Transformations of behaviors is hard. Ensuring that the changes will have long-lasting effects and making the new behaviors to stick around for a long time is even harder.

What I’ve learned along my journey is that sometimes it is possible to order people to behave differently and get away with that (Jeff Bezos at Amazon issues a “culture shift” mandate and hires “bulldogs” with “baseball bats”), but it’s less painful and less stressful to lead and nudge the change by eliminating the possibility of undesirable behaviors through creation of nurturing environments. Think of it like this: creating an environment where to do the right thing is much easier than the wrong one. The same way removing candies from your house when you’re dieting will prevent you from eating them when you have “cravings”.

This approach is not a fantasy, but a proven practice in the real life. It is applied constantly by the Blue Zones Project teams (listen to the interview with Dan Buettner  on WBUR) over and over again when they embark on yet another grandiose behavioral transformation of the whole communities and cities towards the better and healthier lives.

The Blue Zones Project focuses on restructuring communities so that healthy choices are also the easy choices. Changes might include new sidewalks, establishing friendship groups, re-arranging supermarkets to highlight the healthy foods, and even reorganizing family kitchens. The results have been dramatic: In Albert Lea, Minnesota, the average life expectancy rose by nearly 3 years and the health care costs for city workers have dropped by 40%. In Spencer, Iowa, health-care costs for city workers dropped by 25%. And in the Beach Cities, California, smoking rates declined by nearly 30%. 

After implementing the corrective nudges and integrating them into the environments, in some cities, the BMI (body-to-mass index) collectively dropped as much as 15% by using this strategy instead of guilt and education.

When they replaced candies and chocolates in the checkout isles with the healthier choices, people started to pick more healthier items at checkout and these aisles revenue went up.

We’re making 250 food decisions a day and only 50 are conscious and the other 200 are unconscious so “Blue Zone project” leaders engineer environments so people’s unconscious decisions will be healthier.

You can rightfully ask: “So how does it applies to DevOps?”

Glad you’ve asked this great question.

Journey to DevOps is a complex one. It requires a lot of changes to be put in place to achieve a good tipping point where the change will start feeding the transformation itself and the organization will start seeing and experiencing an accumulating effect of change. Here are a couple of “nudges” you can consider implementing in your organization that can generate the “Blue Zone effect” and introduce long-lasting changes:

  • Relax constant pressure from the delivery deadlines and leave enough time for improvement whenever possible. Move to Continuous Delivery/Deployment makes release a normal day-to-day activity. Having a delivery deadline in most cases creates unnecessary stress and gives excuse to start cutting corners like: leaving broken features, skipping on testing, ignoring performance, neglecting reasonable migration processes. [Analogy: the same way how you’ll skip on healthy breakfast and exercise when you’re running late to the office in the morning]
  • Separate product release from it’s deploy by constantly deploying all the code to the production and hiding new features behind the feature toggles. In this case the Product release can be totally controlled by your business organization and coordinated with go-to-market activities. If by the time your business is ready to release the product to the customers everything has been operating in production environment for a couple of weeks prior to this event, your organization will feel no stress from the release. [Analogy: You’d prefer to prepare bags for travel at least day before your business trip]
  • Use practices like TDD (test-driven-development) to bake tests into the design and delivery processes so the testing and test automation will not become an afterthought. [Have healthy ingredients in your fridge and pantry so you naturally cook healthier]
  • If your engineers manually deploy components into production and there is no time for automation – gradually take away manual access to the production environments. This will leave no choice but to invest into automation. [Analogy: Take away chocolate from your pantry and drugs from a drug addict]
  • Ideally your engineers are responsible for end-to-end delivery of the product. Bootstrap the delivery pipelines and manage them along with the product source code from the very beginning. Bake automation into your process on start of a new project – no need in afterthought. [Analogy: Follow Weight Watchers or pay Nutrisystem or similar to automatically ship pre-cooked food directly to your house – don’t even need to think twice of what to eat or cook]
  • Introduce reoccurring Game days (Jesse Robins ‘2011) into your organization to practice failures. This way your organization will be ready for the failure when (not if) it occurs. Measure, improve and optimize for the fast and seamless recovery. The architecture will morph to support fast recovery and uninterrupted SLAs from the flawed assumption that the failure will never happen (Velocity 2012: Richard Cook, “How Complex Systems Fail“). [Analogy: exercising and leading an active lifestyle is always a bonus]

You can decide to introduce similar changes into your environments as slow or as fast as you’d like, but having such nudges to do the right thing by default in your organization will have long lasting effects and will start feed the process of transformation.

Environments can be slowly changed to nudge people in the right direction. The best thing is when an environment is “rigged” to allow people to do the right thing “by default” and make it harder to do it wrong.

What do you do in your organization to make the transformation as smooth as possible?