Operations Reform: Tom Sawyer-ing Your Way to Operational Excellence

Tuesday, October 30, 2018 - 5:00 pm5:30 pm

Thomas Limoncelli, Stack Overflow, Inc.


How do you reform your operations organization without demotivating the entire team? They’re proud of the mess they maintain and may be very resistant to change. How can you remove blockers to a devops transformation in operations?

In this talk, Tom will show how the operations of 150 services were reformed without blame or hurt feelings. Like Tom Sawyer convincing others to paint a fence, the team was self-motivated to fix broken processes and reform the system themselves.

Rather than a detailed 500-question audit, the teams were asked to complete a 4-question “gut check” for each subservice. Because the process took minutes instead of weeks, the team could easily produce the result. Because it was a self-evaluation, they were motivated to transform and improve their operational practices. No one felt shamed because it was a self-assessment.

No one felt blamed because services were criticized, not people. The technique makes it easy to judge new projects based on both “theory of constraints”. Shared solutions were easier to identify. The system helped drive training and coaching plans, made visible the business impact of tech debt, and created a data-driven management system where KPIs had failed.

Soon the program was expanded to include more gut checks and more services. This eased the organization into more formal assessments, and provided management roll-ups by service, team and organization.

Lastly, Tom will show how to apply these techniques in any organization.

Thomas Limoncelli, Stack Overflow, Inc.

Tom is the SRE Manager at StackOverflow.com and internationally recognized co-author of books such as the newly updated Volume 1: The Practice of System and Network Administration, 3rd Edition. He is also known for Time Management for Sysadmins and Volume 2: The Practice of Cloud System Administration. He is an internationally recognized author, speaker, system administrator, and DevOps advocate. He’s previously worked at small and large companies including Google, Bell Labs/Lucent, and AT&T. His blog is http://EverythingSysadmin.com and he tweets @YesThatTom.

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@conference {221762,
author = {Thomas Limoncelli},
title = {Operations Reform: Tom Sawyer-ing Your Way to Operational Excellence},
year = {2018},
address = {Nashville, TN},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = oct

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