How CenturyLink improved its productivity through DevOps, banning meetings and calls

Picture credit: "Old British telephones", by "Dan Brady", used under CC BY NC / Modified from original

Feature Last month communications provider CenturyLink announced the Cloud Development Centre in Seattle, a new hub for its workforce.

The centre offers “a collaborative environment for top technology talent from around the world”, according to the press materials. Yet underneath the surface is a development office which has potential ramifications for businesses of all industries.

“CenturyLink is a very efficient company for how big they are,” Jared Wray, CTO of CenturyLink Cloud and head of the development centre, explains. “But they also run like a telco. It’s like a civil service project, they think long and hard around three year, five year, ten year roadmaps. They’ve done extremely well in that, but it doesn’t beat the fast pace that we need of innovation.”

The inspiration for this move is through DevOps, which essentially blurs the lines between development and operations. A recent study from Rackspace concluded that DevOps would hit 93% penetration in businesses by the end of 2015, and Wray is already noticing the benefits, starting with four teams a year ago to 17 now.

“We collapsed our teams,” he explains. “Instead of having operations in a whole other silo in a different organisation, and having our developers in another one and they never talk...we actually have product teams now, and product teams support the entire service.”

It aims to be light on management and process, with each product team assigned each aspect of the product with a laser focus. The only overhead comes from a product owner – essentially a manager – and a product marketing executive on each team. Time and energy sapping meetings and phone calls are all but banned, with a mix of team areas and ‘fishbowl’ rooms for single-focused activities available.

The result? “There’s no throwing it over the fence, and there’s no distractions between the two organisations.”

Sound familiar to any CIOs reading this?

Sure, there are little foibles. Every time an engineer has to pull the dreaded on-call shift, they are known as Batman. Yet Wray is proud of the number of companies which come up to him and ask how CenturyLink is doing its DevOps. “It’s great because we come from a very old company that has a lot of policies and practices, and we’ve had to break down a lot of those walls, so a lot of companies want to know how to do it.”

Yet there is a snag. “Most people think they’re going to snap their fingers and it’s going to happen overnight by doing a re-org. But it’s a full culture shift. It took us three years to make this model, and we’re still evolving it.”

There’s some good advice for business owners and CIOs here. It’s straightforward enough just thinking that giving your employees smartphones and asking them to plough the field will result in better numbers. But if you really want to do it right, you’ve also got to factor in an organisational change.

As Enterprise AppsTech has written about various times, the modern office is a changing beast. You’ve got to get the balance right for your employees; some may want to be left alone, while some may want their own desk. Yet putting DevOps solutions into an industry as slow-moving as telecoms seems to work for CenturyLink – so why can’t it work for your business?

You can find out more about the CenturyLink Cloud case study here.

Read more: Jared Wray, CTO, CenturyLink: On change for telcos as they move to the cloud

 

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