things and as you allude to, there is a real strong understanding or expectation is probably a better word, especially among leaders, that they know how it works in their organization. And yet, every single time we do one of these exercises, we find out a whole lot of things that are going on that we didn’t know.
We know how the process was designed, maybe. But in many cases, we find that we have some folks that don’t really understand what’s going on in the organization. They’re doing what they’ve been told, but without having any vision into how that works in the bigger picture, they don’t know in some cases, that they’ve gone astray and we’ve built this hero culture in so many places, where folks are making systems work that are fundamentally broken. One of the most important things out of these processes is always an opening of the eyes of senior leaders and going, “Yeah, we need to make changes here.” It’s really important to have senior leaders involved in the value stream mapping process that have the ability to apply resources and make change in the organization to enable teams to have a better opportunity to provide the value that they want to do.
And that’s another shift, is this mentality from the organizations of the past where we had to make people conform to certain behaviors because we thought that would result in productivity, to now realizing that what we need to do is give folks a very clear idea of the mission. Where they stand in this, what their contribution is, what that future looks like. Give them the tools and then get the heck out of the way and let them do those things because people want to do a good job. People want to have their work be meaningful and of value not to just bringing home a paycheck, but having a full engagement. Enabling this environment where we move to a servant leadership approach and a collaborative and generative environment, really unlocks the opportunity for folks to dig in. To become very aligned with the core mission of their organization. Not be working for the paycheck, but to be working towards this goal that is the objective of the organization to really engage them on every level to be who and what they want to be in an organization that has a mission.
And again, you’re absolutely right. It’s a paradigm shift, and that’s the term I keep using and unless we see the shift, it’s not going to happen. We’re going to have a little bit out of time, Jack, but give us a hint; what’s the new book?
The new book is it takes it to an implementation level. It follows the same approach as The Leader’s Guide, but the digital transformation workbook, and it’s also under the Standing on Shoulder’s banner, is what we had when I was in school. As you go through a chapter, we would go to the back of the book. We would tear out the worksheet, and then you work through the worksheet with the chapter, filling the blanks, drawing a picture, underlining, whatever the activities are. We do that and we start off with the organizational why. What is our organization here to do? What is the value that we bring?
And then as you work through each chapter, you then can apply these principles and concepts to your organization. Your culture, your current technology landscape, your appetite for transformation and change and budget, and then as you get to the end of the book, there are 14 worksheets. Those then become your framework for your transformation. Not what some consultant said you should do. Not what anybody else thinks, but based on us and applying those concepts to our situation. Then you can make your own plan for which things you’re going to prioritize and how you’re going to move forward.
You took me back in time there for a minute because it reminded me being in early education where you would get to school on the first few days of school and they’d give you a textbook. Usually one that’s been repurposed from the class before, and you’d get that fresh, shiny, never used before workbook. By the end of the school year, it was all dog-eared and torn up and in fact I started to hate it after a while just because you wanted school to be over, but there was this anticipated excitement when you got that fresh workbook. It sounds like that’s it. Jack, I mean that your experiences, I think your passion for transformation, on a very realistic level is, I’m sure you’re standing on other shoulders, but I’m hoping others are standing on yours as well. Carmen, of course, Carmen Di Ardo, now Tasktop, good friend, really great advocate for the community. Done so much in speaking and sharing very similarly, so on behalf of the Humans of DevOps, I really do thank you and look forward to your continuing work and appreciate your time today.
Thank you very much, Jayne. I really appreciate it.
Again, if you’re listening, you can hear Jack again at DevOps Institute’s new free series of micro conferences. Each one focusing on a specific topic within devops in a fully replicated conference environment. First one will be April 30, on Value Stream Management, followed by a monthly series on very, very specific topics. Go up to www.www.devopsinstitute.com. Register for Value Stream Management micro conference, fill up days, and then maybe you want to register for a few more there as well. Again, thank you Jack. So appreciate your time. Thank you everyone for listening. This is another episode of the Humans of DevOps podcast with Jayne Groll, CEO of the DevOps Institute.
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