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Life cycle of a silver bullet

I’ve watched SRECon discussion about DevOps. They mentioned a paper from Sarah A. Sheard called “Life Cycle of a Silver Bullet”. Written in 2003. I googled it and read it and I was enlightened. (While writing this, I’ve been served tea by a robot for the first time in my life!). The paper contains several ideas I had and several observations I made while being part of an attempt to introduce something like DevOps within a company.

Sheard claims that “improvement initiatives” can and do work, but it very much depends on how they are implemented. In this post I’ll try to extract from the paper the positive and negative signals you can observe when trying to implement an improvement initiative, like DevOps or Agile.

Positive signals

Someone with power to make changes (like an executive or a manager) takes a close look how his company is working to determine problems. He also looks at company’s strengths.

You can see there is real focus and dedication (of time and money) to implement the identified improvements.

The problems are truly solved, not just glossed over.

A climate of openess without retribution is fostered, and senior managers listen to messages from all levels of the company.

Products start to be created more efficiently and with better quality.

Negative signals

Managers read only short summary articles about the improvement method.

The implementing managers ask workers to implement some specific improvements (read in the blogs) without costly discussion or modification.

Some specific improvements are ruled out with reasoning that they would be costly to implement.

Executives and managers don’t really listen to workers nor change their own way of working. What they state as improvement in communication is really only about downward communication.

Lack of executive involvement. Managers don’t involve executives because the superiors might feel threatened or embarrassed.

Dilution of emphasis.

Tendency to apply the steps as a checklist rather than to seek and fix the company’s basic business problems.

Workers feel bombarded by misuderstood management initiatives that don’t solve any real problems.