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The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change - Open principles and practices for a more innovative IT department

Authors Red Hat Inc.

License CC-BY-SA-4.0

 The Open Organization
Guide to IT Culture Change

    Open principles and practices
 for a more innovative IT department
        Copyright © 2017 Red Hat, Inc. All written content, as
well as the cover image, licensed under a Creative Commons At-
tribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.1
        Mike Walker's "Introduction to Part 1" originally appeared
        Jono Bacon's "What's an IT culture, anyway?" originally
appeared at
        Gene Kim's "Organizational learning: a new perspective
on DevOps" originally appeared at
        Jim Whitehurst's "Innovation requires new approaches to
feedback and failure" originally appeared at https://opensource.-
        Jordan Morgan's "Why a Buffer developer open sourced
his code" originally appeared at
        Gordon Haff's "A user's guide to failing faster" originally
appeared at
        Matt Micene's "Changing the way we think of change"
originally appeared at
        Chris Short's "Five laws every aspiring DevOps engineer
should know" originally appeared at
        Ron McFarland's "How new communication technologies
are affecting peer-to-peer engagement" originally appeared at

      Jackie Yeaney's "What engineers and marketers can learn
from each other" originally appeared at
      Matt Thompson's "How to strengthen your agile heartbeat
with powerful retrospectives" originally appeared at
      Chad Whitacre's "The benefits of tracking issues publicly"
originally appeared at
      Rebecca Fernandez's "Three essential skills for fostering
productive debate" originally appeared at https://opensource.-
      Laura Hilliger's "What to do when your open team has im-
postor syndrome" originally appeared at
      Allison Matlack's "When innovation trumps process" origi-
nally appeared at
      Lauri Apple's "Better IT culture via the Socratic method"
originally appeared at
      Stephen Gold's "A formula for running an accountable IT
organization" originally appeared at https://enterprisersproject.-
      Typeset     in   DejaVu2     and   Overpass.3   Produced   with
LibreOffice . Cover design by Libby Levi.

                         Version 1.0
                               June 2017



                 Also in the series

         From Harvard Business Review Press

The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance, by
Jim Whitehurst


The Open Organization Field Guide: Practical Tips for Igniting
Passion and Performance, by the community

The Open Organization: Catalyst-In-Chief, by Jim Whitehurst

The Open Organization Leaders Manual: Instructions for Build-
ing the Workplace of the Future, by the
               Additional reading
      Every week, publishes new stories about
the ways open principles help innovative leaders rethink organi-
zational culture and design.
      Visit to read more.
                  A note on style
      This book uses the lower-case term "agile" as a general
descriptor for various development methods that embrace flexi-
bility and value responsiveness. It uses the capitalized term
"Agile" as a proper noun naming the specific development prin-
ciples outlined in The Agile Manifesto.
   Preface                                                   11
      Bryan Behrenshausen

   Introduction                                              15
      Mike Kelly

Part 1: Principles

   Introduction to Part 1                                    19
      Mike Walker

   What's an IT culture, anyway?                             23
     Jono Bacon

   Organizational learning: A new perspective on DevOps      31
     Gene Kim

   Innovation requires new approaches to feedback and
   failure                                                   37
       Jim Whitehurst

   Transparency, failure, and other things I've learned to
   enjoy                                                     42
      Nick Hall

   Why a Buffer developer open sourced his code              53
     Jordan Morgan

   A user's guide to failing faster                          61
      Gordon Haf

   Changing the way we think of change                       67
     Matt Micene

   Five laws every aspiring DevOps engineer should know      76
      Chris Short

   Why you should build a team of boundary spanners          82
     DeLisa Alexander

   A new approach to operations                              88
      Chrissy Linzy
   How new communication technologies are affecting
   peer-to-peer engagement                                  95
      Ron McFarland

   What engineers and marketers can learn from each
   other                                                    102
      Jackie Yeaney

Part 2: Practices

   Introduction to Part 2                                   110
      Jason Yee

   How to strengthen your agile heartbeat with powerful
   retrospectives                                           113
      Matt Thompson

   The benefits of tracking issues publicly                 119
     Chad Whitacre

   Three essential skills for fostering productive debate
   in your IT team                                          125
      Rebecca Fernandez

   Mastering feedback loops                                 130
     Jimmy Sjölund

   What to do when your open team has impostor
   syndrome                                                 137
      Laura Hilliger

   When innovation trumps process                           144
     Allison Matlack

   Better IT culture via the Socratic method                149
      Lauri Apple

   Forming and onboarding an agile team                     160
      Jen Krieger and Hina Popal

   A formula for running an accountable IT organization     170
      Stephen Gold

   Institutionalizing experimentation with impact
   mapping                                                  176
      Justin Holmes
  Assuming positive intent when working across teams   182
     Jonas Rosland


  The Open Organization Definition                     191

Learn More

  Additional resources                                 200
  Get involved                                         201
Bryan Behrenshausen

      "Culture is one of the two or three most complicated
      words      in   the   English   language."—Raymond

I    doubt I (or cultural theorist Raymond Williams, for that
    matter) need to convince you of culture's complexity. After
all, you've just opened a book offering to guide you through the
confusing and confounding nature of a thing that's suddenly
front and center in so many pressing discussions. Culture,
Williams says, "has now come to be used for important concepts
in several intellectual disciplines and in several distinct and in-
compatible systems of thought"—and he was writing more than
30 years ago. "Culture" hasn't become less puzzling or ambigu-
ous in the ensuing three decades; it's become only more so as it
pops into conversations anywhere and everywhere. Attempting
to understand it, we need all the help we can get.
      Hence this book, in which more than two dozen writers,
developers, organizational leaders, and influential technologists
track the increasing interest in something called "IT culture."
That's an evocative term, because it reminds us that "culture" is
inseparable from another notion: "technology." Williams knew
this too. In his book about a technology he found particularly im-

5   See Keywords, 1976.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

portant for understanding social relationships in the late 20th
century, Television, he aired his frustrations with the ways peo-
ple seem to talk about the relationship between the social and
the technical.6 We tend, Williams observed, to imagine one of
those forces as animate or active and the other as inanimate or
passive. For example, we'll often talk about certain technologies
as simply the "byproducts" or "symptoms" of supposedly broader
social forces (as if they were just the deposits of more important
stuff that goes on between people). Or we'll talk about certain
technologies in the opposite way: as something able to single-
handedly revamp and reconfigure entire aspects of society just
by appearing on the scene (seemingly from a vacuum).
      The fact is—and the authors in this volume get it—neither
manner of talking about the relationship between the social and
the technical is ever entirely sufficient. These forces are two in-
separable sides of an ongoing process; they're of a piece. Any
theory, explanation, or story insisting that they're easily di-
vorced from one another is likely just light on critical details.
      This book's contributors hope to convince you that any
discussion you have (or any decision you make) regarding tech-
nologies must account for the social principles and cultural
values those technologies embody or represent—and vice versa.
The technologies we use both reflect and reinforce certain ways
of working together; the ways we desire to work together in-
evitably shape the technological choices and decisions we make.
We can no longer pretend to somehow have one without the

6   See "The Technology and the Society" in Television: Technology and
    Cultural Form, 1975.

7   DevOps advocates will recognize the logic of this argument, as will
    fans of the Agile Manifesto. My thanks to Jason Hibbets and Lauri

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

       So while this book is divided into two sections, you should
resist the temptation to treat it as consisting of two discrete
parts. They're intimately related. The first, "Principles," de-
scribes several significant changes to the values that have
traditionally guided information technology organizations. It ex-
plains how open principles are forcing us to rethink our deeply
held assumptions about IT's "whys" and "whats." The second
section, "Practices," outlines new behaviors we might adopt in
order to embrace and express the values necessary for driving
innovations from the IT shop to the rest of a business. As the
book's title makes clear, these must go hand-in-hand if technolo-
gists intend to weather the challenges they're facing today.
       One final note: We 8 believe you're reading what is quite
possibly the first edited volume developed according to the
guidelines of the Open Decision Framework, 9 an architecture for
ensuring that both the principles and the practices of openness
work in productive tandem to realize the stellar results only
openness can. We're grateful to the dozens of writers, advisers,
proofreaders, and source matter experts who helped shape this
book into the extraordinary artifact you now possess. The book
came to life—and continues to live—as a project on GitHub,
which readers can visit to flag errors and suggest modifica-
       We hope you'll join our community, both there and at, to continue this important conversation about
one of the most complicated words in the English language.

8   My thanks to colleague and collaborator Jason Hibbets, without
    whose help this book would not exist.



             The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Bryan Behrenshausen works for Red Hat on,
where he's been a writer and editor since 2011. In 2016, he
earned his PhD in Communication from The University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied the relationship be-
tween culture, technology, and other complicated words.

Mike Kelly

T     he IT department is uniquely positioned to handle change.
      Good IT teams manage change. The best ones lead
change. As the pace of change accelerates today—and at a time
when technology is in many respects the asset of a company—
organizations are demanding their IT departments demonstrate
more leadership than ever before.
      Today's highest-performing IT teams are leveraging open
principles to lead their organizations through monumental tech-
nological, social, and economic changes. They're becoming more
collaborative and more transparent—and more agile and ac-
countable    as   a   result.   They're   rethinking   organizational
boundaries that have constrained them for decades and forming
new, productive relationships across the business. They're shar-
ing resources with internal and external stakeholders as they
seek to innovate in operationally excellent ways.
      This shift to open principles and practices creates an un-
precedented challenge for IT leaders. As their teams become
more inclusive and collaborative, leaders must shift their strate-
gies and tactics to harness the energy this new style of work
generates. They need to perfect their methods for drawing mul-
tiple parties into dialog and ensuring everyone feels heard. And
they need to hone their abilities to connect the work their teams
are doing to their organization's values, aims, and goals—to
make sure everyone in the department understands that they're

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

part of something bigger than themselves (and their individual
         In short: Today's IT leaders need to be culturally compe-
tent as much as they are technically competent. That's why a
guide like this one is so important, and its chapters reinforce
this point. As you read, I hope you'll recognize the powerful role
you can play in guiding your organization to success.
         Change is intensely emotional. And because the IT depart-
ment is always at the forefront of change, it's always involved in
an organization's most emotional activities. Never forget that.
Your effectiveness as a leader depends on it.

Mike Kelly is CIO at Red Hat. He's been recognized in the tech-
nology industry as a champion of talent development and leader
of large multi-national, diverse, high-performance teams.

Part 1: Principles
Introduction to Part 1
Mike Walker

I   n 2016, I launched Open Innovation Labs, a place where
    people seeking to leverage the principles of openness can
work with a seasoned team to build innovative software that
solves their most pressing business problems. It has been an ex-
citing and daunting undertaking. Today, Open Innovation Labs
imparts knowledge and best practices that emerge from the
world's most successful open source projects, and we provide a
residency-style experience that immerses teams in those prac-
         We generally partner with companies looking to do two
things: Either they want to move quickly and be disruptive, or
they see disruption as an existential threat and seek to adapt
their behaviors to facilitate a more rapid pace of change.
         Our own team began as one of the former, but we sud-
denly found ourselves one of the latter. The lessons we learned
as we made that transition—lessons about organizational culture
and the power of openness to shape it—truly have made us bet-
ter coaches today.
         Here's what happened.

An identity crisis
         To launch Labs, I built a small, cross-functional team that
immediately set to work doing the very things we encourage lab
residents to do. First, we created hypothetical scenarios to

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

achieve our team's objective—which, in this case, was to accel-
erate our customers' work in a residency-style engagement and
build enthusiasm for building applications the open source
way.11 Then, we applied emerging technologies to build next-
generation software that would help us explore those scenarios.
We worked relentlessly to create a clever system for accelerat-
ing customers' efforts and delivering real value.
      We called that system "push-button infrastructure," or
"PBI." PBI allows us to spin up a customer-ready Labs environ-
ment, built for speed and experimentation, in less than an hour.
We took it to market as soon as we could (even before it was
fully functional), and the reaction actually took us by surprise. "I
want that!" was the most common response we received from
customers and internal teams. We were onto something. The ex-
citement was palpable.
      About nine months into the endeavor, one of my technical
staff pointed out that another open source engineering team in
the community had made a major breakthrough with their soft-
ware—something that allowed them to create a system that
could eventually replace much of what we'd built. What's more,
this team was easily ten times larger than ours, with a huge
ecosystem of partners to boot.
      I reached out to one of the project leaders, another open
source advocate. He candidly told me that our group was the in-
spiration for much of their efforts.
      While I was flattered, my stomach also sank: Our little
gem was already in danger of being disrupted by a more power-
ful force.
      The team took stock of the situation. We faced an identity
crisis. If our core product became obsolete, then would we con -


                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

tinue to exist? In that case, what was our core value proposi-
tion? What would we look like?

The primacy of principles
        We convened face-to-face to sketch our core value propo-
sition in a group exercise called "mind mapping." It produced
two strong revelations.
        The first was about PBI. As exciting as the technology
was, it didn't actually define much of what made us special. In
fact, it was barely on the mind map. If it came from another
group or was abandoned entirely, it still wouldn't stop us from
achieving our mission. This was a big weight off of our collective
        The second realization was about something more ab-
stract: The team's most-valued asset was its shared belief
system. We all named characteristics like "collaboration," "au-
thenticity,"   "transparency,"       "accountability,"       "open   decision
making," "meritocracy," "adaptation," "experimentation," and "a
focus on impacting people" as the things that made our team
truly unique and capable of delivering value to our customers.
        These cultural principles came from our experience work-
ing in open source communities. We listed principles like:
    •    Shared problems are solved faster
    •    Transparency forces authenticity and honesty
    •    Participative communities are more open to change
    •    Open standards provide business agility
        Our core mission, we decided, was to share with our cus-
tomers and partners these same principles over the course of
our engagements with them—to help them leverage lessons
from the open source world to build, better, more adaptive solu-
tions to problems. This insight allowed us to pivot productively;
we realized we should focus more on imparting new ways of

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

working together to catalyze organizational (and eventually cul-
tural) change, and less on any particular technical solution or
      Shortly after that meeting, we made the bold choice to uti-
lize the great work coming from the external community we'd
viewed as an existential threat only days before. We adapted our
software to take better advantage of that offering. Doing this
meant halting development on some of what we initially consid-
ered core material in order to ride a bigger, better wave.
      I still keep the result of that mind map on my desktop. It
reminds me that our shared beliefs endure far beyond any par-
ticular experiment or project. It centers our team in a way that
allows us to transcend the individual, and become part of a big-
ger purpose, satisfying a fundamental human desire that lays in
each of us.
      As you read the first section of this guide, I hope you too
will discover the benefits of building an organizational culture
on open principles—one that transcends any individual effort
and creates an enduring, shared purpose capable of inspiring
teams long after we're all gone.

Mike Walker is the Global Director of Red Hat's Open Innova-
tion Labs, whose mission is to make it easier and quicker for
customers to bring innovative ideas to life. He has 16 years of IT
engineering and consulting experience with emerging technolo-
gies, including specializations in application development, cloud
computing, data integration, high-performance computing, and
distributed systems.

What's an IT culture, anyway?
Jono Bacon

"C       ulture" is a pretty ambiguous word. Sure, reams of so-
         cial science research explore exactly what exactly
"culture" is, but to the average Joe and Josephine the word
means something different than it does to academics. In most
scenarios, "culture" maps more closely to something like "the
set of social norms and expectations in a group of people." By
extension, then, an "IT culture" is simply "the set of social norms
and expectations pertinent to a group of people working in an IT
      I suspect most people see themselves as somewhat pas-
sive contributors to this thing called "culture." Sure, we know
we can all contribute to cultural change, but I don't think most
people actually feel particularly empowered to make this kind of
meaningful change. On top of that, we can also observe signifi-
cant changes in cultural norms that depend on variables like
time and geography. An IT company in China, for example,
might have a very different culture from a company in the San
Francisco area. A startup in Birmingham, England, will have a
different culture to a similar startup in Berlin, Germany. And so
      Culture is critical. It's the lifeblood of an organization, but
it's complicated to understand and shape. The "IT culture" of the
1980s and 1990s differs from "IT culture" today—and it will be
different again 10 years from now. Apart from generational

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

changes, cultural norms for IT practitioners have changed, too.
Today, digital technology is more social, more accessible to peo-
ple with fewer technical skills, and more embedded in our
consumer-oriented world than ever. We've learned to cherish
simplicity, elegance, and design, and this has reflected the kinds
of organizations that are forming.
        So in one sense, IT culture is a box of frogs: a variable,
changing, and unpredictable entity. In another sense, IT culture
is a relatively straightforward issue: It's the connective tissue
between people and output. Organizations need to produce out-
put—products, services, support, events, and more. People drive
that work, and they need to be productive, efficient, contextually
aware, evolving, and happy. None of these attributions are op-
tional: When one is missing, frustration starts setting in.
        More important than defining IT culture today, though, is
exploring what an optimal IT culture of tomorrow will look like. I
want to focus on five key areas that I consider to be critical
facets of a high-quality IT culture.
        Let's do this.

1. Pipelines should be connected
        In a typical organization, you have a number of different
"pipelines," as people external to the organization get connected
to different teams. Examples include:
    •    Sales: prospects → leads → opportunities → customers
    •    Community: users/consumers → advocates → contribu-
    •    Recruiting: prospects → candidates → employees
    •    Marketing: broader audience → qualified → connected
        You'll also find pipelines that relate to workflow. Examples
here include:

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

    •    Engineering: product features/bugs → specs → code →
         reviews → product
    •    Product: requirements → ideas → backlog → scoped
    •    Marketing: key messages/features → ideas → scoped
    •    Support: requests → triaged requests → engagement
        Organizations suffer when people descend into silos, and
disconnected pipelines can be a contributing factor to this, espe-
cially for IT organizations. As such, explore how you can glue
different pipelines together in a sensible and natural (not
"forced") way. How can your IT team connect to the community
pipeline, for example? How can community members support
the sales pipeline? How can engineering and marketing work-
flow connect together?12
        Done well, this reduces silos, integrates team cultures,
and reduces complexity and road bumps along the way.

2. Workflow should be asynchronous
        I spend a lot of time working with companies, helping
them to build internal communities and organizational workflow.
While many factors influence the start of this work, I always
zone in on one key area first: asynchronous workflow.
        Put simply, asynchronous workflow is the ability for em-
ployees to be able to work on anything, from anywhere, at any
time. Conventional organizations mix together in-person meet-
ings,   whiteboard      sessions,      online     discussions,      and   other
methods of collaboration. But multiple ways of working mean
that information often gets lost. For instance, in-person meet-

12 See Jackie Yeaney's chapter in this volume.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

ings without clear notes mean that those outside the room have
a deficit of context.
      Asynchronous workflow helps to solve this issue. When we
focus on discussing ideas and projects in an electronic setting,
content and discussions are archived and available to everyone.
This makes organizations (including IT organizations) more
open and transparent. This doesn't mean you can't have in-per-
son meetings, but you have to reinforce a policy of taking notes
and decisions in a way that ultimately end up online for the
wider team.
      Asynchronous workflow is critical for organizations to
scale and it is better to get it integrated as early as possible. It
requires discipline and training but, done well, it breaks down
silos, opens up opportunities across the organization, and cre-
ates accountability and a powerful imprint of best practice (and
failures) that can be invaluable.

3. Operate a connected meritocracy
      I come from the open source world, where the notion of
meritocracy has been steeped in our culture. In this context, a
meritocratic culture is one in which everyone is judged on their
merit, and it doesn't matter what their gender is, what their skin
color is, what car they drive, what their haircut is, and so forth.
They're judged on their contributions.
      Remember that meritocracy is not a framework or model.
It is a philosophy. Meritocracy can be difficult to put into prac-
tice for all kinds of reasons, but I do think it is an important
guiding light for our work.
      When thinking about your IT culture, think about how you
can provide a pathway in which anyone can showcase their ca-
pabilities and contributions. This is where being connected is
important. The best organizations I have seen have the ability

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

for people from across the organization to contribute. And this is
where asynchronous workflow can be hugely helpful. Tracking
your project management, engineering, and marketing in an
open, online internal system provides an opportunity for people
in different teams to feed in and contribute.
        When I have seen this in place, I've observed surprisingly
valuable contributions: legal feeding into engineering (e.g. such
as reviewing licensing/copyright/firmware issues), sales reps
feeding into community (e.g. fueling shared knowledge bases
and potential customers), product people feeding into support
(e.g. coordinating around customer requests), and beyond.

4. Data-driven experimentation is essential
        No two organizations are the same. Seemingly similar
beasts such as Microsoft and Intel, or Mattermost and Slack, or
Canonical and Red Hat, embody totally different cultures. As
such, we can learn different lessons from different organiza-
tions, but the real insight into what makes your organization tick
has to be formed with your people, processes, and workflow in
        As such, to really optimize an IT culture, we need to ex-
        The construction and execution of small- and large-scale
experiments will help us to discover new insights that we can
use as clues to help us make future decisions. With one of my
clients, for example, I put in place an experiment to reward con-
tributors with different types of validation (both intrinsic and
extrinsic) of their work at different levels of participation. This
helped us to determine what kinds of validation people appreci-
ated, and as a boon this mapped well to staff too (who were also
wanting validation for their contributions). This was a small ex-
periment, but we analyzed the results to look for clues that

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

could inform future experiments. We applied what we learned to
future work and saw some great results.
      The key here is to be data-driven and, frankly, honest with
yourself while you're experimenting. We need data to suitably
determine the success or failure of an experiment, and we need
to be honest in peeling away our internal goals and biases to see
the experiment's results in an objective light.
      We can perform these experiments all over an IT organiza-
tion, and we should encourage employees to brainstorm ideas
for segments. These can be small exercises that involve very lim-
ited costs and can deliver incredible insight. They can act as a
means of diversifying ideas and limiting risk. I highly recom-
mend you put in place a regular cadence at which you run
different experiments across multiple teams. Doing this can de-
liver great results and offer a wonderfully creative environment
for your employees.

5. Accepting failure is not an academic exercise
      Many people understand the value of embracing failure as
a means to learn from it. Thousands of people read books and
articles about this, and with the best will in the world seek to
bring this into their organizations.13
      Sadly, in many cases we can see an academic understand-
ing of this but not much of a practical application. Leadership in
the majority of organizations rolls downhill. If you have a bitter,
nasty leader, you get a bitter, nasty culture. If you have an en-
gaging, respectful, friendly leader, you get a more positive
culture. As such, embracing failure needs to cascade through
the ranks in a meaningful way.

13 See Gordon Haff's chapter in this volume.

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      The best IT leaders I've seen embrace failure have been
remarkably upfront about failures, both organizationally and
personally. They've said, "I screwed this up and this is how I
learned and became better from it." These conversations can't
be soundbites. They have to be authentic, and this can be tough
for leaders of an organization to instill in their daily routines.
      Another element here is to reinforce in others the value of
embracing failure. You can't preach the value of failure and then
hammer people when they fail. Of course, be disciplined in re-
quiring excellence from people in the organization, but base
your criticism on a body of constructive next steps. Anger, frus-
tration, and annoyance are normal and to be expected, but you
have to augment them with sage, constructive guidance. Our ul-
timate goal here is to have people look back on their failures
and feel like they've grown and improved as a result of them.
      Of course, I am merely scratching the surface of what
great IT culture is, but I think if you can take these five areas
and start building them in your organization, you will see some
great results.

Jono Bacon is a leading community manager, speaker, author,
and podcaster. He is the founder of Jono Bacon Consulting,
which provides community strategy/execution, developer work-
flow, and other services. He also previously served as director of
community at GitHub, Canonical, XPRIZE, OpenAdvantage, and
consulted and advised a range of organizations.

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • "Culture is    critical,"    writes    Jono.    "It's   the
      lifeblood of an organization, but it's complicated
      to understand and shape." What does "culture"
      mean to you? What role does it play in your orga-

      • Jono stresses the value of asynchronous work in
      fast-moving IT cultures. Does your team or orga-
      nization leverage the power of asynchronous
      work? Should it? How?

      • Does your team or organization foster a culture
      of experimentation? Where might experimenta-
      tion be most beneficial to your work?

      • What is a "meritocracy," and how might it work
      in your IT organization?

Organizational learning: A new
perspective on DevOps
Gene Kim

I   n the DevOps community, we talk a lot about automated de-
    ployments, doing multiple deployments per day, and the
need for culture. I want to share with you something that isn't
talked about nearly as widely, but I think is just as important:
the benefits of organizational learning.
        Let's take a moment to visualize what an organization that
has fully adopted DevOps principles and practices might look
        We are able to accommodate a high rate of change that al-
lows us to satisfy our organization and out-experiment our
competition. Our changes have short lead times, and we can
make changes and deploy code at any time of the day (as op-
posed to only on Friday at midnight), without organization-
paralyzing fear that it will cause massive chaos and disruption.
        Our code and environments are safe to change (and we
can recover from mistakes quickly), ideally without impacting
the customer. We have created a high-trust environment where
we can rely on our team members throughout the entire value
stream, knowing that we are all working together to help the or-
ganization win.
        When bad things happen—which entropy and Murphy's
Law ensure—we have sufficient monitoring in place to quickly

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

find out what is going wrong, restore service, and resume nor-
mal operations. Because we have a culture of relentless
improvement, we will figure out how to prevent it from happen-
ing again in the future. If we can't, at least enable quicker
detection and recovery.
         And because we know that more important than the doing
of our daily work is the improvement of our daily work, we are
constantly learning as an organization and turning local discov-
eries into global improvements.
         In his book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge explains that
"knowledge exists at the edges, not at the center." He suggests
that we need organizational learning because it enables helping
our customers, ensures quality, creates competitive advantage
and an energized and committed workforce, and it uncovers the
         We therefore must create a culture that rewards learning,
even when it comes from failure. Moreover, we must ensure that
what we learn becomes embedded into our institutional memory
so that future occurrences are prevented.

Encourage and celebrate learning
         No amount of command and control management can di-
rect workers to fix each strand, one by one. Instead, we must
create the organizational culture and norms so that everyone
finds and fixes broken strands, all the time, as part of our daily
         Our goal should be to maximize our organizational learn-
ing from any accident, gain the best understanding of how the
accident occurred, and empower everyone to create the most
effective countermeasure to prevent it from happening again or
enable quicker detection and recovery. In addition, we must fos-
ter a culture where the entire organization learns from

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

accidents, so that any local improvements can be turned into
global improvements.
        Intuit has a famous monthly ritual where the CEO of the
company gives a ceremonial life preserver to the person who
made the largest mistake. The recipient signs the life preserver,
then tells the entire company what happened and what they can
learn from it.

Make it easier to use standards than not
        Using standards that encompass the sum of our organiza-
tional knowledge should be easier than not using standards. One
of the best places to put this knowledge is into a centralized
source code repository that is shared throughout the organiza-
tion, allowing the ability to quickly propagate knowledge. Some
other characteristics of successful standards include:
    •    Shared source code repository and thorough documenta-
         tion that can be searched and widely reused
    •    Internal discussion groups for each library and service
         (e.g. "github-users" or "puppet-users"); often people hav-
         ing questions will get responses from other users faster
         than from the developers
    •    Widely broadcasted, blameless postmortem reports
        Justin Arbuckle, former chief architect of GE Capital once
said, "The best architecture document is one that is imple-
mented in code, in a shared source code repository, that anyone
can pull from."

Enable the organization to discover its way to
        By valuing learning, we create an organization where we
no longer expect leaders to plan our way to greatness. Instead,
leaders help foster and develop routines, test them in practice,

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

recognize which don't work, and reinforce those that do. Lead-
ers do this by reinforcing the value of learning and ensuring that
obstacles are removed so that whatever got in our way yester-
day and today won't get in our way tomorrow.

What does organizational learning look like in a real
DevOps journey?
      I recently had a chance to hear about organizational
learning from Jim Stoneham, CEO of Opsmatic. In 2009, he was
the general manager of the Yahoo! Communities business unit,
which Flickr became a part of. Stoneham shared:

      "The amount of our organizational learning went
      through the roof as we increased our deployment
      frequency at Yahoo! Answers from once every six
      weeks to multiple times per week. Suddenly, we
      were able to able to try things out and experiment
      in ways we hadn't been able to do before. Our team
      became very much in tune with the numbers: we'd
      look at them as a team on a daily and weekly basis,
      and use that to inform feature conversations and

      Instead of engineers talking about the product once
      every six weeks, we'd be talking about it daily. This
      was exactly the learning that we needed to win in
      the marketplace—and it changed more than our fea-
      ture velocity. We transformed from a team of
      employees to a team of owners. When you move at
      that speed, and are looking at the numbers and the
      results    daily,    your     investment        level    radically
      changes. This just can't happen in teams that re-

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      lease quarterly, and it's difficult even with monthly

      I love how Jim Stoneham talks about the benefits about
DevOps that sound very different than how we often talk about
it as Dev or Ops. It's this capability of creating organizational
learning that enables us to win in the marketplace.

Gene Kim is a multiple award winning CTO, and researcher. He
was founder and CTO of Tripwire for 13 years, and is an author
of both The Phoenix Project and The DevOps Handbook.

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • Gene argues that "we therefore must create a
      culture that rewards learning, even when it
      comes from failure." Does your team or organiza-
      tion cultivate a culture that rewards learning?
      How? How could it improve at doing this?

      • Does your organization maintain some kind of
      knowledge commons, a place to store the collec-
      tive wisdom it builds? If not, do you think one
      would be useful? Why or why not? And how could
      you build one, if necessary?

      • "Using standards that encompass the sum of
      our organizational knowledge should be easier
      than not using standards." Gene writes. What
      processes for standardization does your team or
      organization have in place? What can it standard-
      ize to enhance efficiency and reliability?

Innovation requires new approaches to
feedback and failure
Jim Whitehurst

"O         rganizational culture" is something plenty of people
           are puzzling over today, and with good reason. More
and more leaders are realizing that the culture permeating and
guiding their organizations will determine whether they succeed
or fail.
       The term "organizational culture" refers to an alignment
between two forces inside an organization: values and behav-
iors. Aligning those forces productively is one of the most
difficult and important tasks facing leaders today.
       Customers and partners routinely tell me they want to
create a "culture of innovation" in their organizations. By this,
they usually mean that they want to create contexts where cer-
tain actions—those that generate new and unforeseen sources of
value capable of fueling growth—are not only expected but also
       I certainly understand why. Today, a culture of innovation
is a strong indicator of an organization's ability to weather the
kinds of constant disruption nearly every industry seems to be
experiencing. Creating one is easier said than done.
       Here's how I'd recommend an organization approach that

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

A new method
      One method for creating a culture of innovation involves
focusing on how your organization treats feedback and failure.
      In innovative organizations, feedback is continual and
frank—in other words, it's open. 14 Dialogue about associates'
ideas must be ongoing, constructive, and, above all, honest.
      To foster innovative environments, leaders must model the
kinds of feedback behaviors they want to see in their teammates
and associates. They need to be open to even the most difficult
      Innovation is one product of creativity. Despite the way we
tend to think about it on most days, creativity is very difficult;
it's the product of intense collaboration and sharing. Actually,
Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace discuss creativity this way in their
book Creativity, Inc. Innovative teams and organizations, they
say, must have some way to simply separate the wheat from the
chaff—to call a bad idea a bad idea—and move forward. Creat-
ing a culture of respectful, frank disagreement is key to this. 15
The opposite of this kind of culture is one where feedback is a
rarity—or, worse yet, where it's only positive. (As I wrote in The
Open Organization, it's possible for organizations to be "termi-
nally nice.")
      One of the things people receive feedback about is their
failures. Cultures of innovation take a specific approach to fail-
ure: They celebrate it.
      Without question, being innovative involves taking calcu-
lated risks. People in innovative organizations must feel like
they can try something novel and unexpected without fear of in-

14 See Jimmy Sjölund's chapter in this volume.

15 See Rebecca Fernandez's chapter in this volume.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

tense, negative blowback; otherwise, they'll never attempt any-
thing new.
      Traditionally, we've treated failure as a sign of personal
failing. Someone faced with a tough choice didn't make the
"right" decisions, so we need to punish the behavior that led to a
certain outcome.
      In cultures of innovation, where everyone is expected to
experiment, how can anyone possibly know what the "right" and
"wrong" decisions will be if the problem is so new that few peo-
ple have any concrete experience with it?
      Instead, I like to think about failure the way Jeff Bezos
once described it in a letter to Amazon shareholders.16 He said:

      Most large organizations embrace the idea of inven-
      tion, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed
      experiments necessary to get there . . . Given a ten
      percent chance of a 100 times payoff, you should
      take that bet every time. But you're still going to be
      wrong nine times out of ten. We all know that if you
      swing for the fences, you're going to strike out a lot,
      but you're also going to hit some home runs.

      The trick to making this approach to failure an organiza-
tion's default approach is changing the way we think about
      Traditional management is management by objective. It
examines outcomes to see if they're aligned with expectations
someone set out before undertaking a task. If these don't align,
then someone, somewhere, has failed—and that's a bad thing.
      In innovative cultures, we need to balance that approach
with one that actually rewards failure. Leaders must be able to


                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

encourage certain motivations, which are a key source of inno-
vation. They're not as overt or quantifiable as outcomes, which
is why traditional management theory struggles to account for
        How can leaders assess people who might have failed, but
who've demonstrated exciting new ideas and approaches along
the way? And how can they encourage others to actually emu-
late those people?
        If you can get there, you'll know you have a culture that
rewards risk-taking.

A focus on structure
        This approach to creating a culture of innovation isn't a
foolproof and complete plan for changing the way your organiza-
tion functions today. I don't think such a comprehensive plan
actually exists. (If it does, please let me know!)
        But I do believe that focusing on the organizational struc-
tures that govern approaches to feedback and failure is a
promising way to begin—much better than simply telling people
to "be more innovative."

Jim Whitehurst is President and Chief Executive Officer of Red
Hat, the world's leading provider of open source enterprise IT
products and services.

             The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • "Organizational culture" is an important topic to
      IT leaders today. What does the term mean to

      • How does your team currently handle feedback
      and address failure? How might you be able to
      change your approach to these issues?

      • What do you think are your team's or organiza-
      tion's largest impediments to creating cultures of

      • Jim writes: "How can leaders assess people who
      might have failed, but who've demonstrated ex-
      citing new ideas and approaches along the way?
      And how can they encourage others to actually
      emulate those people?" Can you think of strate-
      gies for doing this on your team or in your

Transparency, failure, and other things
I've learned to enjoy
Nick Hall17

  W •
            e've all heard statements that begin with phrases like
         "Full disclosure . . ."
    •    "I'll admit . . ."
    •    "I'll be honest . . ."18
        They preface a moment of clarity, bringing everyone to a
place of common ground through complete and utter trans-
parency. They promise listeners a window into what's really
going on.
        And they're not always comfortable.19,20
        This discomfort isn't the result of some aversion to hon-
esty; it's just that the full story is rarely convenient or
glamorous. When someone starts with one of those phrases, we

17 Abbreviated "NH" in the footnotes. Edited by Bryan Behrenshausen
   ("BB" in the footnotes).

18 Love the idea of jumping right in with these all-too-common turns of
   phrase. In fact, I think we can work them into the narrative
   strategically and stylistically.—BB

19 Would be good to have an editors note or something with how many
   edits/revisions/changes/whatever went into the final form of this.—

20 We can totally do that. I'll leave the marginalia in the chapter as

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

react immediately: This conversation is taking a diferent path
than I anticipated. When the tide turns from truisms to this
other thing, we have to be prepared for anything, and if that
other thing is complete transparency, these conversations have
a way of exposing things that we might not be so proud of. They
can shine a light on our vulnerabilities. And even if the light isn't
focused on us, our self-reflection can still bring those vulnerabil-
ities to the surface.
      It might not be comfortable, but it can be incredibly re-
      I'm going to explain that positive outcome—how trans-
parency and failures can work hand-in-hand, and how coming
from a place of discomfort, vulnerability, and disappointment
can be a good thing, not only for us individually, but for our
projects and our teams.21,22
      Consider this chapter one of my projects.

The transformative power of transparency
      One key benefit of transparency is its transformative

21 Readers would benefit from a clear and concise encapsulation of
   your chapter's argument right here. What are you going to argue,
   prove, or teach? Bonus points if you can tie that work to the
   previous statement and explain (earlier) why those statements
   actually serve to make people uncomfortable, rather than the other
   way around.—BB

22 I expanded a bit here, referenced those earlier remarks, and added
   a transition that I think ties to the next section as well as the close
   of the article—which hopefully will allow us to keep that idea on how
   this article was shaped over time and incorporate that if it still

23 Another editorial option would be to actually begin the chapter
   here, which the reflexive approach of speaking to the chapter itself,
   as that's how you've currently ended the piece.—BB

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

         Undoubtedly, by the time you read this chapter, it will be
in much better shape than it was when I originally typed it. If
the final product is lacking, rest assured you are still faring bet-
ter than you would have otherwise. And that is because of the
tireless work and patience of an editor tweaking, cutting, revis-
ing, suggesting—perhaps providing some "tough love" now and
         As someone who has not been writing like this for some
time (full disclosure: I once worked as a newspaper reporter), I
am not only expecting it, but also looking forward to it. To edit
and be edited wears down those barriers we erect to shield our-
selves from criticism, not unlike the way a coarse rock tossed
across a river becomes smooth over time. It doesn't injure you
(at least, not in the long run), but it does mold you. Failures are
part of the process; you will see them called out, and you will
make fewer mistakes as you go along. The process improves not
only the deliverable, but also the people (or person) responsible
for it. And if I continued to write—and our paths crossed as
writer and reader months down the road—I'd imagine we would
both see the progress, the positive transformation over time,
formed by cycles of iterations, project after project.
         It's a cycle that is built on failure and transparency. Thus,
one way to think about failure is to consider it the ultimate form
of development.

Failing to develop, developing failure
         I was discussing all of this with one of my mentors re-
cently. She mentioned a development exercise she'd undertaken,
which involved self-assessing and soliciting feedback from oth-

24 I kept the opening you have, but I think we highlighted the chapter
   itself a bit more with some of the changes.—NH

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

ers. The goal was to identify areas for professional improve-
      The results, in her case, were not particularly useful. They
didn't really give her any clear area for improvement. And she
said that made her uncomfortable.
      I'll be honest: I could see why. I suggested that "either
you're perfect, or they're delusional," and we both laughed.
Those probably aren't the only two options, if we're being fair,
but we agreed on the point: Everyone can improve. But the only
way you can improve is to be open and honest about those areas
of weakness, to be transparent when you make mistakes, and to
continue to work on refining those areas.
      The value of transparency—especially in an atmosphere
where people can be honest and open about failures—is abso-
lutely vital to truly growing and improving. Anything else leads
to stagnation (and sometimes delusional behavior). It's some-
thing that we've all seen.
      An inability or unwillingness to be open and honest about
our own personal shortcomings (or those of others) is damaging
to ourselves and to everyone we work and live with. A person
who cannot acknowledge their own mistakes or failures does not
see the opportunities for growth. And if they see their mistakes
but refuse to take ownership of of those mistakes, the situation
could be even worse. They could identify opportunities for im-
provement, but they might not care. This kind of attitude leads
to a culture lacking in accountability and engagement—one that
emphasizes appearance over substance, talk over action, and
the comfortable status quo over the uncomfortable change.

25 I'd like to see you elaborate this section somewhat, to really make
   the takeaway more concrete for readers. How can it function as a
   better bridge for the sections that come before and after it? How
   can it connect them?—BB

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

       Like we said earlier: It might not be comfortable, but it
can be incredibly rewarding.
       And what does that look like?
       You may have heard the term "growth mindset," which
Carol Dweck coined. It's the result of transparency and open-
ness around failure. One short summary would be: Someone
possesses a growth mindset when they believe that they can im-
prove if they put forth the effort, dedicate themselves to
improvement, and respond to feedback from others. Doing this
requires that others provide constructive, open feedback; it also
requires a willingness to thoughtfully accept that feedback and
act on it.
       According to Dweck, that mindset can permeate an entire
culture of teams, even organizations. Those negative qualities
we mentioned above—the unwillingness to be open and honest
about shortcomings, lack of accountability, lack of engagement,
and sometimes complete indifference—turn those on their head.
       Transparency is the key to personal growth and develop-
ment, and it is critical for cultivating a culture where people are
interested in improving together.
       That leads us to our next point about the great interper-
sonal value in transparency and openness around failure. 26

The strength in weakness
       So there's value in growth and development—actual, con-
crete improvement never fully realized without a culture of
transparency and a willingness to be open and honest about fail-
ure. There's also value in the failure itself, especially when you

26 I added quite a bit to this section, and I think the transition from the
   previous section and the transition out of this section make the
   connections more clear. Let me know what you think!—NH

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

yourself are failing and are willing to take ownership of those
failures and speak openly and freely about them.
      In other words, then, failure has both personal and inter-
personal value.
      Failure is personally valuable when it spurs you to over-
come hardship and become better in the process (think of all
those iterations of that old adage: "What doesn't kill you makes
you stronger").
      That's all well and good, but failure's interpersonal value
might be even more substantial.
      Failure, specifically when combined with that culture of
transparency, can be incredibly motivating and engaging for oth-
ers who witness it.
      It's not that failure causes onlookers to think: "Wow, I bet-
ter step up my game because that person really screwed up!"
Instead, failure creates an actual connection—a bond, a sense of
trust and commitment between team members.
      When someone tries, fails, owns, and vocalizes their fail-
ure to their peers—well, I'll admit, that can be very powerful.
      Showing vulnerability not only requires strength from the
person who's become vulnerable; it also encourages others to
become stronger in supporting them, and encourages more of
that behavior in the future. Eventually, repeat displays of vulner-
ability can potentially form the backbone of a strong team.
      In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Leoncini high-
lights the importance of this willingness to show vulnerability.
Leoncini arranges his five dysfunctions in a triangle. From top to
bottom, they are: inattention to results, avoidance of account-
ability, lack of commitment, fear of conflict, and absence of trust
(the foundation that gives rise to all other forms of dysfunction).
Key to developing trust is showing vulnerability, and here lead-

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

ers are crucial for displaying the behaviors they expect from
their team members.
       It makes sense: By creating that trust and mutual support,
you'll see how the dysfunctions can begin to right themselves. 27
By showing vulnerability, you erase the myth of perfection. You
show your team that you are, in fact, a mere mortal, and you
create a healthy environment where people can fail and then
trust that they won't be ostracized, singled out, or considered
weak or incapable. From your example, they'll learn to trust that
you will similarly be as open the next time things don't go as
planned. The more your team sees it, the more willing they will
be to show it.
       It's easy to see how transparency and trust go hand-in-
hand. Soon you'll be able to tackle other forms of dysfunction—
when people can trust one another, they're more willing to en-
gage in healthy conflict, because they're not afraid to speak
their minds. When they're more willing to engage in healthy
conflict, they feel like their opinions have value and they can
have their say in the direction of their team, and they become
more committed and engaged. When they are more committed
and engaged, they invest themselves more heavily in their work
and take ownership of it, accepting accountability for the good
and the bad. And engaged, accountable teams are deeply com-
mitted to the results of their actions and their work.
       It sounds easier than it is in practice, but that foundation
of trust—built on transparency—is the first step.28

27 Can you perhaps expand this just a bit? Elaborate? It's an important
   point; drive it home.—BB

28 Alright, I sort of walked up the triangle starting with trust. I think
   this works to illustrate how that foundation relies on transparency
   and how important it is to a healthy team.—NH

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Embracing a culture of failure
      Alright. Recap: We've seen the value of direct, concrete
improvements that emerge from growth and development, all of
which is dependent on a transparent culture. We've also seen
the forms of personal and interpersonal value we gain from the
mutual trust and support arising from the vulnerability we
demonstrate by maintaining a transparent culture.
      What else is there to say about the value that comes from
a culture where you can be transparent and open about failing?
      Let me be clear: It can be fun.
      Certainly it isn't always fun. But embracing the inevitabil-
ity of things that do not go as we expected can be rather
      For example, I was recently in a class where one partici-
pant, a manager with a moderately large group of direct reports,
was explaining how he embraces failures as a leader. The man-
ager acknowledged that he's rarely the person with the most
knowledge of any team function—just like anyone else in a lead-
ership role who works with a diverse group of people embodying
their own skillsets, interests, and strengths. That's the whole
point of recruiting and developing a team of specialists.
      Whenever team tensions were high—when people were
stressed, and the job just became a bit too much—this manager
would take the opportunity to get his hands dirty and pitch in
wherever he could.
      Sometimes that would mean he'd fail spectacularly. But he
also found that it boosted morale. It was disarming, it lowered
stress, and it lightened the mood. To his team, it communicated
that he supported them, that he was willing to work as hard as
he needed to in any number of areas to help the job get done,
and that he was willing to look foolish in the process.

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

        I thought it was a great idea. It produced a strong connec-
tion among the team members and encouraged others to do the
same, to fill in as needed, to embrace their collective strengths
and weaknesses, and to have some fun with it.

Getting there from here
        Cultivating a transparent culture is no easy task. But I
hope I've shown you the value of doing it: the development and
growth opportunities at the individual and group level, the inter-
personal connections and group trust that can come from
vulnerability and honesty, and the positive and productive work
atmosphere that results from a willingness to try new things and
not be afraid to fall on your face every now and again.
        So what are some useful takeaways and tips to get there
from here—wherever here is?
    •    Communicate all failures as an opportunity for
         growth. Whether you're in a leadership position or are
         working through your own or a peer's failure, use failure
         as a chance to help others develop a new skill, shore up
         a weakness, or maybe re-align talents in another area, if
         that's more appropriate.
    •    Lean on those with an editor's mindset. Use those
         more open and willing to communicate their failures as
         a mentor and potential keeper of the culture within your
         group. Showing vulnerability has a way of connecting
         others, and they can help pave the way for that behavior.
    •    Take on tasks that are outside of your comfort
         zone. Assist others when necessary, and encourage oth-
         ers to branch out and explore different functions in the
         team (even if it's not familiar to them). It's a way of po-
         litely nudging people into the unknown, but by providing

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

         support, it can be a great way to facilitate experimenta-
         tion in a safe environment.
    •    Don't be afraid to have the discussion. Failure and
         accountability go hand-in-hand. Having difficult discus-
         sions about accountability and becoming transparent
         about failures are fundamental to a successful team.
         When you have that discussion, come from a place of
         support and don't be afraid to make yourself an exam-
         ple. Walk through the intent, the result, and the impact,
         and then brainstorm and iterate. How and why did
         something go wrong? How do we adjust for next time?
         Should there even be a next time? Ultimately, keep
         things in the greater context. Chances are the failure
         was not in a life-or-death matter, so perspective is im-
         portant. You can always take corrective steps, and there
         are always opportunities for getting back on the right
         path. This is true no matter what your role.
        Start small, and start with yourself. Cultures do not de-
velop overnight, and some atmospheres are more forgiving of
failures than others. But all atmospheres are made better by
transparency and open discussion about failures.
        As are all chapters.29

Nick Hall is a project manager in Global Partner and Technical
Enablement at Red Hat, where he focuses on team processes
and standards. He manages the go-to-market process for course
development and release for both internal and external enable-
ment     programs     and      assists      with    project        management,
communications, and reporting for the Red Hat Online Partner
Enablement Network (OPEN) program.

29 This document received approximately 240 total edits.—BB

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • How transparent is your team? How transpar-
      ent is your organization? Can you identify areas
      in which greater transparency could enhance
      your collective work?

      • Do you agree with Nick when he argues that in-
      creased    transparency          leads        to     increased
      accountability in an organization? Why or why
      not? What limits to transparency must you ac-
      knowledge in your organization?

      • Nick says transparency is the foundation of
      trust in an organization. Do you agree or dis-
      agree?    Does      your     team        or        organization
      experience issues with trust? And would greater
      transparency solve them?

      • Are members of your team open and honest
      about their failures as much as they are about
      their successes? Could they be? Should they be?

Why a Buffer developer open sourced his
Jordan Morgan

I   f you look for the official definition of open source, you'll
    likely stumble upon this outline30 from the board members of
the Open Source Initiative. If you skim through it, you're sure to
find some idea or concept that you feel very aligned with. At its
heart, openness (and open source) is about free distribution—
putting your work out there for others to use.
      It's really about helping others and giving back.
      When we started to think about open source and how we
could implement it at Buffer, the fit seemed not only natural, but
crucial to how we operate. In fact, it seemed that in a lot of ways
we'd be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn't start to look
more seriously at it.
      But what I didn't quite realize at the time were all the ef-
fects that open source would have on me.
      Open source has positively impacted me as a developer, as
an employee at Buffer, and even as a person. Those are the
things I'd love to share with you here—to show you how we
stumbled upon open source at Buffer.


               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Acting on your values
      At Buffer, we're known just as much for the way we oper-
ate as much as our product. We believe that making your values
and culture wildly transparent gives you an extra sense of re-
sponsibility to act on them. As someone who works at Buffer, I
often wonder how I can be a good steward of what we're all
about. How can I promote our ideas, failures, successes and ex-
perience in a way that helps other people?
      As a company, we value transparency and put a premium
on it. We think it helps us operate, and we hope that other peo -
ple can look at our data and derive real, lasting value from it.
That's why you can find all of our salaries 31 in a public Google
Docs spreadsheet, open up a Trello board and see our product
roadmap, or even go to a realtime dashboard showing all of our
      After thinking about this one day, I came to realize that I
wasn't fully taking advantage of perhaps the biggest opportunity
Buffer was affording me to give back: our own code. I spend
hours every day writing it, testing it, and thinking about it to
make sure the work I do solves real problems for people, and
generally makes their life easier or better.
      So why wasn't I sharing it?

From the top down
      I think values like this tend to flow from the top of organi-
zations. Sharing the code you write daily for a company might
be difficult if that company didn't feel the same way about the
code! To that end, our CEO, Joel Gascoigne, seemed to sense
this opportunity, and was also passionate about it. I remember


              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

reading an email thread he started, where he raised some
strong points in favor of using open source at Buffer.
      Here is some of what Joel had mentioned:

      "I'd love to share something that's been on my mind
      for several years at Buffer. As you all know, one of
      our values is to Show Gratitude. Since the very be-
      ginning, we've been super fortunate to be building
      Buffer in a time where open source is a big part of
      the world of software development.

      There's no way that we'd be as big as we are today
      without open source. In fact, we probably wouldn't
      even be here at all. The internet is very much built
      on the generosity of those who lead and contribute
      to open source. We are quite literally standing on
      the shoulders of giants, and in many ways, what
      we've done ourselves is minute in comparison to the
      incredible technologies we're lucky enough to rely
      on and make use of.

      I believe that contributing more towards open
      source as a company is a key part of our future, and
      almost a duty we have. With our value of trans-
      parency, I think it's something people likely expect
      and should expect from us."

      Once I read that, I felt reaffirmed. Getting involved with
the open source community felt exactly like the right thing to do
for Buffer.
      Buffer's CTO, Sunil Sadasivan, is also a passionate open
source champion. Sunil has the best "big picture" of engineering

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

at Buffer, and was quick to help us get open source initiatives
moving at Buffer.
       Recognizing the power of open source, Sunil helped us fa-
cilitate   many     important      things—from         a    Slack   channel
specifically for open discussions, to an open calendar for sugges-
tions, and a habit of leaving comments on our open source
documents. Sunil was on board and helping us push forward.
       When the CTO takes time to provide a larger vision for
open thinking in a company, developers like me can more easily
act on it. It's a symbiotic relationship, and it takes several of us
to execute on the vision we have for open source. And seeing
our leadership promoting our open source efforts really was
       Committing to open source was a gut check for all of us.
We knew we could be doing better here! Our values tend to pro -
mote personal growth, gratitude, and openness. By the same
token, the open source community also advocates a lot of the
same ideas.
       It felt like a perfect fit for our workplace and culture.

Personal growth
       At that point, I started to think about how I could help.
With so much code and opportunity, I realized the challenge re-
ally lied within finding the right things to share. I came to the
realization that, first and foremost, open source code should
help someone. So what is most helpful?
       We could, of course, open source the entirety of Buffer.
That would certainly hold true to our values, but it also may not
be the most beneficial move for the community. It seemed like
the right choice to get started with the open source movement
at Buffer would be to release some focused and individualized

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

        As an iOS developer at Buffer, I'm most familiar with our
iOS codebase. It's what I know best, so I started there. Around
this time, I'd been working on a modular component to view im-
ages easily within our app. It was easy to use and solved a real
problem that developers on the platform often face. It felt like
the perfect place to start.
        Eventually it was. But first, I experienced an open source
reality check: This was code that I wrote, and I didn't write it
thinking that the world would one day examine it. Impostor syn-
drome and doubt quickly crept in.32 I started asking myself:
    •    What if this isn't any good?
    •    What if there are some mistakes?
    •    What if people think I didn't write the best parts (it was
         based on an existing open source project)
    •    What if I missed important shortcuts, like using the right
        In only a matter of hours, I experienced some important
growth as an engineer. And that growth stemmed directly from
two things:
    •    Working at a company who believed in us to share our
         code, and that it was the right thing to do
    •    Open sourcing that code to the world
        Sometimes, developing with only your team is easiest.
They know you, and they are likely quite familiar with your cod-
ing tendencies. There's much comfort there (as well there
should be). Contrast that with coding for potentially thousands
of people, and your mental state can quickly change from com-
fort to doubt.
        I think this experience is an important one for software
engineers to encounter. It made me realize that I had an incredi-

32 See Laura Hilliger's chapter in this volume.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

ble learning opportunity in front of me. As the old adage goes:
"Nobody bats a thousand." There were bound to be mistakes or
rough edges, and that was completely okay. So, I shared the

Showing gratitude
      That experience directly correlates with the second bene-
fit I derived from open thinking: gratitude. When I posted the
open source project I previously mentioned, community recep-
tion was very positive. Other developers mentioned some
tweaks, made some edits to our README file—and most of all,
they were just thankful we released it!
      This was such an important reminder of how much devel-
oping is a community driven task. No single developer has all
the answers. There are experts, but I've constantly seen those
experts point to the fact that the community helped them get
where they are.
      Open source helps other developers work and accomplish
great things, but inherently it's also an act of knowledge trans-
fer. I remember when Apple made Swift open source. It was an
exciting day for me. I was elated to look through Apple's code
and learn from the industry experts on the language. I picked
things up that I may not have otherwise, and learned a lot of
what best practices were.
      In short, I was very grateful for that!

Beginning a journey
      With open source at Buffer, we are very much in our in-
fancy. We're still asking some questions to help put us on the
right path, like "What is the most helpful code to open source?"


               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

"How do we tell people about it?" and "How do we develop with
an open source mindset?"
      Throughout the process, though, we've constantly been
reminded that the internet is actually a very sharing and gener-
ous place. As Joel said, we are only where we are today at Buffer
because of the brilliant code of other developers who were kind
enough to share their hard work with the world. And what an
amazing bar they've set.
      All I can think about is how I want us to be like that. We
want to learn from those people who are doing it so much better,
and we'll strive to hit that high bar. We want to give back and
help solve problems, too. We want to save other people time. We
want to share all of our work in the open.
      That's what lead us to open source, and it's already had an
incredible impact on the way we think about work and culture.
I'm excited to see where it takes us next.

Jordan Morgan is an iOS developer at Bufer. He is from Ozark
and also founded Dreaming In Binary. He is focused on helping
the community, creating things that inspire others, doing talks
over iOS, and constantly being a student of any form of software

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • Jordan writes that values like transparency
      "tend to flow from the top of the organization."
      Do you agree or disagree? What values do you
      see flowing from your organization's leadership?

      • Jordan describes how he one day "came to real-
      ize that I wasn't fully taking advantage of
      perhaps the biggest opportunity Buffer was af-
      fording me to give back: our own code." Are you
      or your teammates missing an opportunity to
      share valuable knowledge and resources with
      each other—or with the rest of the organization?
      How can you begin doing that?

      • Sharing allowed Jordan's team "to learn from
      those people who are doing it so much better,
      and we'll strive to hit that high bar." What do you
      think you could learn from others if they decided
      to share with you and your team? What's the
      best way to facilitate that kind of sharing?

A user's guide to failing faster
Gordon Haf

F     ailure. Now that's a word with a negative vibe. Among en-
      gineering and construction projects, it conjures images of
the Titanic sinking, the Tacoma Narrows bridge twisting in the
wind, or the space shuttle Challenger exploding. These were all
failures of engineering design or management.
      Most failures in the pure software realm don't lead to the
same visceral imagery as those above, but they can have wide-
spread financial and human costs all the same. Think of the
failed launch, the Target data breach, or really
any number of multi-million dollar projects that basically didn't
work in the end. In 2012, the US Air Force scrapped an ERP
project34 after racking up $1 billion in costs.
      In cases like these, playing the blame game is customary.
Even when most of those involved don't literally go down with
the ship—as in the case of the Titanic—people get fired, careers
get curtailed, and the internet has a field day with both the indi-
viduals and the organizations.
      But how do we square that with the frequent demand to
embrace failure in your DevOps culture? 35 If we should embrace
failure, how can we punish it?



                  The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Failing well
         Not all failure is created equal. Understanding different
types of failure and structuring the environment and processes
to minimize the bad kinds is the key to success. The key is to
"fail well," as Megan McArdle writes in The Up Side of Down.
         In that book, McArdle describes the Marshmallow Chal-
lenge, an experiment Peter Skillman, the former VP of design at
Palm, originally concocted. In this challenge, groups receive 20
sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one
marshmallow. Their objective is to build a structure that gets the
marshmallow off the ground, as high as possible.
         Skillman conducted his experiment with all sorts of partic-
ipants     from    business       school     students       to       engineers   to
kindergarteners. The business school students did worst. I'm a
former business school student, and this does not surprise me.
According to Skillman, they spent too much time arguing about
who was going to be the CEO of Spaghetti, Inc. The engineers
did well, but also did not come out on top. As someone who also
has an engineering degree and has participated in similar exer-
cises, I suspect that they spent too much time arguing over the
optimal structural design approach to take.
         By contrast, the kindergartners didn't sit around talking
about the problem. They just started building to determine what
works and what doesn't. And they did the best.
         Setting up a system and environment that allows and en-
courages such experiments enables successful failure in agile
software development. It doesn't mean that no one is account-
able for failures. In fact, it makes accountability easier because
"being accountable" needn't equate to "having caused some dis-
aster." In this respect, it changes the nature of accountability. 36

36 See Stephen Gold's chapter in this volume.

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Designing for accountability
        We should consider five principles when we think about
such a system: scope, approach, workflow, incentives, and cul-
        Scope. The right scope is about constraining the impact
of failure and stopping the cascading of additional failures. This
is central to encouraging experimentation because it minimizes
the effect of a failure (and if you don't have failures, then you're
not experimenting.) In general, you want to decouple activities
and decisions from each other. From a DevOps perspective, this
means making deployments incremental, frequent, and routine
events—in part by deploying small, autonomous, and bounded
context services (i.e. microservices or similar patterns).
        Approach. The right approach is about continuously ex-
perimenting, iterating, and improving. This is the philosophy
that DevOps and Agile development 37 bring from the Toyota Pro-
duction System's kaizen (continuous improvement), and other
manufacturing antecedents. The most effective processes have
continuous communication—think scrums and kanban—and al-
low for collaboration that can identify failures before they
happen. At the same time, when failures do occur, the process
allows for feedback to continuously improve and cultivate ongo-
ing learning.
        Workflow. The right workflow repeatedly automates for
consistency and thereby reduces the number of failures attribut-
able to inevitable casual mistakes like a mistyped command.
This allows for a greater focus on design errors and other sys-
tematic causes of failure. In DevOps, much of this takes the form
of a Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) work-

37 See Jen Krieger's and Hina Popal's co-authored chapter in this

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

flow that uses monitoring, feedback loops, and automated test
suites to catch failures as early in the process as possible.
      Incentives. The right incentives align rewards and behav-
ior with desirable outcomes. Incentives (such as advancement,
money, recognition) need to reward trust, cooperation, and inno-
vation.38 The key is that individuals have control over their own
success. This is probably a good place to point out that failure is
not always a positive outcome. Especially when failure is the re-
sult of repeatedly not following established processes and
design rules, actions still have consequences.
      Culture. The right culture is, at least in part, about build-
ing organizations and systems that allow for failing well—and
thereby make accountability within that framework a positive at-
tribute rather than part of a blame game. This requires
transparency. It also requires an understanding that even good
decisions can have bad outcomes. A technology doesn't develop
as expected. The market shifts. An architectural approach turns
out not to scale. Stuff happens. Innovation is inherently risky.
Cut your losses and move on, avoiding the sunk cost fallacy. 39
      Properly dealing with accountability and failure in agile IT
does require appropriate architectures, tools, and processes.
Low-impact experimentation on a fragile, monolithic application
will be difficult. Avoiding costly failures and subsequent blame
will be difficult. However, the culture of an organization still
plays an outsized role. Legendary management consultant Peter
Drucker once famously said that "Culture eats strategy for
breakfast." Culture has a similar appetite for many aspects of
the software development process.

38 See Jim Whitehurst's chapter in this volume.


              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Gordon Haf is Red Hat's cloud evangelist. He is a frequent and
highly acclaimed speaker at customer and industry events, and
helps develop strategy across Red Hat's full portfolio of cloud
solutions. He is the author of Computing Next: How the Cloud
Opens the Future, in addition to numerous other publications.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • What's the relationship between failure and ac-

      • Do you agree with Gordon when he asserts that
      one can "fail well"? What does "failing well" in-
      volve? What does it look like?

      • Gordon lists five elements that teams should
      consider when building robust systems of ac-
      countability:       scope,         approach,        workflow,
      incentives, and culture. How does your team cur-
      rently balance these factors in its approach to
      accountability? Would you add anything to the

Changing the way we think of change
Matt Micene

T     hink about the last time you tried to change a personal
      habit. You likely hit a point where you needed to alter the
way you think and make the habit less a part of your identity.
This is difficult—and you're only trying to change your own ways
of thinking.
      So you may have tried to put yourself in new situations.
New situations can actually help us create new habits, which in
turn lead to new ways of thinking.
      That's the thing about successful change: It's as much
about outlook as outcome. You need to know why you're chang-
ing and where you're headed (not just how you're going to do it),
because change for its own sake is often short-lived and short-
      Now think about the changes your IT organization needs
to make. Perhaps you're thinking about adopting something like
DevOps. This thing we call "DevOps" has three components:
people, process, and tools. People and process are the basis for
any organization. Adopting DevOps, therefore, requires making
fundamental changes to the core of most organizations—not just
learning new tools.
      And like any change, it can be short-sighted. If you're fo-
cused on the change as a point solution—"Get a better tool to do
alerting," for example—you'll likely come up with a narrow vi-
sion of the problem. This mode of thinking may furnish a tool

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

with more bells and whistles and a better way of handling on-
call rotations. But it can't fix the fact that alerts aren't going to
the right team, or that those failures remain failures since no
one actually knows how to fix the service.
         The new tool (or at least the idea of a new tool) creates a
moment to have a conversation about the underlying issues that
plague your team's views on monitoring. The new tool allows
you to make bigger changes—changes to your beliefs and prac-
tices—which, as the foundation of your organization, are even
more important.
         Creating deeper change requires new approaches to the
notion of change altogether. And to discover those approaches,
we need to better understand the drive for change in the first

Clearing the fences
         "In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from
         deforming them, there is one plain and simple prin-
         ciple; a principle which will probably be called a
         paradox. There exists in such a case a certain insti-
         tution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a
         fence or gate erected across a road. The more mod-
         ern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I
         don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To
         which the more intelligent type of reformer will do
         well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I cer-
         tainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and
         think. Then, when you can come back and tell me
         that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to de-
         stroy it."—G.K Chesterton, 1929

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      To understand the need for DevOps, which tries to recom-
bine the traditionally "split" entities of "development" and
"operations," we must first understand how the split came
about. Once we "know the use of it," then we can see the split
for what it really is—and dismantle it if necessary.
      Today we have no single theory of management, but we
can trace the origins of most modern management theory to
Frederick Winslow Taylor. Taylor was a mechanical engineer
who created a system for measuring the efficiency of workers at
a steel mill. Taylor believed he could apply scientific analysis to
the laborers in the mill, not only to improve individual tasks, but
also to prove that there was a discoverable best method for per-
forming any task.
      We can easily draw a historical tree with Taylor at the
root. From Taylor's early efforts in the late 1880s emerged the
time-motion study and other quality-improvement programs that
span the 1920s all the way to today, where we see Six Sigma,
Lean, and the like. Top-down, directive-style management, cou-
pled with a methodical approach to studying process, dominates
mainstream business culture today. It's primarily focused on effi-
ciency as the primary measure of worker success.
      If Taylor is the root of our historical tree, then our next
major fork in the trunk would be Alfred P. Sloan of General Mo -
tors in the 1920s. The structure Sloan created at GM would not
only hold strong there until the 2000s, but also prove to be the
major model of the corporation for much of the next 50 years.
      In 1920, GM was experiencing a crisis of management—or
rather a crisis from the lack thereof. Sloan wrote his "Organiza-
tional Study" for the board, proposing a new structure for the
multitudes of GM divisions. This new structure centered on the
concept of "decentralized operations with centralized control."
The individual divisions, associated now with brands like

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chevrolet, Cadillac, and Buick, would operate independently
while providing central management the means to drive strategy
and control finances.
        Under Sloan's recommendations (and later guidance as
CEO), GM rose to a dominant position in the US auto industry.
Sloan's plan created a highly successful corporation from one on
the brink of disaster. From the central view, the autonomous
units are black boxes. Incentives and goals get set at the top lev-
els, and the teams at the bottom drive to deliver.
        The Taylorian idea of "best practices"—standard, inter-
changeable, and repeatable behaviors—still holds a place in
today's management ideals, where it gets coupled with the hier-
archical   model    of   the    Sloan     corporate       structure,   which
advocates rigid departmental splits and silos for maximum con-
        We can point to several management studies that demon-
strate this. But business culture isn't created and propagated
through reading books alone. Organizational culture is the prod-
uct of real people in actual situations performing concrete
behaviors that propel cultural norms through time. That's how
things like Taylorism and Sloanianism get solidified and come to
appear immovable.
        Technology sector funding is a case in point. Here's how
the cycle works: Investors only invest in those companies they
believe could achieve their particular view of success. This
model for success doesn't necessarily originate from the com-
pany itself (and its particular goals); it comes from a board's
ideas of what a successful company should look like. Many in-
vestors come from companies that have survived the trials and
tribulations of running a business, and as a result they have dif-
ferent blueprints for what makes a successful company. They
fund companies that can be taught to mimic their models for

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

success. So companies wishing to acquire funding learn to
mimic. In this way, the start-up incubator is a direct way of re-
producing a supposedly ideal structure and culture.
      The "Dev" and "Ops" split is not the result of personality,
diverging skills, or a magic hat placed on the heads of new em-
ployees; it's a byproduct of Taylorism and Sloanianism. Clear
and impermeable boundaries between responsibilities and per-
sonnel is a management function coupled with a focus on
worker efficiency. The management split could have easily
landed on product or project boundaries instead of skills, but
the history of business management theory through today tells
us that skills-based grouping is the "best" way to be efficient.
      Unfortunately, those boundaries create tensions, and
those tensions are a direct result of opposing goals set by differ-
ent management chains with different objectives. For example:
                          Agility ⟷ Stability
        Drawing new users ⟷ Existing users' experience
  Application getting features ⟷ Application available to use
         Beating the competition ⟷ Protecting revenue
 Fixing problems that come up ⟷ Preventing problems before
                              they happen
      Today, we can see growing recognition among organiza-
tions' top leaders that the existing business culture (and by
extension the set of tensions it produces) is a serious problem.
In a 2016 Gartner report, 57 percent of respondents said that
culture change was one of the major challenges to the business
through 2020. The rise of new methods like Agile and DevOps as
a means of affecting organizational changes reflects that recog-
nition. The rise of "shadow IT" is the flip side of the coin; recent

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

estimates peg nearly 30 percent of IT spend outside the control
of the IT organization.40
      These are only some of the "culture concerns" that busi-
ness are having. The need to change is clear, but the path ahead
is still governed by the decisions of yesterday.

Resistance isn't futile
      "Bert Lance believes he can save Uncle Sam billions
      if he can get the government to adopt a simple
      motto: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' He explains:
      'That's the trouble with government: Fixing things
      that aren't broken and not fixing things that are
      broken.'" — Nation's Business, May 1977

      Typically, change is an organizational response to some-
thing gone wrong. In this sense, then, if tension (even adversity)
is the normal catalyst for change, then the resistance to change
is an indicator of success. But overemphasis on successful paths
can make organizations inflexible, hidebound, and dogmatic.
Valuing policy navigation over effective results is a symptom of
this growing rigidity.
      Success in traditional IT departments has thickened the
walls of the IT silo. Other departments are now "customers," not
co-workers. Attempts to shift IT away from being a cost-center
create a new operating model that disconnects IT from the rest
of the business' goals. This in turn creates resistance that limits
agility, increases friction, and decreases responsiveness. Collab-
oration gets shelved in favor of "expert direction." The result is
an isolationist view of IT can only do more harm than good.


               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      And yet as "software eats the world," IT becomes more
and more central to the overall success of the organization. For-
ward-thinking IT organizations recognize this and are already
making deliberate changes to their playbooks, rather than treat-
ing change as something to fear.
      For instance, Facebook consulted with anthropologist
Robin Dunbar41 on its approach to social groups, but realized
the impact this had on internal groups (not just external users of
the site) as the company grew. Zappos' culture has garnered so
much praise that the organization created a department focused
on training others in their views on core values and corporate
culture. And of course, this book is a companion to The Open
Organization, a book that shows how open principles applied to
management—transparency, participation, and community—can
reinvent the organization for our fast-paced, connected era.

Resolving to change
      "If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the
      rate of change on the inside, the end is near."—Jack
      Welch, 2004

      A colleague once told me he could explain DevOps to a
project manager using only the vocabulary of the Information
Technology Infrastructure Library framework.42
      While these frameworks appear to be opposed, they actu-
ally both center on risk and change management. They simply
present different processes and tools for such management. This
point is important to note when to talking about DevOps outside



              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

IT. Instead of emphasizing process breakdowns and failures,
show how smaller changes introduce less risk, and so on. This is
a powerful way to highlight the benefits changing a team's cul-
ture: Focusing on the new capabilities instead of the old
problems is an effective agent for change, especially when you
adopt someone else's frame of reference.
      Change isn't just about rebuilding the organization; it's
also about new ways to cross historically uncrossable gaps—re-
solving those tensions I mapped earlier by refusing to position
things like "agility" and "stability" as mutually exclusive forces.
Setting up cross-silo teams focused on outcomes over functions
is one of the strategies in play. Bringing different teams, each of
whose work relies on the others, together around a single
project or goal is one of the most common approaches. Eliminat-
ing friction between these teams and improving communications
yields massive improvements—even while holding onto the iron
silo structures of management (silos don't need to be demol-
ished if they can be mastered). In these cases, resistance to
change isn't an indicator of success; an embrace of change is.
      These aren't "best practices." They're simply a way for you
to examine your own fences. Every organization has unique
fences created by the people within it. And once you "know the
use of it," you can decide whether it needs dismantling or mas-

Matt Micene works at Red Hat, evangelizing Red Hat Enterprise
Linux. He has more than 10 years of experience in information
technology, where he's worked on Solaris and Linux architec-
ture and system design as well as data center design. He's also
spent many long, cofee-filled nights performing system mainte-
nance for various web-based service companies.

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • What is Matt's argument about the relationship
      between "culture" and "tools" in organizations?

      • What kinds of "received wisdom" or "legacy
      thinking" guide your team's or organization's ap-
      proaches    to    work     today?      Are     these     still
      beneficial? Should you change or reframe them?
      How might you begin doing this?

      • How would you say your organization currently
      feels about the issue of "change"?

      • Matt demonstrates what he feels is the value of
      "refusing to position things like 'agility' and 'sta-
      bility' as mutually exclusive forces." Are you
      seeing unproductive dichotomies at work on your
      team or in your organization? How can you work
      to resist or undo them?

Five laws every aspiring DevOps
engineer should know
Chris Short

"A         good engineer is a lazy engineer," some may say. And
          to a certain extent, it's true: Laziness is a great quality
if you're automating repetitive tasks. But laziness flies in the
face of learning new technologies and getting new work done.
Somewhere between Junior Systems Administrator and Senior
DevOps Engineer, laziness no longer becomes an advantage.
      Let's discuss the five laws aspiring DevOps engineers
should follow if they want to become great DevOps engineers.

1. Forget "I don't know"
      The first thing great engineers should do is to banish the
phrase, "I don't know" from their vocabularies. The impression
that phrase makes is the verbal equivalent of throwing your
hands up in defeat (before you ever start). Banishing the phrase
is difficult. Saying, "I'll have to do some research," or "I know
someone that might be able to point me in the right direction,"
sounds much better. The point is: If you're discussing something
as a possible task, chances are that you'll end up doing it. The
fact you or anyone else in the room does not know anything
about it is irrelevant.
      Treat every task as an opportunity to learn. Dedicate the
time necessary to become the resident expert in the task at

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

hand. Prove to yourself that you can teach an old dog new
tricks. Prove to your peers that you can enable the team to go
further. Seek out new knowledge and improve upon the things
you build and maintain. Do not be afraid to dive headlong into
something you know nothing about. Your thirst for knowledge
should be unquenchable. You might not know it today but you
can know it tomorrow.

2. Read the documentation
         Documentation is everywhere, and solutions to complex
problems are at our fingertips. Make an effort to not ask your
peers how something works without reading its documentation
         Your peers spent time writing that documentation for a
         Time is life's most precious resource, so don't waste oth-
ers' time. If you have questions after reading the documentation,
then feel free to ask. The same goes for man pages. Developers
spent time creating those documents, and OS vendors put the
tooling in place for you to install and read them. The more effort
spent on something, the more important reading becomes.
         In the absence of documentation, read the code. It's
bound to contain comments or notes on decisions that affected
how it works. At the very least, make sure you understand the
contents of the code repository. If the repo is not following the
methodology of a 12-factor app43 make sure you understand
where it falls short. When you end up asking questions, make
sure you do so in a positive manner. Being positive is sometimes
difficult to do. As an outsider you are missing the context that


                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

lead to the decision. Never forget that iterative improvement is
the modus operandi.

3. Search before asking
        How many times have you read how to do something—and
then needed to ask how to do it? The answer is likely "zero." You
probably have team members who can answer most of your
questions. On the rare occasion that you must consult your man-
ager, make sure you have at least searched for possible answers.
Someone once told me, "Don't bring me problems; present solu-
tions to me." It's quite a simple statement that has such a deep
meaning in DevOps. If you are discussing a problem, you'll likely
play a part in its solution. Instead of going to your leadership
with a problem, present the problem and your solution to it.
        The solution to your problem will not fall out of the sky.
Solving new problems requires searching for new answers. We
live in an amazing time. A vast majority of human intellect is
available to us with a few keystrokes. If you are turning to lead-
ership without at least searching for an answer, you have failed
        You are in your role to do work that your leadership has
determined they need someone other than themselves to solve.
The least you can do is self-manage solutions to problems.

4. Anything is possible. Never say never. Trust but
        Too often I sense that team members feel something isn't
possible. The beautiful thing about working in DevOps is that
physics is the only limit in your environment. You can't send
more electrons over connections than what's physically possible.
You can't store more blocks on a hard disk than what's physi-
cally possible. You're also limited by time, with business

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

deadlines being the most common limiters. This means you have
an amazing capacity to do anything to which you apply your ef-
fort. Anything is possible in this space with proper time,
coordination, and effort. You and your team members should re-
mind yourselves of that on a regular basis.
      When it comes to complex, distributed systems (or even
simple scripts) you should never assume anything. Remember,
anything is possible. This means great solutions can end up in
production as well as poor ones. Almost every place I have
worked has had a team that has made an assumption about the
way their systems work. There are various reasons why these
assumptions exist, but the fact that no one has ever performed a
deep dive to ensure the systems work the way they assume they
do should be perplexing. You should always trust your team-
mates. Yet if something feels weird or doesn't work as expected,
you need to verify whether the assumption is actually true.

5. Acknowledge technical debt
      Technical debt is the result of decisions that made sense
at the time someone made them. Those decisions are likely caus-
ing issues now because they no longer make sense. What got the
product out the door a year ago under a tight deadline is likely
going to hinder you from doing the same thing this year. If you
are on a DevOps team, you are either helping to eliminate tech-
nical debt or you are pushing it to production. Often times you
have to be the voice of reason in the planning sessions, the one
willing to say why something won't work long term. This can
make you an outcast if you are not careful. Treat these moments
as opportunities to teach others around you something new. Do
not act surprised people don't understand why what they are
discussing will add complexity later on. It is your job, not theirs,
to understand the complexity of the systems and stacks you are

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

supporting. Put your foot down if you have to. Keep in mind that
if you are having to put your foot down, then chances are you
need to align yourself closer to the beginning of the project's
feedback loops.44
      You exist because of technical debt. Whether and how that
debt exists after your time on the project is up to you.

      An unquenchable thirst for fundamental systems knowl-
edge is necessary for success in DevOps. Great DevOps
engineers constantly seek answers to questions and solutions to
problems.45 To become one of them, make preventing future
technical debts a constant focus of your work.
      Never stop learning. Laziness just won't get you there.

Chris Short has more than two decades of experience in various
IT disciplines, from textile manufacturing to dial-up ISPs to Se-
nior DevOps Engineer. He's been a staunch advocate for open
source solutions throughout his time in the private and public
sector. He's a partially disabled US Air Force Veteran living with
his wife and son in NC. Read more of his writing at chrisshort-
.net and

44 See Jimmy Sjölund's chapter in this volume.

45 See Chrissy Linzy's chapter in this volume

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • Chris cites an old adage that "a good engineer
      is a lazy engineer." What does this mean? Was it
      ever true? Is it true today? Why or why not?

      • Chris suggests that "you are in your role to do
      work that your leadership has determined they
      need someone other than themselves to solve.
      The least you can do is self-manage solutions to
      problems." Do you feel like you're able to do this
      for your team? What opportunities or resources
      would make self-management easier for you?

      • "Technical debt is the result of decisions that
      made sense at the time someone made them,"
      Chris says. "But those decisions are likely caus-
      ing issues now because they no longer make
      sense." Do you struggle with forms of technical
      debt? What are they? If you could eliminate them
      today, what would be the result? How would your
      work change?

Why you should build a team of boundary
DeLisa Alexander

T       he traditional proprietary software world limits develop-
        ers' ability to collaborate with others outside their own
companies. But developers in the open source software world
collaborate beyond the walls of the company. And that collabora-
tion isn't limited to software development; it also extends to
collaborating in multiple ways with customers and partners.
        We can learn a lot from this kind of open collaboration,
and it's rapidly becoming an essential capability for IT teams
and organizations.
        Creating a culture that nurtures collaboration—both in-
side and outside of various functions, as well as outside of the
corporate walls—is a difficult task. But when we prime our orga-
nizational cultures for collaboration, I've noticed an interesting
side effect: People tend to more willingly step outside their com-
fort zones, span boundaries, and take on new responsibilities.
And sometimes they find that becoming a "collaborator" or
"boundary spanner" can result in unexpected career opportuni-
        I'll offer my story as an example.

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

A brave new world
      I joined Red Hat as the second lawyer on a team of two. A
few years in, my then-manager and Red Hat's former general
counsel, Mark Webbink (open source licensing guru) ap-
proached me about participating in an internal leadership
development program called "Brave New World."
      In the Brave New World program, associates from around
the globe and from different functions within the organization
came together to select and work on a strategic problem facing
the company. The program created an opportunity not just to
collaborate with others in different parts of the organization, but
also to contribute beyond your own day to day role.
      In my case, it was a huge turning point. No one was ask-
ing me to use my lawyer skills or to be a consultant to the
business. Instead, they wanted me to contribute outside of my
normal skill set and comfort zone and to be a member of a
larger team.
      My Brave New World team took on the challenge of trying
to create a culture of recognition at Red Hat. During the project,
I started learning about "HR stuff"—compensation, engagement,
recognition, rewards, etc. I developed new capabilities and rela-
tionships, and we ended up developing a spot recognition
program called the Reward Zone that Red Hat associates
around the world still use (more than a decade and a few evolu-
tions later).
      Why do I tell this story? Because it was an experience in
collaboration and boundary spanning that pushed me beyond my
core skills, helped me to develop a broader perspective of the
needs of other functions, and made me better understand the
points of view of others. It also gave me the introduction to an
entirely new field. In fact, I attribute to Brave New World my
eventual move from Legal to HR.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Building an IT culture of boundary spanners
      You don't need a leadership development program like
Brave New World to inspire boundary spanning. When your or-
ganization promotes a culture of collaboration, this sort of
career transformation quits being a happy accident and instead
becomes part of the master organizational plan. You'll also see
increased trust and respect between departments.
      That's why, over the years, we've applied a similar cross-
functional, action learning project model to solve many other
types of challenges at Red Hat, including a redesign of our per-
formance management process and system. We've also brought
together our IT and Engineering teams to tackle a number of
technical challenges.
      Let's explore three ways that your team can get started
with building a culture of boundary spanners.

1. Start small, and build on the partnerships you
already have
      As an IT team, your customers likely include a number of
different teams or departments. Consider what options you
might have to deepen those relationships and inspire associates
from your own team and your customers' teams to span bound-
aries and collaborate.
      If your project teams currently include only IT representa-
tives, extend an invitation to someone from each of your
customers' or partners' teams to join the project meetings. Give
them clear roles and responsibilities within the project.
      If your project teams are already cross-functional, con-
sider trying an "embedded team" or "associate exchange" model
for your next project, where members of the project team sit to-
gether for a defined period of time (typically a few months). This

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

can build stronger relationships between teams, and spark new
collaboration opportunities.

2. Facilitate cross-functional mentorships
      Another way to encourage boundary spanning is to reach
out to one of your peers in another department, and find poten-
tial mentors and mentees to pair up between your teams.
      The cross-functional aspect of these relationships is par-
ticularly powerful when the mentors' and mentees' roles and
responsibilities are different, as the conversations go beyond
technical topics, and instead focus on career development.
      This experience can encourage both teams to think more
broadly and cross-functionally, as well as spark ideas and con-
nections for boundary-spanning projects and collaboration

3. Offer to collaborate with other departments to
solve a challenging IT problem
      In many organizations, IT teams shy away from tackling
challenging business problems that span multiple departments
or where decision-making authority will be split between lead-
ers. But these kinds of projects, if approached with a genuine
desire to help and a clear commitment to transparency and in-
clusiveness, can be some of the most culturally transformative
experiences for your team.
      When you come together with the shared purpose of solv-
ing a tough challenge, your team members gain new insights
into how the organization beyond IT works. By working through
a problem together, and taking the time to align everyone on
clear roles and responsibilities, each team member learns how
to span boundaries, navigate conflict, and work together to de-
liver valuable solutions.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Let the open source way take you beyond your
comfort zone
      My experience at Red Hat has been that these invest-
ments in deliberate boundary spanning pay big returns in the
long run. I've personally benefited from learning how to step out
of my comfort zone and span boundaries. And as the pace of
technology projects continually speeds, it's a capability that will
greatly benefit IT organizations.

DeLisa Alexander is Executive Vice President and Chief People
Officer at Red Hat.

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • What opportunities for "boundary spanning" do
      you see in your current team or organization?

      • If you could shadow someone on your team or
      in your organization for a day, who would you
      choose? Why? What would be the most valuable
      insight you'd achieve by doing this?

      • DeLisa suggests developing an "'embedded
      team' or 'associate exchange' model for your
      next project, where members of the project team
      sit together for a defined period of time (typically
      a few months)." Is this possible in your organiza-
      tion? What do you think its effects might be?

      • Does your organization facilitate cross-platform
      mentorships? Could it? What might be the value
      of doing (or not doing) this?

A new approach to operations
Chrissy Linzy

IT       operations teams handle much of the heavy lifting for
        the company's infrastructure. This means deploying
new hardware, patching existing hardware, securing the net-
work from threats, and handling daily issue resolution. Nearly
every project across an IT organization needs an operations
team whose members can get new services deployed and ensure
they're deployed in a way that can scale and be maintained eas-
ily. These are the teams that help automate deployments for new
applications or updates to existing applications, and they handle
the monitoring for all of these applications, databases, and the
physical hardware, too.
      As more applications enter the infrastructure, operations
teams are expected to become experts in all levels of support
and application management. In recent years, the role of the
jack-of-all-trades IT professional began transitioning into some-
thing more specialized. Gone are the days when one team can
support everything from email to financial applications. The in-
ner   workings   of   each   of   these   tools   require   in-depth
understanding, and a dedicated team must ensure that the ap-
plications are being implemented and maintained properly.
      This need for specialization has driven many IT organiza-
tions to begin focusing on a DevOps model, or a model that
incorporates both developers and infrastructure with operations
team members in one area. This model allows these team mem-

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

bers to better understand the environment from end to end,
while allowing for a more collaborative workplace, one with
more opportunities for everyone.
      Traditional approaches to operations are changing. Today,
it's much more likely for IT professionals to have a specific area
of focus, whether that be database design, monitoring and met-
rics design, or the development of specialized applications to
solve business problems. Operations teams are also beginning to
specialize, supporting the shift to a DevOps model. This model
changes the nature of several team dynamics—including team
composition, knowledge-sharing practices, and automation. This
chapter explains those changes.

The full stack team
      The industry has now come up with a few ways to redefine
the work that teams are doing, like the current shift to so-called
"full stack engineers." Unfortunately, most definitions of a "full
stack engineer" are not realistic. A developer who can clarify re-
quirements    from    customers,         develop      code,      design   the
infrastructure for the application, design a simple and intuitive
user interface for the application, and complete all quality test-
ing on the application is a rare creature, to say the least. When
you add operational support for the application and the infra-
structure to the mix, the full stack engineer fallacy becomes
even more apparent.
      Expecting someone to be proficient in all of these areas
does not prepare this employee to be successful. Having a full
stack team, however, gets everyone one step closer to a DevOps
world. By sharing responsibilities across a team capable of sup-
porting multiple applications and infrastructures, developers
can release more quickly and can own their deployments, end to
end. The missing piece in most development teams is (histori-

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

cally speaking) the support, or operations, work. Keeping the in-
frastructure for the application stable is a critical element for
these teams. Siloed operations teams struggle to understand the
interactions of multiple applications, especially when those op-
erations engineers are not included in conversations around the
purpose of the applications being released.
      Before considering how DevOps can help resolve some of
these problems that IT teams face, consider the responsibility of
operations. IT departments are currently at a crossroads: Are
the infrastructure teams now responsible for the successful de-
ployment and maintenance of applications running in the cloud?
How can these teams migrate more applications to a hosted en-
vironment, and how do these teams decide what can be moved
safely? Whose responsibility is this? More importantly, as appli-
cations   migrate    to   these     shared     environments,      how   are
application development teams handling the support and
scaleability of the environments while keeping an eye on the
true cost of their applications? These sorts of infrastructure re-
quirements have historically been handled by the operations
teams. Today, these teams must work closely to allow develop-
ment to happen more quickly.

Sharing knowledge
      A DevOps mindset can also resolve some of the common
knowledge-sharing challenges operations teams face today.
Spreading knowledge across a specialized team that consists of
developers and operations engineers can help the team work
collaboratively and deliver results quicker.46 This makes manag-
ing new technology that is just coming to the market easier to

46 See Chris Short's chapter in this volume.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      If a developer is already familiar with the functions of a
specific application, including the ways it integrates with the un-
derlying infrastructure, then sharing this knowledge can help a
team pivot quicker. A full-stack team of developers and opera-
tions engineers can work together to find potential pitfalls with
the implementation of these new tools. If these teams are not
working together, finding issues and identifying the proper de-
ployment process becomes more difficult.
      At the other end of the application lifecycle is the task of
retiring outdated technology. All too often, the organizational fo-
cus is on deploying new tools to solve pressing business
problems, and IT departments end up with a mix of old and new
technologies to support. Without a team focusing on the entire
application lifecycle, operations teams can get bogged down in
the ongoing support of too many applications. By using the De-
vOps model, teams have more control over their offerings, and
they can ensure that there are no applications in need of retire-
ment. Having an operations engineer on the team helps to
identify any potential gaps when migrating to a new tool, and it
helps streamline the entire lifecycle process.
      By allowing the operations teams to be part of the applica-
tion development lifecycle, teams are in a better position to
understand the impact of neglecting to retire applications in a
timely manner. Operations teams are familiar with the issues in-
volved in supporting applications that have fallen out of favor.
All too often, these applications are still part of a business
process, but no developer remains to provide updates or the fi-
nal feature needed in the new application that would allow full
retirement of the outdated application. When the developers and
operations teams work together to support applications with
similar functions, ensuring that all features are included in a re-
placement application (while managing the workload of the

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

entire DevOps team) becomes much easier. When these teams
are not working together, this kind of ongoing support can be-
come someone else's problem.

Doing more with less
      IT operations teams have always worked to find the bal-
ance in maintaining existing infrastructure while keeping up
with improvements in the industry. They're continually working
to learn new technologies while updating and maintaining
legacy environments. These environments are still a large part
of most companies' infrastructures, so operations teams hear a
common refrain: "We'll figure it out—we just need to do more
with less." Teams dig deep, find a way to keep the lights on, and
continue making progress on new projects. IT professionals are
some of the most resourceful problem-solvers in the world, and
operations teams are at the top of the list.
      This may mean a focus on automation, streamlining sup-
ported tools and services, or asking engineers to perform
multiple tasks. By allowing teams to have end-to-end support of
their applications and services, IT departments can now consoli-
date applications with similar functions into smaller teams. And
by then standardizing tools across these teams, developers and
operations engineers can function as a team to help meet devel-
opment deadlines or deployment projects.
      As DevOps teams consider how to manage application life-
cycles, these are some of the more common problems they must
solve. Focusing on standardization means that the infrastructure
teams will not need to learn how to configure an environment
for multiple test environments or code repositories, for example.
As the number of environments to support continues to grow
faster than the size of the team, automating monitoring and de-
ployment processes free up operations engineers to focus on

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

persistent issues in the infrastructure, on retiring applications
that are no longer needed, or on ensuring that the environment
can scale to meet the needs of the development teams as new
items are deployed. By having operations team members work-
ing directly with developers, the operations engineers get to be
one step closer to the business needs. Understanding the issues
that business partners are facing gives the engineer valuable in-
formation about the direction of the infrastructure.
      As developers and operations teams move to align with
the DevOps model for working together, fostering accountability
for a particular application across the entire team becomes im-
portant. Developers should strive to understand how their
application interacts with the infrastructure, just as the opera-
tions engineer should be working to understand the nuances of
the application and the business problems that it will solve.
Without this common understanding, these historically separate
teams won't truly become one unit, and the DevOps model will
struggle. Commitment to this education brings everyone closer
to creating the full stack team.

Chrissy Linzy is the Manager of the IT Application Lifecycle
Management team at Red Hat, the world's leading provider of
open source solutions. Chrissy has more than 20 years of experi-
ence in IT, including managing operations, software delivery,
and application development teams. Her favorite part of work-
ing in IT is partnering with the business to solve problems and
streamline processes using technology.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • What is a "full stack team," in your opinion? Is
      your team a full stack team? What would it need
      if it were to become one?

      • What coordinated knowledge-sharing practices
      does your team employ? How does your team
      store and share knowledge it gathers from all
      points in an application's lifecycle? Are your
      teams current methods adequate?

      • Chrissy suggests that "focusing on standardiza-
      tion means that the infrastructure teams will not
      need to learn how to configure an environment
      for multiple test environments or code reposito-
      ries."    What      are    your     team's      methods     of
      standardization? Is anything not standardized
      that should be standardized? How does your
      team strike a balance between standardization
      and innovation?

How new communication technologies
are affecting peer-to-peer engagement
Ron McFarland

B     oth The Open Organization and The Open Organization
      Field Guide47 discuss ways new communication technolo-
gies are changing the nature of both work and management. I've
seen these changes firsthand during my nearly three decades
working for Japanese corporations. Over time, I've been able to
classify and characterize some of the impacts these technologies
—particularly new telecommunication technologies and social
media—are having on daily life in many organizations. More
specifically, they're effecting the way peer-to-peer decision-mak-
ing practices function in organizations today.

Four approaches to communication technology
      In Japan, I see companies that heavily promote today's
communication technologies, as well as some that avoid them.
Imagine four types of companies currently making use of today's
communication technologies as they compete with other firms.
These technologies are key, because they influence the environ-
ment in which certain peer-to-peer communities must work, and
this, in turn, affects members' enthusiasm, desire, and engage-
ment—so investment and utilization are critical considerations.


               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      In fact, we can actually chart the four types of technology-
adopters according to those two variables: investment and uti-
      Some companies are underinvested in new communica-
tion technologies, considering their needs and the relatively
lower costs of these technologies today. And they're not using to
capacity what they do have. I call these companies communica-
tion technology "slow movers" (low investment/low utilization).
Others buy whatever is available at any cost, but don't fully put
to use what they've purchased. I call these communication tech-
nology "fashion followers" (high investment/low utilization). Still
other companies invest in the very minimum amount of commu-
nication technology, but what they do have they use to full
capacity. I call these communication technology "conservative
investors" (low investment/high utilization). Lastly, there are
some companies that invest heavily in communication technol-
ogy and work very hard to put it to full use. I call these
communication technology "communication superstars" (high in-
vestment/high utilization).
      These "communication superstars" have the ideal environ-
ment for peer-to-peer, front-line discussions and decision-
making. But in Japan, particularly among smaller companies, I'd
say more than 70 percent are "slow movers" or "conservative in-
vestors." If companies would pay more attention to investing in
communication technology, and simultaneously increase their
efforts at training staff to use the technology at its full potential,
then peer-to-peer, front-line employees could explode with cre-
ativity. These technologies affect four aspects of information
today: volume, speed, quality, and distribution.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Increased capacity for decision-making (volume)
      In "communication superstar" environments, communica-
tion technologies can actually increase in the amount of
information that can be made available quickly. Gone are the
days in which only researchers or professors have access to in-
depth information. Now, front-line people can obtain volumes of
information if they know what they are looking for. With more
and greater in-depth information in communication superstar
company environments, front-line people working there can
have more educated discussions and can make the type of deci-
sions that only top management (supported by consultants and
researchers) could have made in the past.

Faster pace of decision-making and execution
      New technologies in these "communication superstar"
companies are leading to quicker information acquisition, feed-
back, and flow between front-line members in the organizations,
even if they are very widely disbursed. Using the metaphor of
adjusting the temperature of water coming out of a faucet, I
would describe the effect this way: If you move the handle but
the temperature changes slowly, then finding the temperature
you want becomes difficult, because the pace of change is very
slow, and differences between settings are difficult to determine.
But if you move the handle and water temperature change is
more immediate, you'll find that getting the correct temperature
is much easier; you're moving quicker and making more rapid
      The same logic applies to peer-to-peer discussions and
feedback. I have a five-minute-to-twenty-four-hour goal when re-
plying to my worldwide customers. That means that if I receive

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

an email from a customer (something that arrives on my desktop
computer at home, my desktop computer in the office, or on my
mobile phone), I like to reply within five minutes. This really sur-
prises customers, as they're probably still sitting in front of their
computer! In the worst case, I try to reply within 24 hours. This
gives me a competitive advantage when attempting to get cus-
tomers to work with me. Front-line, peer-to-peer communities in
these "communication superstar" companies can have that same
competitive advantage in making quality decisions and execut-
ing them faster. The capacity for speedier replies allows us to
make more adjustments quicker. It keeps both employees and
customers involved, motivated and engaged. Information arriv-
ing too slowly can cause people to "turn off" and direct their
attention elsewhere. This weakens the passion, dedication and
engagement of the project.

Toward wiser decisions (quality)
      Information travels more quickly when the business com-
munication channels are adequate. It's also subjected to more
scrutiny. People can share second opinions and gather additional
empirical data using these technologies. Furthermore, new com-
munication technologies allow employees and managers to
deliver data in new ways. With my years in sales training around
the world, I've learned that using multiple visual aids, infograph-
ics, and so forth have greatly enhanced communication when
English language barriers could have impeded it. All this can
lead to high levels of peer-to-peer, front-line engagement, as up-
to-date status reports can be quickly distributed and easily un-
derstood, making everyone more responsive.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Maximal reach (distribution)
      Not long ago, teammates had to be physically close to one
another and know each other well in order to communicate suc-
cessfully. That's no longer the case, as people literally all over
the world can develop communication channels. Good communi-
cation is the outcome of developing a trusting relationship. For
me, building trust with people I've never met face-to-face has
taken a bit longer, but I've done it with today's technology.
      Let me explain. Good communication starts with an initial
contact, whether meeting someone in person or virtually (via so-
cial media or some tele-communication format). Over some
period of time and through several exchanges, a relationship
starts to develop, and a level of trust is reached. People evaluate
one another's character and integrity, and they also judge each
other's competencies and skills. With this deepening of trust
over time, greater communication can evolve. At that point,
open and in-depth discussions on very difficult, complex, and
sometime uncomfortable topics can take place. With the ability
to communicate at that level, peer-to-peer discussions and deci-
sions can be made. With today's communication technology,
groups with widely disbursed members can participate in
greater information exchange. I currently have approximately
20 customers around the world. Some I have never met in per-
son; most I have just met in person once. Being stationed in
Japan can make regular get-togethers with Europeans and
Americans rather difficult. Fortunately, with today's communica-
tion technology, I can find solutions for many problems without
physically getting together, as I have built a trusting relationship
with them.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Concluding comments
      With all the benefits of this "communication superstar"
working environment, in open organizations that promote peer-
to-peer discussions, decision-making and management, I recom-
mend the other three groups to move in that direction. The
"slow movers" more than likely have managerial barriers to
open information exchange. They should be convinced of the
benefits of a more opened organization and the value of greater
information exchange. If they don't improve their communica-
tion environment, they may lose their competitive advantage.
The "fashion followers" should more carefully study their com-
munication needs and time their investments with their in-
company   training    capacities.      The     "conservative     investors"
should study their communication bottlenecks and find the tech-
nologies that are available to eliminate them. That's the path to

Ron McFarland has been working in Japan for 40 years, and he's
spent more than 30 of them in international sales, sales man-
agement training, and expanding sales worldwide. For the last
14 years, Ron has established distributors in the United States
and throughout Europe for a Tokyo-headquartered, Japanese
hardware cutting tool manufacturer. He's worked in or been to
more than 80 countries.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • Do you think your organization adequately fos-
      ters     front-line,      peer-to-peer        activity      and
      engagement? If not, what could it do to better
      cultivate this?

      • Ron says that effective decisions consider four
      factors: volume, speed, quality, and distribution.
      Can you think of others? Would you revise this
      list in light of the decisions you and your team-
      mates must make regularly?

      • How would you describe your team's approach
      to     peer-to-peer     communication          technologies?
      Does it utilize them sufficiently? Too little? Too

What engineers and marketers can learn
from each other
Jackie Yeaney

A        fter many years of practicing marketing in the business-
         to-business tech world, I think I've heard just about every
misconception that engineers seem to have about marketers.
Here are some of the more common:
    •     "Marketing is a waste of money that we should be
          putting into actual product development."
    •     "Those marketers just throw stuff against the wall and
          hope it sticks. Where's the discipline?"
    •     "Does anyone actually read this stuff?"
    •     "The best thing a marketer can tell me is how to unsub-
          scribe, unfollow, and unfriend."
And here's my personal favorite:
         "Marketing is all fluf."
         That last one is simply incorrect—but more than that, it's
actually a major impediment to innovation in our organizations
         Let me explain why.

Seeing my own reflection
         I think these comments from engineers bother me so
much because I see a bit of my former self in them.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      You see, I was once as geeky as they come—and was
proud of it. I hold a Bachelor's in electrical engineering from
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and began my professional ca-
reer as an officer in the US Air Force during Desert Storm.
There, I was in charge of developing and deploying a near real-
time intelligence system that correlated several sources of data
to create a picture of the battlefield.
      After I left the Air Force, I planned to pursue a doctorate
from MIT. But my Colonel convinced me to take a look at their
business school. "Are you really going to be in a lab?" he asked
me. "Are you going to teach at a university? Jackie, you are
gifted at orchestrating complex activities. I think you really need
to look at MIT Sloan."
      So I took his advice, believing I could still enroll in a few
tech courses at MIT. Taking a marketing course, however, would
certainly have been a step too far—a total waste of time. I con-
tinued to bring my analytical skills to bear on any problem put in
front of me.
      Soon after, I became a management consultant at The
Boston Consulting Group. Throughout my six years there, I con-
sistently heard the same feedback: "Jackie, you're not visionary
enough. You're not thinking outside the box. You assume your
analysis is going to point you to the answer."
      And of course, I agreed with them—because that's the way
the world works, isn't it? What I realize now (and wish I'd dis-
covered out far earlier) is that by taking this approach I was
missing something pivotal: the open mind, the art, the emotion—
the human and creative elements.
      All this became much more apparent when I joined Delta
Air Lines soon after September 11, 2001, and was asked to help
lead consumer marketing. Marketing definitely wasn't my thing,
but I was willing to help however they needed me to.

                    The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

        But suddenly, my rulebook for achieving familiar results
was turned upside down. Thousands of people (both inside and
outside the airline) were involved in this problem. Emotions
were running high. I was facing problems that required different
kinds of solutions, answers I couldn't reach simply by crunching
        That's when I learned—and quickly, because we had much
work to do if we were going to pull Delta back up to where it de-
served to be—that marketing can be as much a strategic,
problem-oriented and user-centered function as engineering is,
even if these two camps don't immediately recognize it.

Two cultures
        That "great divide" between engineering and marketing is
deep indeed—so entrenched that it resembles what C.P. Snow
once called the "two cultures" problem. 48 Scientifically minded
engineers and artistically minded marketers tend to speak dif-
ferent languages, and they're acculturated to believe they value
divergent things.
        But the fact is that they're more similar than they might
think. Research49 from the University of Washington (co-spon-
sored    by    Microsoft,         Google,       and   the     National   Science
Foundation) identified "what makes a great software engineer,"
and (not surprisingly) the list of characteristics sounds like it
could apply to great marketers, too. For example, the authors
list traits like:
    •    Passion
    •    Open-mindedness



                  The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      •    Curiosity
      •    Cultivation of craft
      •    Ability to handle complexity
          And these are just a few! Of course, not every characteris-
tic on the list applies to marketers—but the Venn diagram
connecting these "two cultures" is tighter than I believe most of
us think. Both are striving to solve complex user and/or cus-
tomer challenges. They just take a different approach to doing
          Reading this list got me thinking: What if these two per-
sonalities understood each other just a little bit more? Would
there be power in that?
          You bet. I saw it firsthand when I was Executive Vice Pres-
ident of Marketing and Strategy for Red Hat, where I was
surrounded by people I'd have quickly dismissed as "crazy cre-
atives" during my early days. And I'd be willing to bet that a
marketer has (at one time or another) looked at an engineer and
thought, "Look at this data nerd. Can't see the forest beyond the
          I now understand the power of having both perspectives
in the same room. And in reality, engineers and marketers are
both working at the intersection of customers, creativity, and
analytics. And if they could just learn to recognize the ways
their personalities compliment each other, we could see tremen-
dously      positive   results—results         far   more      surprising   and
innovative than we'd see if we kept them isolated from one an-

Listening to the crazies (and the nerds)
          Case in point: The Open Organization.
          During my time at Red Hat, I spent much of my day think-
ing about how to extend and amplify our brand—but never in a

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

million years would I have thought to do it by asking our CEO to
write a book. That idea came from a cross-functional team of
those "crazy creatives," a group of people I rely on to help me
imagine new and innovative solutions to branding challenges.
      When I heard the idea, I recognized it right away as a
quintessentially Red Hat approach to our work: something that
would be valuable to a community of practitioners, and some-
thing that helps spread the message of openness just a little
farther. By prioritizing these two goals above all others, we'd re-
inforce Red Hat's position as a positive force in the open source
world, a trusted expert ready to help customers navigate the
turbulence of digital disruption.
      Here's the clincher: That's exactly the same spirit guiding
Red Hat engineers tackling problems of code. The group of Red
Hatters urging me to help make The Open Organization a reality
demonstrated one of the very same motivations as the program-
mers that make up our internal and external communities: a
desire to share.
      In the end, bringing The Open Organization to life re-
quired help from across the spectrum of skills—both the
intensely analytic and the beautifully artistic. Everyone pitched
in. The project only cemented my belief that engineers and mar-
keters are more alike than different.
      But it also reinforced something else: The realization that
openness shows no bias, no preference for a culture of engineer-
ing or a culture of marketing. The idea of a more open world can
inspire them both equally, and the passion it ignites ripples
across the artificial boundaries we draw around our groups.
      That hardly sounds like fluff to me.

Jackie Yeaney is Chief Marketing Officer at Ellucian.

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • How would you describe the relationship be-
      tween the engineers and the marketers in your
      organization? Are you satisfied with that relation-
      ship? Would you change it? If so, how?

      • When Jackie reflected on her experience in an
      open organization, she found that "in reality, en-
      gineers and marketers are both working at the
      intersection of customers, creativity, and analyt-
      ics," and striving to address the same issues and
      problems. Have you ever discovered that a team
      you thought was different from yours was actu-
      ally more like you than you realized? When did
      this happen? And what was the result of your re-

      • Jackie writes that "the engineers" and "the mar-
      keters" often appeared to embody separate
      cultures she assumed made them unable to ef-
      fectively collaborate. Do you see similar teams in
      your organization with similar, stark cultural dif-
      ferences? How can you begin to recognize and
      address those differences?

Part 2: Practices
Introduction to Part 2
Jason Yee

I   n Part 2, we'll share ways you can convert ideas into behav-
    iors—principles into practices.
        Culture isn't only a set of ideas; it's a set of ideas that
guides collective action. The key word there is "collective"; cul-
ture is only as effective as the group of people enacting it. So as
someone attempting to catalyze cultural change, you face a
challenge: convincing others to follow you in this transforma-
        It can seem intimidating at the outset. You may even be
wondering if you're the right person to lead this change. But as
Chris Short writes in Part 1 of this book, "If you are discussing a
problem, you'll likely play a part in its solution." I'd like to ex-
tend that: If you're considering an open culture, then you'll have
to play a part in that transformation.
        I've seen cultural transformation ignite at every level of an
organization, from upper management leading inspiring top-
down changes, to motivated engineers initiating grassroots
movements. I've even seen middle managers fight—and win—
two-front battles, transforming both the teams under their direc-
tion and the leadership to which they report.
        No matter where you are in the hierarchy of an organiza-
tion, you can afect change.
        And I believe that others in your organization want you to
succeed. Creating an open culture is, as Allison Matlack writes,

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

about "doing the right thing." It's about valuing the business
over the processes. When we follow Jonas Rosland's advice to
"assume positive intent," then we have to assume that others
also want to do the "right thing" and want the benefits that an
open culture brings to the organization. They just may not real-
ize it!
          Building an open culture and convincing teammates to
join your effort require the same skills. As you read Rebecca
Fernandez's chapter on productive debate, consider how you
can apply that practice to both general business decisions and
also to potential critics of cultural change. Similarly consider
how you can make cultural decisions publicly as you would the
technical decisions that Chad Whitacre addresses. Also keep in
mind Lauri Apple's lessons from the Socratic method and ask if
you're setting up your own "invisible walls and imaginary au-
thority figures" who will stop you from trying to implement
          Matt Thompson leads Part 2 of this book by writing about
agile heartbeats, but he mentions the word "ritual" with respect
to regularly occurring practices. I love that word. Rituals draw
people together. They turn groups into communities and provide
opportunities for celebrating personal growth. Consider, for ex-
ample, the way harvest rituals transform farming (the tedious
work of gathering crops) into a celebration of community and
sharing, or the way coming-of-age rituals strengthen cultural
communities by inspiring younger members as they celebrate
the growth of older members. As coworkers and teammates join
you in your cultural transformation, reflect on the rituals you
create—either purposefully or unintentionally—to welcome them
and inspire them to spread change.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      Cultural transformation is a process. Work openly and
continue to iterate. And as Jimmy Sjölund writes, "Little by little,
you and the organization around you will improve."

Jason Yee is a technical writer and evangelist at Datadog, where
he works to inspire developers and ops engineers with the
power of metrics and helps write the technical documentation to
enable them to harness that power. He's also a co-organizer of
DevOpsDays Portland.

How to strengthen your agile heartbeat
with powerful retrospectives
Matt Thompson

I   f you work in an open organization for any length of time,
    you're likely to hear someone mention "sprints" or "heart-
beats" at some point. Understanding these terms is simple: Take
a big goal, then break it into small pieces that help you get
         The practice derives from Agile development and its vari-
ous (funnily-named) flavors like "Scrum" and "Kanban," but the
underlying logic is simple. Break big jobs into small time-bound
sprints, then design a process and ritual for unpacking:
    •     what you accomplished in the last sprint,
    •     what you learned from it, and
    •     what you're going to tackle in the next one.

From 'sprints' to 'heartbeats,' finding a healthy
         Many of us have found that replacing the word "sprint"
with "heartbeat" is helpful for explaining the value to new col-
leagues. It implies a steady, healthy cadence or rhythm—as
opposed to endless "sprinting" or panting against a series of ar-
bitrary deadlines.
         Heartbeats can create a great sense of purpose, and ebb
and flow in your team. They can be set to any length—a week,

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

two weeks, a month. It's really just about bringing people to-
gether in a regular, predictable cycle, with a ritual and set of
dance steps to ensure everyone's on the same page, headed in
the right direction, and learning and accomplishing important
things together (as opposed to the "make it up as you go along" /
gazillion emails and meetings / Bataan Death March of Multi-
Tasking that gobbles up most projects by default.)

Too busy to think
         A big reason people love working in heartbeats is that it
makes work more mindful. It invites or even forces regular mo-
ments to step back, reflect, adjust your goals, and share real
insights with colleagues that don't typically fit in the hurly burly
of email and status updates. That process is generally called a
"retrospective"—and lately I'm finding it to be the single most
valuable part of the process. Done right, it can help you work
smarter instead of harder.
         But: Retrospectives are also often the most neglected or
easily skipped over part of the process—especially for time-
starved teams already suffering from Too Many Meetings Syn-
drome. Here's why the retrospective is one meeting you don't
want to skip.

A regular ritual for reflection
         A retrospective at the end of each heartbeat helps you un-
pack what you've accomplished and learned together, and where
you might want to improve together in the next cycle. They can
be dead simple; at the end of your heartbeat, just ask each team
member to share:
    1.    What went well in the last heartbeat?
    2.    What could have gone better?
    3.    What do we want to improve in the next heartbeat?

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Good retrospectives generate surprises
        I find that when I'm part of a great retrospective, I leave
the meeting feeling surprised. I leave knowing something I
didn't know going in. I've had my perspective shifted in some
way—particularly around what our priorities should be in the
next heartbeat, or a key learning someone shares that helps me
spot a new opportunity. In particular, retrospectives can help to:
    •    Re-prioritize stuff that seemed urgent a week or month
         ago but doesn't anymore. That's great! Let's consciously
         de-prioritize or set it aside. By the same token: Little
         things that didn't seem important suddenly reveal them-
         selves as highly leveraged in the week or month ahead,
         little keys or springboards that emerge out of the
    •    Punt! What can we push out to the next heartbeat, so
         that we can narrow our focus in this one? Retrospectives
         make you more conscious of time and the value of phas-
         ing. Not everything needs to be done all at once; it's
         liberating to push stuff out. If it's not on this train, it'll
         go on the next one.
    •    Do less work! Yes, I said it: Great retrospectives should
         help you do less work. Less work means faster, better
         work. Eliminate the clutter and distractions that grow
         like weeds around your team's feet; it's amazing how
         good that feels—and your teammates will love you for it.
    •    Unpack learning. You're learning great stuff as you go
         that you didn't know when you started the project. Ret-
         rospectives are a chance to share and write this stuff
         down. Without a regular ritual or invitation to do so, this
         usually slides to the bottom of everyone's to do list. But

                  The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

         these are valuable diamonds and nuggets you don't want
         to slip away.
    •    Pull up. Good retrospectives invite altitude adjustment.
         Go back to your original strategy/roadmap and remind
         yourself what you said was important: the stuff that ac-
         tually matters, as opposed to just being "busy." How are
         we doing? How has our thinking changed? How do we
         re-connect our big picture goals to day-to-day tasks?
    •    Re-energize. Feel proud. Most of us walk around feel-
         ing guilty and stressed about how "behind" we are.
         Retrospectives remind the team that, no matter how im-
         perfectly, you really are accomplishing and learning a lot
         together. You're not just hamsters on a treadmill.
    •    Continuously improve. Get better at getting better.
         Small improvements add up to powerful change over
         time, like compound interest. You don't have to move
         mountains; just feel the trust and momentum that builds
         after your team makes an agreement and actually sticks
         to it.

Bland retrospectives become boring status updates
        On the flip side, bad retrospectives or heartbeat meetings
start to feel like a waste of time. They become rote, and more
like status updates, as opposed to really stepping back and do-
ing some fresh thinking together. This becomes a vicious cycle;
there's less and less value, so people start to question their pur-
pose. Eventually someone says: "Should we just cancel these?
We have too many meetings already."
        Some common pitfalls:
    •    Not enough time. Everyone hates meetings, so it's
         easy to make heartbeat meetings too short to do real
         retrospectives. Or to just skip the retrospective piece al-

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

       together. But, this should be the one hour every week or
       month you invest to save dozens or hundreds of mis-
       spent hours going forward!
   •   Not enough trust. People are afraid to say what they
       really think in front of colleagues or leaders. Or it be-
       comes a defensive exercise to prove that everyone is
       "busy." Busy is the new bored.
   •   Bad or no strategy. When the strategy is bad or the
       goals are unclear, retrospectives can just end up expos-
       ing that fact over and over again. In a healthy project,
       that's good! It surfaces something you can fix. In an un-
       healthy one, it just repeatedly pokes the elephant in the
   •   Agile without agile. Every organization says it wants
       to be "agile" nowadays, but most don't mean it. You can't
       "do agile" without retrospectives, or some ritual for re-
       prioritizing. It's like doing archery without the arrows.
   •   Hopeless over-capacity. Many organizations have no
       shared view of the work they've committed to doing.
       Consequently,         they're       hopelessly       over-committed.
       They're drowning in work they'll never really get done,
       and have no meaningful way to prioritize. Working in
       heartbeats and doing real retrospectives can help, but
       only if they start to whittle down workloads. Otherwise,
       they just remind everyone how screwed you all are—and
       that's not fun.

Matt Thompson is a 2017 Mozilla Fellow and an Agile trainer for
non-profit organizations.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • Does     your    team      perform      regular      "health
      checks" and "heartbeats"? If not, do you think
      your team would benefit from these? Why or why
      not? If so, what do you think are the most impor-
      tant benefits of conducting them?

      • Matt writes that "a big reason people love
      working in heartbeats is that it makes work more
      mindful." Do you ever wish you and your team
      had more time to reflect on goals, lessons, and
      insights? What can you do to cultivate a culture
      of mindfulness on your team or in your organiza-

      • Have you ever experienced what Matt calls a
      "bad" retrospective? What made it ineffective?
      How can you help your team avoid bad retro-

The benefits of tracking issues publicly
Chad Whitacre

A      public issue tracker is a vital communication tool for an
      open organization, because there's no better way to be
transparent and inclusive than to conduct your work in public
channels. So let's explore some best practices for using an issue
tracker in an open organization.
      Before we start, though, let's define what we mean by "is-
sue tracker." In simplest terms, an issue tracker is a shared to-
do list. Think of scribbling a quick list of errands to run: buy
bread, mail package, drop off library books, etc. As you drive
around town, crossing each item off your list feels good. Now
scale that up to the work you have to do in your organization,
and add in a healthy dose of software-enabled collaboration.
You've got an issue tracker!
      Whether you use GitHub or another option, such as Bit-
bucket, GitLab, or Trello, an issue tracker is the right tool for
the task of coordinating with your colleagues. It is also crucial
for converting outsiders into colleagues, one of the hallmarks of
an open organization. How does that work? I'm glad you asked!

Best practices for using an issue tracker
      The following best practices for using a public issue
tracker to convert outsiders into colleagues are based on our ex-
perience at Gratipay over the past five years. We help
companies and others pay for open source, and we love collabo-

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

rating with our community using our issue trackers. Here's what
we've learned.
      0. Prioritize privacy. It may seem like an odd place to
start, talking about privacy in a post about public issue trackers.
But we must remember that openness is not an end in itself, 50
and that genuine and true openness is only ever built on a solid
foundation of safety and consent. Never post information pub-
licly that customers or other third parties have given you
privately, unless you explicitly ask them and they explicitly agree
to it. Adopt a policy and train your people. Here is Gratipay's
policy for reference.51 Okay! Now that we're clear on that, let's
      1. Default to deciding in public. If you make decisions
in private, you're losing out on several benefits of running an
open organization, such as surfacing diverse ideas, recruiting
motivated talent, and realizing greater accountability. Even if
your full-time employees are the only ones using your public is-
sue tracker at first, do it anyway. Avoid the temptation to treat
your public issue tracker as a second-class citizen. If you have a
conversation in the office, post a summary on the public issue
tracker; give your community time to respond before finalizing
the decision. This is the first step towards using your issue
tracker to unlock the power of open for your organization. If it's
not in the issue tracker, it didn't happen!
      2. Cross-link to other tools. It's no secret that many of
us love Internet Relay chat (IRC), Slack, or some other instant
messaging technology. Or perhaps your organization already
uses Trello, but you'd like to start using GitHub as well. No



               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

problem! It's easy to drop a link to a Trello card in a GitHub is-
sue, and vice versa. Cross-linking ensures that an outsider who
stumbles upon one or the other will be able to discover the addi-
tional context they need to fully understand an issue. For chat
services, you may need to configure public logging in order to
maintain the connection (privacy note: when you do so, be sure
to advertise the fact in your channel description). That said, you
should treat conversations in private Slack or other private
channels just as if they were face-to-face conversations in the
office. In other words, be sure to summarize the conversation on
the public issue tracker. See above: Whether offline or online, if
it's not in the issue tracker, it didn't happen!
      3. Drive conversations to your tracker. Social media is
great for getting lots of feedback quickly, and especially for dis-
covering problems, but it's not the place to solve them. Issue
trackers make room for deeper conversations and root-cause
analysis. More importantly, they are optimized for getting stuff
done rather than for infinite scrolling. Clicking that "Close" but-
ton when you've resolved an issue feels really good! Now that
you have a public issue tracker as your primary venue for work,
you can start inviting outsiders that engage with you on social
media to pursue the conversation further in the tracker. Some-
thing as simple as, "Thanks for the feedback! Sounds similar to
(link to public issue)?" can go a long way towards communicat-
ing to outsiders that your organization has nothing to hide, and
welcomes their engagement.
      4. Set up a "meta" tracker. Starting out, your issue
tracker will be naturally focused on your product. When you're
ready to take open to the next level, consider setting up an issue
tracker about your organization itself. At Gratipay, we're willing
to discuss just about any aspect of our organization, from our
budget to our legal structure to our company name, in a public

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

issue tracker we call "Inside Gratipay." Yes, this can get a little
chaotic at times—renaming the organization was a particularly
fierce bikeshed!—but for us the benefits in terms of community
engagement are worth it.
      5. Use your meta tracker for onboarding. Once you
have a meta issue tracker, a new onboarding process suggests
itself. Invite potential colleagues to create their own onboarding
ticket. If they've never used your particular issue tracker before,
this will be a great chance for them to learn. Registering an ac-
count and filing an issue should be pretty easy (if it's not,
consider switching tools!). This will create an early success
event for your new colleague, as well as the beginnings of a
sense of shared ownership and having a place within the organi-
zation. There are no dumb questions, of course, but this is
especially true in people's onboarding tickets. This is your new
colleagues' place to ask any and all questions as they familiarize
themselves with how your organization works. Of course, you'll
want to make sure that you respond quickly to their questions,
to keep them engaged and help them integrate into your organi-
zation. This is also a great way to document the access
permissions you end up granting this person. Crucially, this can
start to happen before they're even hired.52
      6. Radar projects. Most issue trackers include some way
to organize and prioritize tasks. GitHub, for example, has mile-
stones and projects. These are generally intended to align work
priorities across members of your organization. At Gratipay,
we've found it helpful to also use these tools to allow collabora-
tors to own and organize their individual work priorities. We've
found this to offer a different value than assigning issues to par-
ticular individuals (another facility issue trackers generally


               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

provide). I may care about an issue that someone else is actively
working on, or I may be potentially interested in starting some-
thing but happy to let someone else claim it first. Having my
own project space to organize my view of the organization's
work is a powerful way to communicate with my colleagues
about "what's on my radar."
      7. Use bots to automate tasks. Eventually, you may find
that certain tasks keep popping up again and again. That's a
sign that automation can streamline your workflow. At Gratipay,
we built a bot to help us with certain recurring tasks. 53 Admit-
tedly, this is a somewhat advanced use case. If you reach this
point, you will be far along in the process of using a public issue
tracker to open up your organization!
      Those are some of the practices we've found most helpful
at Gratipay in using our issue tracker to "engage participative
communities both inside and out," as Jim Whitehurst puts it in
The Open Organization. But we're are always learning.

Chad Whitacre is the founder of Gratipay, an open organization
with a mission to cultivate an economy of gratitude, generosity,
and love. Gratipay ofers pay-what-you-want payments and take-
what-you-want payouts for open organizations.


              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • Does your team use a public issue tracker to
      make its goals and activities visible to the rest of
      the organization? To parties outside the organiza-
      tion? If not, what might change if you began
      tracking issues this way?

      • Think about an item on your personal to-do list.
      How might making that item public impact the
      way you work on it?

      • Are you able to "default to deciding in public,"
      as Chad puts it? Why or why not? What barriers
      prevent you from doing this? Could you (or
      should you) overcome them?

      • What's the relationship between transparency
      and accountability? How might your team's
      sense    of   accountability change            if   members
      adopted public issue trackers?

Three essential skills for fostering
productive debate in your IT team
Rebecca Fernandez

P       assionate debate fuels many open source communities and
        open organizations. Open and productive debate helps us
refine and improve our ideas—and it ensures that everyone un-
derstands why a particular solution or idea is chosen.
        Yet this kind of debate seems to be the exception rather
than the rule among IT organizations. That's a shame, because
open and candid conversations lead to better and more innova-
tive solutions.
        So let's take a look at three ways that you can foster pro-
ductive debate within your IT team.

1. Lead by example
        When you share an idea or a proposal, invite others' feed -
back. Ask them questions that invite productive dissent, and
open your own mind to different views.
        Examples of helpful questions include:
    •    If this idea didn't work out, what would be the most
         likely reason?
    •    If you were going to make one change to this idea, what
         would it be, and why?
    •    What challenges do you think we might run into, if we
         went this route?

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

    •    What are some things I'm not thinking about, but should

2. Resist the urge to immediately defend ideas
        If your organization's culture isn't known for its tolerance
of conflict, you will need to work hard to create a safe space for
        When someone is brave enough to criticize an idea, re-
spond with curiosity and a desire to fully understand their
perspective, rather than jumping to defend your own.
        A good technique is to repeat their concerns using your
own words, and then ask whether you've understood them cor-
rectly.54 After you reach clarity on their perspective, respond
respectfully to any points of disagreement.
        Here again, you want to encourage continued dialog with
a good follow-up prompt, such as: "So that's how I see it. But
what are your thoughts?"
        You might also need to mediate between more vocal and
quiet team members. A good technique is to encourage the more
vocal team member to express their ideas first, and to jot down
a summary of their key points. Read that back to them, and ask
for confirmation that you've captured it correctly.
        Then turn to a quiet team member and say, "Ok, now I'd
like to hear your thoughts. Which parts of that do you agree
with, and where do you see things differently?"
        If the more vocal team member interrupts, keep your fo-
cus on the quiet team member and say firmly, "Hold on, I want
to hear the rest of what _____ has to say first. Please, continue."

54 See Lauri Apple's chapter in this volume.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

3. Call people up, not out
      In almost any passionate conversation—particularly in or-
ganizations where people are inexperienced with productive
conflict—at some point, one person will step out of line and start
to make things feel personal.
      There's often a moment where things start to turn ugly,
and you will be tempted to respond by "calling them out" on
their poor behavior.
      The key to returning the debate to a productive place is to
respond as soon as you see this happening—and not to call them
out, but to instead call them up.
      Your goal is to model good debate and respond in a way
that compels everyone to elevate their behavior, rather than es-
calate it. Typically, this means ignoring attempts to provoke an
angry response. Instead, respond in the way that reminds every-
one that you are all working together toward a shared purpose.
Demonstrate by your response that you believe everyone in the
conversation is a reasonable, rational, decent person.
      Focus on the essence of what they've said—even if you
have to dig and guess a little to figure out what that is—and be
unfailingly polite and reasonable as you invite productive dialog.
      You might say something like: "So, what I think I'm hear-
ing is that you're really worried about this, and you're frustrated
because it seems like nobody's listening. Or maybe you're con-
cerned that we're missing the significance of it. Is that about
      Or perhaps: "It sounds like you've given this a lot of
thought, and you're frustrated that we're asking what seem like
obvious questions. Would you be willing to start at the beginning
and walk us through the basics, so we all feel confident that
we're understanding your proposal? We could hold our ques-
tions until the end, if that would help."

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      If the person is very upset, anticipate that it will take a
few minutes of patient attempts to de-escalate before they can
respond in a helpful way. In most cases, they will come around,
and ultimately your team's trust and respect for each other will
grow as a result.
      Ultimately, you want to help your team make the connec-
tion between these productive debates and the better outcomes
they drive. In your project retrospectives and your team meet-
ings, point out how everyone's willingness to engage in
uncomfortable conversations helped you deliver a great solu-
tion, and thank them for their contribution to that.

Rebecca Fernandez is a principal employment branding and
communications specialist at Red Hat, as well as the maintainer
of the Open Decision Framework.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • Rebecca argues that passionate debate "seems
      to be the exception rather than the rule among IT
      organizations." Do you agree or disagree? Is pas-
      sionate debate common on your team or in your
      IT organization? Why or why not? Should (or
      could) that change?

      • What strategies for engaging team members
      who might not always speak up in meetings have
      you found successful? What can you do to collect
      critical feedback from everyone in your organiza-

      • Rebecca advocates "calling people up" rather
      than "calling people out." What does this mean
      to you? What's the difference? Why is that differ-
      ence important?

      • "Ultimately," writes Rebecca, "you want to help
      your team make the connection between these
      productive debates and the better outcomes
      they drive." Do you think your team does this ef-
      fectively? If not, what can you do to change that?

Mastering feedback loops
Jimmy Sjölund

I   n most situations, from getting clothing advice to seeking
    peer review of the next scientific discovery, we harness the
help of people around us in order to discuss and analyze poten-
tial next steps. Hardly anyone thinks up a perfect solution right
off the bat; it's an iterative process full of trials and errors, ad-
justments, and new experiments.
      And it's a process we can always improve. This chapter
offers some advice for doing just that.

What are feedback loops?
      Feedback loops are supposed to be great and solve all
sorts of problems. So what are they, exactly?
      Remember when you were a child and you drew your first
picture of a cat? You proudly showed it to your parents, and they
suggested you put a tail on it. You went back to the drawing
board (literally) and added the tail, showed them the result, and
then they put the drawing up on the fridge.
      That was an early feedback loop for you: A process that
fed into itself, like the snake eating its own tail.
      You might be familiar with another early feedback loop
called the "Deming Cycle":

                   Plan – Do – Check – Act

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      W. Edwards Deming later updated this to:

                  Plan – Do – Study – Act

      . . . which I agree is a better description.
      Similar cycles or processes are The OODA Loop (which
Jim Whitehurst discusses in The Open Organization), The She-
whart Cycle, Six Sigma (Define – Measure – Analyze – Improve –
Control), and The Lean Startup (Build – Measure – Learn).
      Common to all these is a scientific approach to working in
an iterative mode: try something, learn from it, and adapt your
work accordingly when moving forward. In other words:

      Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes per-
      manent. Feedback makes perfect.

Why are feedback loops important?
      Shorter feedback loops (that is, loops that take less time
between the moment you try something and the moment you
learn about its effects or outcomes) allow you to fix or improve
work quickly and derive additional value faster. Performing a
small fix, receiving feedback on it, and trying again should not
be a tremendous burden—as it would be if you'd been working
on something for a long time and find out you'll have start over.
In other words, you might be running in the wrong direction,
but if you receive feedback early you won't have such a long way
to backtrack when starting again.
      Various agile software development methods consider
short feedback loops important for being agile and producing
the right result in the shortest amount of time.
      Teams can arrange and work through these feedback
loops via techniques like "pair" or "mob programming," daily
standup meetings, and sprints. When working via pair or mob

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

programming, for instance, developers experience feedback
loops directly between the people working together on a task. In
daily standup meetings, they get feedback from coworkers. After
a sprint, they would preferably receive feedback from the cus-
tomer. In all these cases, the feedback people receive helps
them improve their work before beginning an additional step in
a process.
      This way of working is possible even outside of software
development, but here I want to specifically focus on how it can
enhance IT organizations. I'll cover a few general terms, which
apply to all departments, teams, and manners of work.

How can we enhance feedback loops in IT
      In IT organizations, being transparent is a prerequisite to
giving and receiving feedback. People can be transparent about
both their ongoing and their planned work.
      For example, I've had positive experiences using kanban
boards with operations teams. When the board is visible to all
stakeholders, managers, and other teams, everyone receives
feedback on the current status of work items and current priori-
ties. People also have the opportunity to receive spontaneous
feedback from someone looking at the board and noticing some-
thing that, for instance, another team might also be working on,
or is not important anymore, or (even better) something very im-
portant that's missing from the board but should definitely be on
      I recommend searching for feedback as early as possible—
right from the start, if you can. I'll often outline an assignment
and run that by a manager and key stakeholders. It's the best
way to find out if I have understood the task properly and helps
me set their expectations for what I'll deliver next.

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      This all sounds simple enough. So why is this often so
hard to put into place? What are some of the most common
blockers, and what can you do to improve or facilitate better
      For feedback loops to work well, you need to have an open
climate, one where people feel safe sharing their thoughts. Inci-
dentally, paying attention to feedback loops can also help you
improve the current climate in your organization. That's the
beauty of a feedback loop. As it feeds into itself, if the climate
and culture around you is not open by default, then you can
change this by being more open yourself, offering feedback,
making sure you get feedback from others, internalizing that
feedback, and improving. Little by little, you and the organiza-
tion around you will improve, too. As Mahatma Gandhi put it: Be
the change that you wish to see in the world.
      Remember: Keep your feedback loops short. You should
seek feedback before investing too much time or money into
something. Then changing things isn't so difficult, should you
need to do it.
      You'll also want to make sure you have opportunities to re-
ceive valuable feedback from people who usually are not
comfortable sharing their thoughts openly. Often, people will so-
licit feedback at a demo or a meeting—meaning they do it in
person and receive it when people speak up. That is perhaps not
the best form of communication for everyone, and sticking to
that single feedback environment might cause you to miss great
insights you'd otherwise want to know about. One way to im-
prove this could be to send out a post-meeting email to everyone
involved, reminding them to send their feedback directly to you
(preferably within a set time frame). Some people prefer to for-
mulate their ideas in their own time and through a medium that

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

suits them better (rather than speaking up in front of
      The best kind of feedback you can receive is that which
comes directly from an actual user or customer—but what do
you do when you're working with infrastructure several layers
away from the customers?
      In the best of worlds, customer feedback would trickle
down to all involved areas and teams, but we all know that this
is difficult and usually doesn't happen in real life. Depending on
your products or services, you could arrange workshops to-
gether with the customer and include people from all layers of
the organization. I have done this with great results. Discussions
and ideas that would never have popped up otherwise suddenly
appear and action plans get put in place.
      If you have regular meetings with your customers, you
could invite people from other parts of the organization as
guests every once in a while. In my experience, all parties have
appreciated this kind of initiative.
      In other organizations, one might consider the surround-
ing internal teams and departments to be customers and
facilitate feedback loops with them. They could, in turn, get
feedback from their customers. I recommend that you try to set
this up in all teams, as you will need good feedback not only
from your external customers but also from your partners and
peers as well.
      Last, but not least: Remember that feedback loops doesn't
necessarily have to involve human interactions. For instance,
you should receive valuable feedback from your monitoring sys-
tems and incident management tools. Automated feedback can
make you aware of slower response times that might indicate an
underlying problem with a new release, re-occuring minor inci-
dents could be the result of soon-to-be faulty hardware that

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

would cause a major outage, and statistics showing a growing
user base of your services should trigger a plan to scale up the
environment in time before it suffers from performance issues.

Some feedback on feedback
      In the end, a team's ability to feedback loops boils down to
two factors: communication and transparency.
      When you're open about your progress and willing to ac-
cept others' insights, you can more quickly adapt and create the
best outcomes. For a long time, working in silos until you're
ready to reveal your results has been the norm; however, that's
changing as we discover the advantages of involving more peo-
ple and ideas into the design and execution processes.
      The world is changing more rapidly than it ever has, and
adapting quickly has never been more crucial. Ignoring the feed-
back loops occurring all around you could cause your solution or
idea to arrive too late—or to chase the wrong problem alto-
gether. Feedback, on the other hand, makes perfect.

Jimmy Sjölund is a senior IT service manager and innovation
coach at Telia Company. He's an open source evangelist working
in organization development and exploring agile and lean work-
flows. He's also a visualization enthusiast.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • Does your team or organization effectively ad-
      dress the feedback loops at its disposal? Why or
      why not? Would a change to your team's culture
      have any effect on the way it approaches feed-

      • Jimmy suggests that "Practice doesn't make
      perfect. Practice makes permanent. Feedback
      makes perfect." What does this mean to you? Is
      it relevant to the work your team or organization
      is doing?

      • What do you think is the most valuable form of
      feedback your team can receive while it's work-
      ing on projects? Do you frequently receive this
      feedback? Why or why not? Can you refine your
      feedback processes or mechanisms in any way?

What to do when your open team has
impostor syndrome
Laura Hilliger

R      ecently I facilitated a week of creative work with my col-
       leagues on the Planet 4 project55 at Greenpeace. One
evening, when we came together in a closing circle after a day
of intense creative work, I asked the participants to share how
they were each feeling about the day. We allowed these reflec-
tions to manifest into conversation.
      A concern surfaced: The task of creating a new ecosystem
of sites for Greenpeace became, for a moment, completely over-
      "Are we the right people to be doing this?" someone said.
      That sentence hit me hard. It expressed the feeling that
we shouldn't be in the position we're in.
      It expressed a kind of impostor syndrome.
      At, we've published several articles
about impostor syndrome, which (as Nicole Engard notes in her
piece,56 according to the Caltech Counseling Center) "can be de-
fined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even
in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true."



               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      In this particular case, however, multiple people were feel-
ing impostor syndrome—not necessarily of themselves, but as
part of their collective relationship to a project. This put a new
spin on how open leaders might think about and ultimately ad-
dress this phenomenon with their peers and teams.
      How should we think about impostor syndrome when we
aren't talking about how a single individual might be feeling in -
adequate? What if, instead of someone saying "I don't think I'm
the right person for this team," an entire team is expressing, col-
lectively, that "We are not the right people to be doing this"?
What might make a group of people feel collectively inadequate?

Collective inadequacy?
      Perhaps we can relate this collective inadequacy to a ver-
sion of the Iron Triangle.57
      In any project, there will be challenges that shift the sides
of the Iron Triangle. If the project needs to be done ASAP (a
time variable), the scope will need to stay small and resources
will need to adequate. If the scope balloons, the project will take
more time and require more resources. If resources (like people
or money) are scarce, the timeline will lengthen and the scope
may need to be reduced. This is how the Iron Triangle works.
      Very rarely is a project perfectly scoped, perfectly timed,
and perfectly resourced. The Iron Triangle isn't just a theoreti-
cal framework for running a project; it's also a mechanism for
understanding how the project team might be feeling. The lan-
guage we use to talk about the sides of this triangle are related
to the emotional well-being of a team.


                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Talking about expectations
         If the expectations for (or "scope" of) the project feel un-
achievable, a group of people may begin to feel overwhelmed or
inadequate. Often in the social justice realm, for example, we
talk about "changing the world" and "mass mobilization" and
"shifting cultures" or "changing the public perception." We tell
people we are going to create a world where everyone is equal
and diversity reigns supreme and openness will become the de-
fault setting. We write project manifestos and briefs that
proclaim the ultimate mission of an organization, and we ascribe
project goals to this mission with little regard for the contingen-
cies a project will inevitably have. Our language indicates that
we're intending to create a complicated, multifaceted, systemic
         These aren't SMART58 goals; they're wild and unrealistic
speculations. They overstate the impact a single project is going
to have on a system. Of course, some projects can actually cause
instant shock to a system—things that change the course of his-
tory immediately. But I can't think of one off the top of my head
(even the lightbulb took time to become a pervasive technology).
A variety of factors go into creating systemic change, and a sin-
gle project isn't going have instantaneous effects on a larger
         Even if the deliverables for a project are well defined,
these lofty expressions can make it feel like the scope is bigger
than it actually is. When developing briefs and project mani-
festos, or when talking to new hires or teammates about the
project, try to think seriously about the words and phrases
you're using. A description that misrepresents a project or prod-
uct's scope might lead a future team to reel at its ambition.


               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Resourcing language
      Another place where ambition needs to match reality and
feasibility is in the area of resourcing.
      People and money are two basic types of resources. In
both cases, the words we use to describe our resources might
create feelings of inadequacy.
      I'm definitely guilty of calling my peers and colleagues
"rockstars," "brilliant," and "genius," and I'm not going to sug-
gest that positive semantics should be left out of group
discussions. However, we should consider constructions that
may serve to reinforce unattainable expectations. Use consider-
ation when speaking on behalf of a teammate or the team itself.
Statements like "Oh, I'm sure we can do that; Amy is a rockstar"
place an intimidating expectation on Amy that she hasn't had
the opportunity to digest. Likewise, claims like "We'll pull an all-
nighter" might create a tension point between the team and an
individual who is unable to pull said all-nighter.
      The same is true for how we talk about money. If you're
holding a project's purse strings, and you actively remind your
team that "a lot of money is on the table," then you're not help-
ing. No one is striving to go over budget; it might be best to
shield some or all of the team from budgetary concerns so that
they can just do the work.
      While a team might actively strive to create a positive
working atmosphere through the language it uses to describe
what it's doing, occasionally positive feedback from outside the
core team is necessary for dispelling feelings of inadequacy that
might be gathering. You can become a resource to your col-
leagues. When people feel like no one notices them working
hard, feeling like what we do matters becomes more difficult. So
be the person who spends an hour every week looking into an-
other team's project, and tell that team something you like

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

about the work they're doing. Thank them for contributing to
the greater good.

Talking time
      Time is a human construct, and deadlines are mostly arbi-
trary. When leading a team, strive to be fluid and adaptable with
your expectations for how long it takes to do anything, and use
language that helps people feel adequate.
      No team knows what events are going to throw the
project off its timetable, and no one misses a deadline on pur-
pose. Of course, we need to be accountable to one another and
live up to our commitments, but we should be aware of how we
talk about time in relationship to our projects.
      Asking your team "When do you think you'll have that
done by?" is a good example of a positive semantic relationship
with time. This question is very different from "When will that
be done?" or "We need this by date X." Asking your team to give
an assumption of finishability instead of a commitment to it al-
lows the team to see the deadline as slightly flexible, which it
should be. This creates accountability, puts the power in the
team's hands, yet doesn't create a potential pressure point. At
the end of the day, every project can take an extra day.
      There's also a difference between asking "Why isn't that
done yet?" and "Is there something blocking you?" The lizard
brain will interpret the first phrasing as threatening, as if you
expected something long ago. When we're threatened, the brain
tells our bodies to release chemicals and electrical signals that
cause stress and tension. The second phrasing activates no such

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

threat because it uses neutralized language to ask about the sta-

Listen to yourself
         We all know that what you say can directly impact some-
one's emotional well being. However, we don't often think about
the nuances in the language we use at work. If a project team is
showing signs of feeling collective inadequacy or Team Impostor
Syndrome, listen to how project stakeholders are interacting.
There might be some tiny semantic adjustments that can help
the team know that they're the right people for the job.

Laura Hilliger is an artist, educator, writer and technologist.
She's a multimedia designer and developer, a technical liaison, a
project manager, and an Open Web hacktivist who is happiest in
collaborative environments. She's an advocate for change and is
currently working to help Greenpeace become a more open or-


            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • What is "impostor syndrome," and have you
      ever experienced it? Has your team?

      • Laura cautions readers about using language
      that inadvertently perpetuates unreasonable ex-
      pectations. Have you heard others using this kind
      of language to describe their projects or co-work-
      ers? Have you ever used it? How can you alter
      your language choices to make different kinds of

      • Laura stresses the importance of fostering "a
      positive semantic relationship with time" in your
      team and organization. What does this mean? Do
      you think your team and organization have this
      kind of relationship to time?

When innovation trumps process
Allison Matlack

T     raditionally, IT has been intensely process-oriented. I
      imagine that's because IT organizations are usually tasked
with saving the world on a budget that's only big enough for
them to keep the lights on and the water running. When your
team bears that kind of weighty responsibility for organizational
success or failure, following tried-and-true procedures is impor-
tant. Doing things "the right way"—strictly according to defined
processes—can be critical.
      But as the industry trends toward DevOps—where IT is in-
creasingly responsible for generating new business value, not
just keeping those proverbial lights on—IT organizations need to
reexamine their approaches to stakeholder and change manage-
ment if they want to keep up. They must now balance doing
things right not only with doing things fast but also with doing
the right things—whatever the "right things" may be as the or-
ganization moves forward.
      So it's time for some serious reflection: Is your organiza-
tion more focused on doing things right for the sake of process
and consistency, doing things fast to meet arbitrary deadlines,
or on doing the right thing for the customer? And what's the
right balance of each of those things for you?

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Defining your 'why'
      At a recent conference where I gave a presentation about
some of the positive effects of scaled, agile methodology on
cross-team relationships and collaboration, someone asked me
how to convince others to pay more attention to doing the right
thing and less attention on the processes that defined how to do
things right. He told me his team had upset others in the com-
pany by experimenting with aspects of agile methodology and
starting to talk directly to their customers—that is, they re-
leased more frequently (doing things fast) and used feedback
loops to iterate on the product so they could deliver what the
customer wanted more quickly (doing the right thing). The rest
of the company, he said, was more concerned about filling out
forms than on delivering what the customer wanted when they
wanted it (doing things right). The company had expressed no
interest in changing that process, and leadership felt this team's
speed was making the rest of the company look bad. The agile
team, on the other hand, grew increasingly frustrated by pro-
cesses that seemed to be in place for the sake of process.
      I'm sure there's another side to this story, where someone
has a good reason for every form and process. But this story
made me think of the message Simon Sinek shares in his 2011
book, Start With Why: Before concentrating on what you do and
how you do it, you should figure out why you're doing it in the
first place. What's your goal? What's your purpose? The how and
the what will fall into place as soon as you define your why.
      In this example are two competing goals. The majority of
the company is "doing things right" because that's the way
they've always done it, and they'll achieve consistency, stability
(less risk), and conservation of the top-down hierarchy. Becom-
ing more agile and focusing on "doing the right thing"—even if it
runs against those entrenched processes—might introduce risk

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

and shake up the status quo, but the results include improving
development efficiency and delighting the client.
      Which do you think will lead to increased business and
customer loyalty? Which defines why the company is in business
and inspires people? (Hint: It's not filling out forms.)

Leading by example
      Once you define your why, figuring out how to do the right
thing for your customers becomes easier. In our example here,
the group focused on delighting the client has the right idea.
Building brand loyalty and market mindshare are difficult if
you're not willing to take some risks and be open to doing things
differently. The world is moving too fast for us to spend months
planning and years implementing; no one is going to wait for us.
We have to iterate quickly and be prepared to change directions
a few times along the way if we can hope to continually deliver
what our customers want when they want it.
      I would encourage the frustrated team in this scenario to
document the business value they've seen as a result of imple-
menting an agile methodology (increased revenue is a great
motivator for everyone's boss' boss' boss). They can connect
what they're doing to that overall reason why the company is in
business. They could perform a retrospective to identify exactly
which processes slowed them down or made delivering what the
customer wanted more difficult, then work with other depart-
ments to find ways of streamlining the path to delivery. Or, if all
that fails, they could try to reduce their dependencies on other
teams to minimize the disruption.
      Change can be uncomfortable. It can take a long time. But
oftentimes, small teams like these can make the biggest im-
pacts, leading by example. As the team learns more about why
certain processes are in place and how to work more efficiently

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

with the procedures they have to follow, hopefully the rest of the
organization will begin to see the value of focusing on doing the
right thing rather than doing things right. And as the organiza-
tion begins to identify which processes are necessary and which
can be changed to leave room for more flexibility, both the cus-
tomer and the organization win.

Allison Matlack has been a member of the Red Hat Customer
Portal team since 2011. She's been an Open Organization Am-
bassador since 2016, helping others find ways to put open
principles into practice.

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • What's the difference between "doing things
      right now," "doing things right," and "doing the
      right things," as you see it? Does your team
      seem to favor any one of these three approaches
      to work?

      • "Before concentrating on what you do and how
      you do it," Allison says, "you should figure out
      why you're doing it in the first place. What's your
      goal? What's your purpose?" Does your team
      "ask 'why'" before it begins collective work?
      Should it?

      • Allison argues that "change can be uncomfort-
      able. It can take a long time. But oftentimes,
      small teams like these can make the biggest im-
      pacts, leading by example." In what ways can
      your team act as an example to others? What do
      you hope others can learn from watching you
      work together? And what can you learn from
      other teams in your organization?

Better IT culture via the Socratic method
Lauri Apple

W        hen it comes to "most valuable tools for untying mental
         knots and figuring things out," two items appear at the
top of my list.
      The first is this clip from Benny Hill about what happens
when we make assumptions.60 I saw it on (the opposite of a flat-
screen) TV as a child years ago, and still reflect on it several
times weekly. Its message—operating by assumptions is unlikely
to end well, so don't—hasn't failed me yet.
      The second is the Socratic method, which has helped me
reinforce the open organization values of transparency, collabo-
ration, and sharing in my work and related extracurricular
activities61—making work more fun and rewarding as a result.
      As Benny Hill might point out, reinforcing those open val-
ues when we're making assumptions rather than operating on a
foundation of facts and concrete information can be difficult.
While we might intend to be open, fiction will motivate our ac-
tions if we're operating on assumptions. The Socratic method
helps us to create a foundation for being collaborative, challeng-
ing, and open—truthfully.



               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

What the Socratic method is
      The University of Chicago Law School, where Barack
Obama taught constitutional law until making a slight career
change, describes the Socratic method as an inquiry practice
based on "asking continual questions until a contradiction was
exposed, thus proving the fallacy of the initial assumption." 62 A
catchier description, offered by this quick how-to for using the
method with children,63 is "clarify, synthesize, restate."
      Here's how it works: Typically, a "protagonist" presents
some scenario or question for an audience (a group or individ-
ual) to consider. A series of ensuing questions then points
toward gaining a clearer understanding of the issue at hand—its
subtleties, potential angles, logic, and possibilities.
      We have Greek philosopher Socrates to thank for this ex-
ercise. He left no known writings (talk about taking the Agile
Manifesto's call for "working software over comprehensive doc-
umentation" to an extreme!), but did impress his students
enough so that they carried forth his legacy. (Eventually he was
executed for "corrupting the young," so he clearly made an im-
pression on authorities, too.) Today, you'll find the method at
work in law school classrooms (it was a go-to tool for my profes -
sors), though usually not delivered in much of an "open
organization" way. Luckily, those of us working in open or agile
organizations can apply the Socratic method without sneers,
jeers, and grade point average pressures.



               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Why use Socrates' method
      Even in agile and open organizations, we can become vul-
nerable to entrenched thinking that closes us off to new
opportunities and ideas. Some members of our team will be
louder than others and dominate decision-making. Some prac-
tices will become guidelines or standards by habit, even if
they're not the best practices. Myths will emerge over time: "It's
how we've always done it," "we need permission," "Rockstar
Ninja Dev-man doesn't like it, so we shouldn't," or "I can't." In
the race to finish projects, we might overlook our open values
and rely too heavily on tools to get the job done. We're human,
and we're fallible.
      The Socratic method offers us a way to stay faithful to
open organization values. As agile trainer Scott Duncan shared
with the Scrum Master Toolbox podcast, 64 it emphasizes "asking
people what they think about things rather than telling them
what they ought to think." In this way, it keeps us from going
into prescriptive mode. Instead, people and teams have the
space and opportunity to draw conclusions by themselves, based
on their own thoughts and motivations. They own the content of
the conversation, while the person playing questioner/protago-
nist makes notes, listens carefully to what's being said, draws
connections, and points out contradictions.
      For team or project managers, the Socratic method pro-
vides an opportunity to act as a servant-leader; clarity of
purpose is the goal. If you're striving for self-managed, autono-
mous teams, then this framework allows you to help others


                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

examine their thought and work patterns to find answers they've
derived themselves.
         Collaboration—meetings, brainstorming sessions, retro-
spectives—becomes less emotional and much more driven by
consensus based on facts.65 Rockstar Ninja Dev-Man—who
might be brilliant with code, but not much of a team player or
objective thinker—will be humbled when faced with his own fal-
lacies and contradictions. Socratic questioning might uncover
that the least-experienced member of the team offers the most
practical, well-reasoned solution, so it also levels the playing
         Socratic techniques also increase transparency by knock-
ing down myths, ghosts, and assumptions that separate teams
from the "real issues," or prevent them from achieving goals.
For example, if you work in a large and complex software devel-
opment organization like I do, you might hear teams talk about
being "blocked" by another team. Team A will complain that, be-
fore moving forward, Team B has to make some change to a
repository; until then, it's nothing but cricket noises, sighs,
maybe another round at the ping pong table. Resigned to having
someone else fix their issue, Team A develops an attitude of
learned helplessness. With some communication and coordina-
tion, they could InnerSource 66 with Team B to get their change
made faster, or apply Socratic methods themselves with Team B
to uncover that, hey, maybe everyone waiting around for each
other is not the most effective delivery method.
         Socratic thinking points us toward how we might solve
problems when we feel stuck looking at an issue as either possi-



               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

ble or impossible. For example, when challenging their own
blockers, Carbon Five used the Socratic method to assess those
"blocked" development tasks and find alternative paths for-
ward.67 They discovered many of their designated "blockers"
were, as Wikipedia notes, "concepts that seem to lack any con-
crete definition." In many cases, "we can't" is a concept that
lacks concrete definition; "we can't" . . . because why? Accord-
ing to whose rules? Are there any rules? Or are we setting up
our own invisible walls and imaginary authority figures who will
stop us from trying to solve this problem? Challenging percep-
tions with questions like these will help you to better assess
whatever obstacles you're facing, judge whether those things
are real or not, then tackle them differently.
      And lastly, using the Socratic method can help people be-
come more comfortable with failure.68 In Germany, where I live
and work, the belief that failure is a big deal/sin/source of
shame is still common enough for people to talk about it. My
company has been countering this by creating opportunities to
talk about failures as learning experiences, and integrating Site
Reliability Engineering's "no blame" stance toward incidents.
But adapting to changes, even positive ones, takes time. One-on-
one's are the best approach for reducing the potential shame-
damage for the person who's fearful of failure; in a personal
conversation, the risks and visibility are low.
      That's where the Socratic method shines.


68 See Gordon Haff's chapter in this volume.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

How I Socratic method'ed
      Recently I used the Socratic method with several devel-
oper-colleagues on my team. We're still in something of a
"storming" phase, but heading toward norming. It's a great
bunch of guys: Productive, accountable, humble, and experi-
enced—software craftsmen all the way.
      We've needed to work on our communication flow: How
much, when, by whom, and to whom. We've talked about com-
munication     in   retrospectives,        planning       meetings,   team
autonomy health checks, and elsewhere, but communication is a
broad topic that relies heavily upon people's personalities and
comfort levels. Perception of what's possible is also a strong in-
fluence: In my experience, many devs are better communicators
than they give themselves credit for. With this in mind, I
grabbed a whiteboard and a spare room and each dev joined me
for an intense round of Socrates and mind-mapping. 69
      The first dev-volunteer and I started our conversation with
a blank board and no expectations. Perfect. He's somewhat re-
served, so my only agenda was getting him talking. He started
sharing ideas and thoughts—which he always does, but in the
context of a one-on-one his words seemed more completely his
own. We explored some of the why's and how's underlying his
ideas: Why are we not doing now some of the things we'd like to
do? How could we make this new idea happen? What or who
could stop us from doing it? And on and on, like this, until we
had a full board and something of a "ladder of related concepts"
related to communication blockers, outcomes, and aspirations.
The concepts we'd covered ranged from emotional to tactical:
The word "fun" at the top, signifying what's possible, and an un-
happy-face (what happens when we don't ask for help, or what

69 See Justin Holmes' chapter in this volume.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

we need to avoid taking on too much of one thing we don't like)
at the bottom, in a kind of whiteboard-dungeon.
      I brought in the key concepts I covered with the first dev
to subsequent one-on-one meetings, and there I asked what
those concepts meant to new participants. Each developer
brought his own views and defined them in different ways,
which helped me to become better acquainted with their
thought practices and motivations. Some concepts drew immedi-
ate responses that we then investigated, while other concepts
seemed unfamiliar. Narratives formed; I used the whiteboard to
point out related steps or ideas, ask them if they saw the con-
nections or not, and drew lines (including dotted ones) to point
out relationships or contradictions.
      For example, one of the concepts I scribbled on the board
was called "taking one for the team," which I explained as sacri-
ficing oneself at a level that engenders burnout, boredom,
isolation, or frustration. I intended to probe deeper into what
happens when we don't say "no," enforce boundaries, and ask
each other to help us. Would the devs draw the connections be-
tween this concept and our efforts to communicate more
effectively? They did, while bringing their own personal values
and beliefs into the discussion.
      While my colleagues shared their thoughts, I detached
and aimed to show no emotion. Instead, I listened and wrote
things they said on the whiteboard. As the thoughts flowed, I
treated every word as the truth in that moment—until I heard
something vague or possibly contradictory. Then I'd prod a bit
further, ask for clarification, and synthesize points. The white-
board provided a record for contemplating and deriving
conclusions. If I saw or heard a possible connection or contra-
diction, I'd point it out, but in the form of a question: "You said

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

this here, but you've also said this opposite thing there. How do
you reconcile the two?"
      Each conversation took about an hour and a half, and each
was different from the others because each developer set the di-
rection himself. Had I set the agenda beyond introducing a few
simple concepts, the day might have turned tedious and repeti-
tive. Instead, I focused on staying calm, neutral, and observant.
This was incredibly fun, and at the end of the last conversation I
felt energized (as an extrovert predictably would). It was a rigor-
ous, open way to get to know my colleagues better and
collaborate for solving our communication issues.
      At the end of every conversation, I asked the guys for
feedback. Maybe they were being polite, but the response was
favorable. I don't attribute their demeanor to anything magical I
did, however, but to the discovery and exploration made possible
by the Socratic method.

Closing tips
      Even if you're applying the Socratic method in a private
chat, you still have to be mindful of your own part in the discus-
sion and the signals you're communicating. Thinking back to our
great teacher, Benny Hill: Don't assume that your team is lim-
ited in its abilities or has negative intentions. 70 Becoming
emotional about people's responses is another way to get
knocked off the path to enlightenment; you're undermining your
power and distracting from the goal if you do. Focus on your
partners: Pay attention to words, pauses (silence communicates
loads of information), gestures, and tone.
      If you're planning to use the Socratic method yourself, re-

70 See Jonas Rosland's chapter in this volume.

          The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

•   Don't assume that you have all of the answers. Leave
    room for yourself to be surprised and informed (after all,
    you're also a student).
•   Stay neutral and supportive, so the other person or team
    feels like they can be wrong or experiment with their
    thoughts without being judged or reprimanded.
•   Keep in mind that not everyone in your team or organi-
    zation will be ready to undertake this method of inquiry
    (my colleagues were generous enough to be open to it;
    that we all shared both a great level of respect for each
    other and a commitment to the team helped as well). If
    your entire team isn't ready to try this approach, "pilot"
    it with one or two willing team members.
•   Promise everyone you'll stay neutral, but first be confi-
    dent you can uphold this promise. Guaranteeing—and
    then reneging on your promise of—a safe environment
    can be harmful to the exercise. As part of this bargain,
    be sure that your participants know that gossip or un-
    constructive criticism are off-limits.
•   Reiterate that your goal is to gain clarity and awareness,
    to help the team or organization strengthen its founda-
    tion for future decision-making or actions.
•   Time pressures might inhibit you from finding willing
    partners, and even one long conversation full of inspir-
    ing   "aha!"     moments          won't     bring        about   total
    enlightenment. Much of what you're unearthing in a So-
    cratic dialogue involves someone's thought patterns,
    which are shaped over lifetimes and become habits. You
    might have to arrange regular, brief one-on-one meet-
    ings focused on a single question at a time, before the
    awareness sticks.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      But, hey—don't take my word for all this. Try it for your-
self. All I know is that I know nothing.71

Lauri Apple develops and evangelizes Zalando's open source ef-
forts. She's also a producer/Agile project manager for the
company's core search engineering team and co-leads Zalando's
InnerSource initiative. She's based in Berlin.


            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • Have you ever used (or participated in) the So-
      cratic method as part of team culture-building? If
      so, have you found the exercise useful? Why or
      why not?

      • Lauri argues that "while we might intend to be
      open, fiction will motivate our actions if we're op-
      erating    on    assumptions."         What       are    the
      assumptions that guide daily life and work
      among you and your teammates? Have you ever
      taken time to unpack and examine those as-

      • How often should teams reflect on the assump-
      tions underpinning the work they do? Does your
      team currently have plans to do this?

      • Lauri notes that "the Socratic method provides
      an opportunity to act as a servant-leader." What
      do you think this means? Have you ever played
      this role? Does anyone else on your team as-
      sume this role? What are its benefits?

Forming and onboarding an agile team
Jen Krieger and Hina Popal

T     here are several schools of thought on how to form and
      onboard an Agile team, and we've tried them all to see
which one works best. What we've learned is simple: No single,
easy solution works for all teams, because teams are made of
people and people are different! We've written this chapter for
the "easy path" team—the team that has the perfect product, the
perfect vision, and the perfect preloaded list of things to work
on. We hope it will help inspire you on how to approach on-
boarding your Agile team.
      Some cautionary advice: Agile is never easy. Onboarding a
new team can be a full-contact sport. This process can work bet-
ter when you have a professional guiding the effort, but we've
also learned that it is just as attainable without those people—
when the team truly embraces the foundations of the Agile Man-
ifesto and believes in their product. What follows is the "secret
sauce" influencing the Red Hat Product & Technologies Agile
Practice approach to the onboarding experience.
      While every onboarding strategy is different, most unfold
in a similar "three phase" architecture. So we've organized this
chapter to mirror that process. We'll discuss assessment (Phase
1), kickstarting (Phase 2), and inspection (Phase 3).

                   The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

1. Assessment
        When beginning with a new initiative, you will want to ob-
serve current conditions and assess what the organizational
structure will allow you to do. You need to:
    •     understand the environment of your organization, team,
          and work
    •     figure out what you can leverage
    •     be aware of rules you have to abide by
        Identifying the answers to these items is a precondition
for drafting a plan that you can execute in the existing environ-
ment. This can be an overwhelming exercise, but (in true Agile
fashion) we're going to break it down into digestible, prioritized
        Assess the Organization. First, you want to look at the
overall state of the organization, evaluate how everything is
structured, and ask the following types of questions:
    •     Are departments isolated within their respective disci-
    •     Is collaboration between teams and individuals encour-
    •     Is there a mix of roles in different departments or do
          teams consist of one role?
    •     How do different departments communicate with each
        Agile approaches emphasize multidisciplinary teams, so
knowing if the organization's structure actually encourages
cross-functionality is critical. In organizations that tend to em-
phasize individual skills, people aren't used to working together
for a common goal in a fast-paced environment. Imagine having
a butcher, a pastry chef, a raw vegan, and a home cook working

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

together to open a restaurant in six months—without ever hav-
ing worked together before. That could be a disaster!
       Additionally, you'll want to identify the key players in your
organization, how they feel about adapting to an agile approach,
and what they think it is. You want know if they're in favor of
setting up an Agile environment, or if they think that Agile is
just another way to get what you need out of your staff faster.
       Using this information to help structure your team will be
crucial to grow a good reputation and also grow the presence of
Agile in your organization. This will help you avoid hearing "I
told you so" when you explain why the team hasn't cured cancer
after the first sprint.
       These are factors people often overlook before they begin
—but when assessed beforehand, they can be game-changers for
your team in terms of setting and managing expectations.
       Assess the team. The next part of the assessment—and
the most important—concerns people.
       A general health check is important for benchmarking
where the team currently stands and determining their overall
mindset. You'll want to know how they feel about the process.
What will happen when you want to define the workflow to-
gether? Will they push back on the idea of having a structured
environment, or will they thrive on having a set of rules to fol-
       You'll also want to know how long they've been working
together. Is there going be a level of "New Kid" syndrome—
where new members feel left out surrounded by others with es-
tablished    relationships—or         are     team       members   already
comfortable with one another?
       Another important point of assessment is the personalities
of your team members. Examine these in order to accommodate
their needs. Everyone on the team will bring value to the

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

process, but you'll want to know who will be outspoken and who
will shy away.
      Assess the work. Now that you've evaluated the team,
it's time to figure out what it needs to deliver.
      At the end of the day, we create teams to develop prod-
ucts. Knowing if the team's product is going to make or break
the organization, or if failures can be absorbed without causing
too much harm, is important. You should also understand how
well-defined the vision is—something with a scope that changes
every week will probably not be something your team can de-
liver in the next six months. Knowing that up front will help set
everyone's expectations.
      You'll collect this information just for yourself, so you can
make decisions later in the process. However, you'll also want to
be sure you understand the context of the organization and the
personalities of your team members before implementing any
new processes.

2. Kickstart the Team
      Creating the right environment for team success isn't al-
ways easy. We've seen two general approaches. The first: Start
the team with a specific structure and framework to follow, then
allow them to modify over time. The second: Allow the team to
determine a starting point and organically develop their process
as time goes on. Both can work, but your choice will largely de-
pend on what you learned during assessment.
      For example, if you have a team working on a product re-
lease that will very visibly impact the bottom line and they have
a tight deadline, it might be better overall if you started with a
specific structure. Early successes can help the team (and their
management) gain confidence that the change in behavior isn't
going to cause undue harm to the business.

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

        The first thing you'll want to accomplish when kickstarting
a team is getting team members together for an initial kickoff
meeting. We encourage covering the following topics.
        What is Agile? In this section, we typically cover only a
few small points. We want new teams to focus on understanding
the feedback they receive (whether from daily meetings to dis-
cuss where things stand, from test feedback on code they are
integrating, or from a product release). The key point here is
that the team understands where and when they receive feed-
        We also want new teams to understand and expect certain
types of behavior from themselves and others early in the forma-
tion of a team. Generally, three key concepts apply here. They're
rooted in the foundation of Agile, as well as kanban:
    •    If it takes you more than two emails to resolve a conver-
         sation, pick up the phone (or video conference!). In our
         experience, conversations held face-to-face always re-
         solve    faster      than     over      a    text-based    form   of
    •    Keep any agreed-upon method for tracking work up-
         dated and visually in front of the team. This is especially
         important in the case of distributed teams. We want
         teams to visualize the work they have in their overall
         work system.
    •    As David Anderson puts it: "Stop starting, start finish-
         ing." We encourage team members to limit their work in
        What are we here to achieve? All team members need
to understand the vision behind and the direction of the work
you're asking them to achieve. Kickstarting a team should al-
ways include an overview from the business or a stakeholder
that reviews these concepts and then also describes how the

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

team and organization should measure the success of their
work. The only rule of thumb here is that everyone must under-
stand the vision, so limit the use of buzzwords. Success
measurements always should include some form of quantitative
      How are we going to achieve it? This is the section of
the kickoff where you discuss the team norms at play in terms of
meetings, cadence, timing, and similar issues. You'll want to dis-
cuss a starting "Definition of Done" (e.g. what does "done" mean
for the work the team is doing?), discuss the initial expected
workflow for how work should be completed (do we work on
anything we want, or is the work prioritized?), and set the foun-
dation for future learning (when do we follow up with additional
sessions to discuss other concepts?). Know that you won't be
able to achieve complete understanding of the process you are
intending to use in a kickoff meeting. Generally, people learn by
      Who is part of the team? This may be last on the list,
but it is the most critical. Team members are human, and they'll
often fall back into old habits. Setting expectations with every-
one, describing early on what their roles are and what you
expect from them, is critical to the overall success of the team.
We've observed that inviting team members to collaborate on
what they think their role should be helps significantly in obtain-
ing the level of engagement you want from your team.
      During this entire kickoff process, we like to frequently
encourage open questions and answers while also acknowledg-
ing that people in the meeting should feel fine with their
discomfort about speaking up. What you're trying to convey is
that you are open to change, open to ideas—and generally want
the team to achieve success together. In order to do that, their
opinions must count!

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

3. Inspection
        As the Agile Manifesto says: "Simplicity—the art of maxi-
mizing work that is not done—is essential." This principle
embodies the final stage of the onboarding process: inspection
and adaptation. Inspecting and adapting are the core functions
of an effective Agile team. They'll also take the most time and at-
tention in the early days of the team's engagement. If you aren't
talking about what's hindering the team, then you don't have the
opportunity to improve. Feedback loops help obtain an optimal
environment for teams to eliminate waste in their process.
        The following are examples of Agile processes that incor-
porate feedback loops:
    •    Code Review
    •    Continuous Integration
    •    Continuous Delivery
    •    Retrospective
    •    Sprint Review
        Inspect your actions. Inspecting and adapting focuses
on acknowledging your actions and determining what to do
next. It is a decision gate in which the team identifies (inspects)
an action and determines a) if it's beneficial or b) if it should be
modified (adapted).
        An explicit feedback loop common to many approaches is
the "retrospective."72 Often a team will discuss (inspect) what
went well, what could have gone better, and what they've
learned from the process. From there they decide what they can
do in the near future to improve their process (adapt).

72 See Matt Thompson's chapter in this volume.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

        Adapting to benefit. Here are the benefits we've ob-
served when working with teams who have gotten the gist of the
"inspect and adapt" concept:
    •    They learned to tackle what they could fix rather than
         talk about the things outside of their control. This
         helped improved morale and general happiness.
    •    They learned to use metrics to identify when their
         process wasn't working. They reduced the time between
         their feedback loops and could show the improvement
         using data.
    •    They learned that it's ok to be friends and have fun—that
         work doesn't always have to be stressful. This helped the
         team gel.
    •    They learned that a retrospective wasn't a punishment
         meeting, but a chance to address the things that aren't

        We've covered a lot in this chapter on Agile team forma-
tion and onboarding. This process is a messy one! You can say
the same thing many times to many different people and have
everyone implement it in different ways. The important thing to
remember is that the benefits the team can experience by adapt-
ing to an Agile approach far outweigh the mess. Additionally,
most people skip Phase 1 (Assessment) and never give Phase 3
(Inspection) a second thought. If you try only one thing with
your teams, our recommendation would be this: Always identify
the ways the team receives feedback and ensure they meet reg-
ularly to determine how to improve those feedback loops.73 If the

73 See Jimmy Sjölund's chapter in this volume.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

team does take that process seriously, the overall end result will
likely be the same—it will just take them longer to get there.

Jen Krieger is Chief Agile Architect at Red Hat. Most of her 20+
year career has been in software development representing
many roles throughout the Waterfall and Agile lifecycles. At Red
Hat, she led a department-wide DevOps movement focusing on
CI/CD best practices. Most recently, she worked with the Project
Atomic and OpenShift teams.

Hina Popal is an Agile Practitioner at Red Hat. She began in the
public sector doing government contracting work while pursu-
ing her passion for Agile as a way to avoid bottlenecks in a
world full of bureaucracy. After a few years, Hina jumped to a
fast-paced environment and is tackling the world of open source
by working with the Project Atomic and OpenShift teams at Red

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • Jen and Hina outline a three-step process for
      forming and onboarding agile teams. "Most peo-
      ple skip Phase 1 (Assessment) and never give
      Phase 3 (Inspection) a second thought," they say.
      Why do you think this is the case?

      • Have you ever been part of a newly formed, ag-
      ile-focused team? What was the experience like,
      especially at the beginning? What would you
      change about your own oboarding process?

      • What does "agile" mean to you? What the ben-
      efits of being agile? What are the drawbacks?
      Does your team consider itself an agile team?
      Why or why not?

A formula for running an accountable IT
Stephen Gold

A     t CVS Health we have a framework that we've formed and
      embedded inside the IT organization that drives our cul-
ture and outcomes. It's what I call the ACT framework, A-C-T,
and it stands for accountability, collaboration, and tenacity.
These three cultural and behavioral ingredients, combined with
the right technology and the right process, make the recipe for
running an effective IT organization.
      It all starts with accountability. Ultimately, as a CIO, what
I'm looking to cultivate is an "accountable organization" as op-
posed to "an organization that is held accountable." This is an
important nuance that is perhaps best illustrated in a real world
      When you watch a basketball game and a foul is called
(assuming the call was accurate), there are three typical player
reactions. There is the player who commits the foul and doesn't
respond with any reaction or emotion. It's kind of an inert, pas-
sive response. Then there are two extreme reactions on either
end of the accountability spectrum. The worst kind of reaction is
the player who takes out his mouthpiece and starts screaming at
the referee, aggressively arguing, "That wasn't a foul!" This kind
of behavior is the furthest thing from being accountable. On the
opposite end of the accountability spectrum is the player who

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

raises his hand and simply says, "That foul is on me." This is a
person who is accountable for his actions.
      In all of these scenarios, a foul was in fact committed. The
referee is going to hold the person accountable, regardless of
how they respond. Similarly in technology, we make mistakes or
issues arise that team members know we will be held account-
able for. But when this happens, I don't want our people to let it
roll off their backs with no reaction, or worse, try to defer blame
or point fingers. I want to foster, culturally and behaviorally, a
team that is accountable for our actions and willing to own our

Getting to the root of accountability
      When you are working with accountable people, the first
thing they will do when an issue arises is become passionately
and unwaveringly committed to understanding the root cause of
the issue – not just fixing the symptoms, but rather treating the
illness. We use the "Five Whys" methodology, which states that
you have to ask "why" five times in order to find out the real
truth, the real root cause, of an issue.
      Let's use a fictitious example that has nothing to do with
technology. Say somebody calls into work: "Joe, I can't come to
work today." In a typical work environment, that might be the
end of the discussion. But in a truly accountable workplace, it's
just the beginning. Let's use the "Five Whys" to find out the root
cause of the issue:

      "Joe, I can't come to work today."

      1. "OK, just out of curiosity why not? Is everything

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

        "My car won't start."

        2. "Why won't your car start?"

        "The battery died."

        3. "Why did the battery die?"

        "Because my alternator belt snapped."

        4. "Why did your alternator belt snap?"

        "Because it was five years old."

        5. "Why was your alternator belt five years old?"

        "Because, I did not follow the prescribed mainte-
        nance schedule for the vehicle."

        Now we've gotten to the root cause. It's a lot easier to
blame the car or the battery, but at the end of the day, our ac-
tions   or   inactions    drive     outcomes.       Obviously,     people   in
technology aren't talking about a car battery or alternator belt.
They're talking about hardware or they're talking about soft-
ware. But, ultimately, just like the example above, the discussion
is not about a router, for example, it's about the person behind
the router. We know that routers fail, plain and simple. So now
that we know routers fail, we need to explain why we don't have
two of them; we need to explain why they're not configured for
100 percent failover. This has nothing to do with the router; this
has everything to do with how we architect and engineer these

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

      The "Five Whys" is a great acid test to see whether we are
acting with accountability. When a system crashes, or there is a
defect, or a project is late, or whatever the issue—ask why, and
keep asking why until the answer to the question begins with
the words "I" or "we." When the answer begins with "I" or "we,"
then you know you have an accountable organization.

Collaboration and tenacity round out the framework
      Collaboration and tenacity are the two other essential ele-
ments of the ACT framework. Collaboration is all about working
with our customers on solutions. The process shouldn't be a se-
ries of handoffs between departments; we need to work together
to solve problems.
      When things are done serially, requirements are thrown
over the wall and then we do a design and we throw the design
back over the wall, and they sign off on it and we go off and de-
velop it, and back and forth. That's really not the most effective
or efficient process. Instead, we try to embed ourselves inside
the business and work with our customers to achieve the best
      Tenacity, to me, is like Superman laying over the tracks.
As you evolve organizations, there are always going to be gaps.
The gaps could be technological, they could be process gaps,
and they could be people gaps. What I try to cultivate and ag-
gressively reward are the behaviors that overcome those gaps.
      A tenacious organization is one that is dedicated to keep-
ing our commitments to our customers at all costs. I've come to
realize that the better you get at people, process, and technol-
ogy, the less you need to depend on the tenacious nature of this
ACT formula. But especially in times of transformation, you need
a tenacious organization to carry you through any obstacles that
may be standing in the way to success.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Stephen Gold is Executive Vice President and Chief Information
Officer for CVS Health. In this role since July 2012, Gold is the
company's senior technology executive and has responsibility
for all information systems and technology operations, including
information technology strategy, application development, tech-
nology infrastructure, and business and technology operations.

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • How would you describe the difference be-
      tween an "accountable organization" and "an
      organization that is held accountable"? Why is
      that distinction important when trying to run an
      accountable IT organization?

      • Think of a recent technology problem your IT
      organization faced. Now apply the "Five Whys"
      methodology to find the root cause of the issue.
      Does this exercise lead to new insights? How can
      the "Five Whys" help your IT organization be-
      come more accountable in the future?

      • In what other ways can you cultivate and re-
      ward collaboration and tenacity in your IT

Institutionalizing experimentation with
impact mapping
Justin Holmes

I   mpact mapping is a technique for building shared under-
    standing between leaders and project teams. Delivered in an
engaging workshop format, impact mapping is the perfect way
to initiate a work stream in a way that encourages innovation.
Gojko Adzic first documented the technique in a 2011 brochure;
it's an excellent guide for individuals who want to facilitate the
workshop. This chapter aims to complement Adzic's original text
with a guide for leaders who want to sponsor impact mapping
initiatives but may not facilitate the workshops themselves. In
particular, I'll provide a succinct overview of impact mapping as
a practice, and then offer guidance on ways leaders can use im-
pact mapping to establish experimentation as an expected
behavior during project delivery.

What is impact mapping?
      The simplest way to understand impact mapping is to un-
pack the phrase itself.
      The term "impact" in this context refers to a human be-
havioral change, something affected by the delivery of a product
feature or a process change. Impact mapping defines the value
of any work effort in terms of its "impact" (not merely its "com-
pletion"). This idea comes to us from the design thinking

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

community, and has significant implications for the ways leaders
incentivize risk-taking and therefore innovation (as I'll discuss in
the next section).
         The term "mapping" is derived from the concept of the
"mind map," which participants build as part of the workshop.
This special kind of mind map—also known as an "impact
map"—is carefully constructed to surface the assumptions un-
derlying a work effort. Specifically, impact mapping seeks to
highlight all assumptions that:
    1.    a specific deliverable will lead to a specific behavioral
          change, and
    2.    a particular behavioral change will help the organization
          achieve its goal
         True to its lean product development roots, impact map-
ping provides a framework for using metrics to translate these
assumptions into testable hypotheses.
         Given the high value of the outputs of impact mapping,
you may be surprised to learn that facilitating the technique is
actually fast and cheap. It requires no expensive tools or train-
ing,74 so barriers to entry are low. If you'd like to use it in its
simplest form, you can probably begin by reverse engineering a
map without metrics from the project on which you are cur-
rently working. It will take you about 30 minutes at the
whiteboard. With approximately four hours, a prepared facilita-
tor can lead key stakeholders to an impact map with basic
metrics for your next strategic initiative. More complete maps
require an additional preparation phase to create comprehen-

74 A digital drawing tool that supports live editing by multiple users
   can be quite helpful, as sometimes the maps are too be big to fit on
   a reasonably sized whiteboard. I use and Adzic
   made expressly for this purpose. It's
   also a good idea to purchase a copy (or several) of Adzic's original
   text, which is very affordable.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

sive metrics. But these extra tasks are asynchronous, so com-
pleting an impact map won't require locking a team in a room
for weeks at a time (instead you can schedule the process
around busy stakeholders).
       The result is an engaging, approachable, and high-value
workshop that will guide your project from its beginning
through its conclusion.

Making experimentation expected behavior
       Many practitioners will leverage impact mapping to
quickly and clearly connect their projects' deliverables to a
value proposition. This is an especially useful application of the
technique, given organizations' propensity for getting lost in
their activities and forgetting why they are doing their work in
the first place.75 But for leaders willing to adapt their manage-
ment strategies in order to institutionally foster innovation,
impact mapping offers much more.
       Much of modern management theory can trace its roots to
Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management, which suggests
that management should systematically design the what and
how of all work in an organization. 76 Workers, then, faithfully ex-
ecute that work. Anyone who has ever worked on a large
"waterfall" IT project, with its long cascading chain of require-
ment    handoffs,      has     experienced         Taylorism.     Scientific
management (and, transitively, waterfall IT projects) are opti-
mized to deliver predefined outputs; however, as this book
discusses, innovative organizations are optimized for experimen-
tation, where the outputs are unknown.

75 See Allison Matlack's chapter in this volume.

76 See Matt Micene's chapter in this volume.

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

         So how do leaders optimize for experimentation and en-
sure that their organizations deliver necessary outcomes?
         Economic decision rules offer one straightforward and
proven approach. Documented by Donald Reinertsen, 77 this
practice allows low levels of the organization to control the deci-
sion making process so long as the resulting decisions align with
management's economic model. Because impact maps force or-
ganizations to measure value in terms of human behavioral
changes (instead of merely the delivery of project scope), and
because impact maps concretely tie work to the broader organi-
zational mission, we can think of impact mapping as a
structured approach to building economic decision rules. In this
case, project teams feel empowered to decide which outputs to
deliver and how to deliver them, but with the constraint that
these outputs affect the behavioral changes agreed to when
building the map. And remember: These behavioral changes are
assumed to be effective proxies for achieving the project's
stated goal, until experimentation shows otherwise.
         In the context of an organization's IT culture specifically,
the application of economic decision rules derived from impact
mapping has two significant implications:
    1.    Project teams have incentive to experiment with low
          cost prototypes to validate that their approach will de-
          liver the required outcomes early in the delivery
          process. This is opposed to the traditional IT project de-
          livery model that focuses on delivering a negotiated list
          of requirements at all costs.

77 Donald Reinersten describes this idea in detail as principle 13, "The
   First Decision Rule Principle: Use decision rules to decentralize
   economic control," in The Principles of Product Development Flow:
   Second Generation Lean Product Development.

                  The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

    2.    Managers have incentive to ensure their desired out-
          comes have well defined measurements to enable the
          team to be confident in the results of their experiments.
          This is opposed to the traditional approach, where man-
          agers    focus     on   ensuring       requirements        have   been
          properly defined and successfully handed over to the
          project team.
         The result is a system of project management that allows
the lowest levels of the organization to (as Gene Kim puts it ear-
lier in this volume) "discover their way to greatness," but do so
in a way that ensures leadership can still direct the organization
towards success. Of course, impact mapping is not a panacea for
creating an innovative IT department.78 But impact mapping
does provide leaders with a practical tool for making experimen-
tation—and by extension innovation—the default approach to
project delivery.

Justin Holmes is a passionate consultant who helps teams de-
liver better software products, faster. He is a fan of methods
that lead delivery teams towards shared understanding and
technologies that capture that understanding in software. Justin
is active in the Behavior Driven Development, Domain Driven
Design and Lean Product Development communities. You can
also find him helping customers accelerate their innovative
ideas in Red Hat's Open Innovation Labs.

78 It does not, for example, address the key questions about evaluation
   and failure that Jim Whitehurst raises elsewhere in this volume.

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • Have you ever participated in an impact map-
      ping session? How would you describe the
      experience to someone who never has?

      • Justin argues that "impact maps force organiza-
      tions to measure value in terms of human
      behavioral changes (instead of merely the deliv-
      ery of project scope)." How do you and your
      team measure the value of your work? Are you
      utilizing the proper metrics when you do so? Can
      you think of more effective ways to demonstrate
      the business value of the work you're doing?

      • Impact mapping, Justin writes, is one way to
      "incentivize risk." What does this mean to you?
      And do you agree? How does your team handle
      "risk" today, and should this approach change?

Assuming positive intent when working
across teams
Jonas Rosland

W       hen teams in the same organization—or even across or-
        ganizational boundaries—start to collaborate, they will
most likely realize that not all of their goals align. The IT team,
for instance, might not have the same criteria for success as the
sales team. Different teams have different benchmarks, even if
the teams are part of a larger organization (as in the case of re-
lationships between a developer team and an operations team).
      But the teams all strive towards the same goal, which is to
make the organization successful. And they rely on each other to
accomplish that goal.
      For this reason, learning more about why a team is work-
ing on a specific project, not just focusing on how they're
involved and what the project is about, can help you foster bet-
ter relationships across your organization. Focusing on why
people act the way they do allows teams to better understand
one another's goals and purposes, and helps everyone assume
the best intentions from everyone involved in an effort.
      Assuming positive intent when working across teams in-
volves a few fundamentals, which I'll discuss in this chapter.
First, it involves paying attention to your team's sense of iden-
tity. It also involves knowledge sharing across groups. And

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

finally, it involves potentially changing the way you reward be-

"They just don't get it"
        Teams typically form strong social group connections,
which, on paper, might seem excellent. Teams with strong social
connections share willingly and help each other. But a strong
sense of group identity can also introduce the real possibility
that the group will learn to see itself as diferent from and some-
times better than other groups. This may lead to an unhealthy
tendency to turn away from those outside the group, which can
result in teams not sharing vital information, or increased con-
flicts and a reduction in the quality of deliverables. Along the
same lines, strong social ties can affect team merges, and orga-
nizations often encounter difficulties when working with new
        This disconnect between teams can lead to simple misun-
derstandings that are blown out of proportion, leading to
frustration and anger towards other teams and their members.
If you are part of this strong social group, you might hear state -
ments such as "They just don't get it" and "Why don't they
understand?" thrown around as morale-boosters and laughed
off. But statements like these aren't helping either team suc-
        One way of dealing with this antisocial behavior is to cre-
ate a new group dynamic by continuously rotating members or
having them work very closely together on joint projects. By do-
ing this you gain new viewpoints and mindsets between the
different groups, slowly removing the barriers between them.
Removing misunderstandings and friction between teams is im-
perative when developing a positive working environment
across team boundaries. It will no longer be an "us versus them"

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

discussion, but rather a newfound focus on creating value to-

Sharing knowledge
      When creating a new open source project or open sourc-
ing a proprietary product, it's critical that the audience that
you're trying to reach understands why they should use it or get
involved. If your documentation only focuses on how it's built
and what it does, the possible success of your project will most
likely be limited.
      The same is true in any open organization. But by using
open discussion platforms, members of a specific project com-
munity can share knowledge with each other and encourage
involvement by constantly receiving feedback and ideas. The
community will amass information and know-how that people
can share using different media to promote the project (YouTube
videos, marketing material, stickers, logos, code, how-to blog
posts, conference sessions, and much more). A common practice
in open source projects and their respective communities is en-
couraging participation in a variety of forms, not just by writing
code. Having a diverse set of people work together across teams
where their different specialties are appreciated also means that
the project will have greater impact. But on top of that, making
sure the community is aware of new features, release dates, and
upcoming changes ensures that they can easily communicate to
others on how the project is progressing. When everyone is
working with the same knowledge, people are more likely to as-
sume they're working with the same intentions, too.

Changing behaviors
      When working across teams and with new team members,
it's important to recognize the individual strengths and weak-

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

nesses within the team and not just view the team as a whole,
single unit. Making sure that everyone on the team learns how
to deal with new tasks, both rudimentary and advanced, leads to
the team working better together and accomplishing more. We
can use methods first utilized in the early 1900s to ensure that
team members enact desirable behaviors when they're using
new tools and processes.
         Research done by B.F. Skinner shows that positive and
negative reinforcement shapes behavior. Because all actions has
consequences, this means that if a consequence is positive
there's an increased probability of that action being encouraged
and repeated. Likewise, Skinner's experiments show that re-
sponses were better and faster when the consequence was
positive, compared to when they were treated to a negative re-
         This means that rather than waiting to congratulate new
team members when they finished tasks, encouraging individu-
als often and repeatedly while they are progressing through
tasks will teach them faster what path to take to complete spe-
cific tasks thanks to positive reinforcement.
         Thinking about your teams this way you will create a more
inclusive atmosphere by removing the notion of "rockstars":
team members who always stay late, the ultimate troubleshoot-
ers, the ones with all the key information to any decision.
Celebrating individuals who pull all-nighters can do more harm
than incentivize. The presence of rockstar performers on a team
may not necessarily lead to increased success for that team; it
can actually have a negative impact on the performance of oth-

79 See Laura Hilliger's chapter in this volume.

                 The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

         Research from the Harvard Business School 80 shows that
there are three mechanisms that may account for the decline in
productivity within teams when certain individuals are seen and
treated at rockstars:
    1.    A reduction in effort ("I don't see the point in trying")
    2.    Increased risk-taking ("I must do something amazing to
          be noticed")
    3.    Deterioration in cognitive processing ("I make more mis-
         When talking about these star performers, it's critical to
understand their role in the team. They're viewed as rockstars
for a reason: They excel at what they set out to do. Don't under-
value them; instead, identify a different measure of their
success. Celebrating valuable contributions such as customer in-
teractions, education of others, and innovative ideas give teams
a more varied view of what it means to be successful.
         Creating an inclusive atmosphere by trusting everyone,
not just star performers, to be capable of delivering the correct
solutions for a certain set of problems can lead to more open
and vibrant discussions, suggesting new and innovative ways of
thinking. It also makes assuming the best-directed optimal solu-
tions from everyone just a little easier.
         As a result of assuming positive intent when working
across teams, organizations and international borders, open
source community members working together towards common
goals can make projects very successful in their mission. This
applies for a wide variety of projects such as the Linux kernel,
the Go programming language—and this book.


             The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Jonas Rosland is a community builder, open source advocate,
blogger, and speaker at many open source focused events. As
Open Source Community Manager at {code} by Dell EMC, he is
responsible for the growth and prosperity of the {code} commu-

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Chapter discussion and review

      • What does "assuming positive intent" mean?
      What does it look like in practice? What are its
      benefits? And what are some challenges or barri-
      ers to it?

      • At several moments in his chapter, Jonas
      stresses the importance of understanding why an
      individual or team is performing a particular task.
      Do you think you have an adequate sense of why
      your colleagues and teammates do the work they
      do—not just what they do or how they do it?
      What gaps in your knowledge would you like to

      • Does your team have "rockstars," and, if so,
      does it tend to let them influence decisions in
      ways that other team members can't? Does your
      team benefit from "rockstar culture," or should it
      work to change this culture?

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

The Open Organization Definition

        Openness is becoming increasingly central to the ways
groups and teams of all sizes are working together to achieve
shared goals. And today, the most forward-thinking organiza-
tions—whatever their missions—are embracing openness as a
necessary orientation toward success. They've seen that open-
ness can lead to:
    •    Greater agility, as members are more capable of work-
         ing toward goals in unison and with shared vision;
    •    Faster innovation, as ideas from both inside and out-
         side    the     organization        receive       more    equitable
         consideration and rapid experimentation, and;
    •    Increased engagement, as members clearly see con-
         nections between their particular activities and an
         organization's overarching values, mission, and spirit.
        But openness is fluid. Openness is multifaceted. Openness
is contested.
        While every organization is different—and therefore every
example of an open organization is unique—we believe these
five characteristics serve as the basic conditions for openness in
most contexts:
    •    Transparency
    •    Inclusivity
    •    Adaptability
    •    Collaboration
    •    Community

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

Characteristics of an open organization
        Open organizations take many shapes. Their sizes, compo-
sitions, and missions vary. But the following five characteristics
are the hallmarks of any open organization.
        In practice, every open organization likely exemplifies
each one of these characteristics differently, and to a greater or
lesser extent. Moreover, some organizations that don't consider
themselves open organizations might nevertheless embrace a
few of them. But truly open organizations embody them all—and
they connect them in powerful and productive ways.
        That fact makes explaining any one of the characteristics
difficult without reference to the others.

        In open organizations, transparency reigns. As much as
possible (and advisable) under applicable laws, open organiza-
tions work to make their data and other materials easily
accessible to both internal and external participants; they are
open for any member to review them when necessary (see also
inclusivity). Decisions are transparent to the extent that every-
one affected by them understands the processes and arguments
that led to them; they are open to assessment (see also collabo-
ration). Work is transparent to the extent that anyone can
monitor and assess a project's progress throughout its develop-
ment; it is open to observation and potential revision if
necessary (see also adaptability). In open organizations, trans-
parency looks like:
    •    Everyone working on a project or initiative has access to
         all pertinent materials by default.
    •    People willingly disclose their work, invite participation
         on projects before those projects are complete and/or

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

         "final," and respond positively to request for additional
    •    People affected by decisions can access and review the
         processes and arguments that lead to those decisions,
         and they can comment on and respond to them.
    •    Leaders encourage others to tell stories about both their
         failures and their successes without fear of repercus-
         sion; associates are forthcoming about both.
    •    People value both success and failures for the lessons
         they provide.
    •    Goals are public and explicit, and people working on
         projects clearly indicate roles and responsibilities to en-
         hance accountability.

        Open organizations are inclusive. They not only welcome
diverse points of view but also implement specific mechanisms
for inviting multiple perspectives into dialog wherever and
whenever possible. Interested parties and newcomers can begin
assisting the organization without seeking express permission
from each of its stakeholders (see also collaboration). Rules and
protocols for participation are clear (see also transparency) and
operate according to vetted and common standards. In open or-
ganizations, inclusivity looks like:
    •    Technical channels and social norms for encouraging di-
         verse points of view are well-established and obvious.
    •    Protocols and procedures for participation are clear,
         widely available, and acknowledged, allowing for con-
         structive inclusion of diverse perspectives.

               The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

   •    The organization features multiple channels and/or
        methods for receiving feedback in order to accommo-
        date people's preferences.
   •    Leaders regularly assess and respond to feedback they
        receive, and cultivate a culture that encourages frequent
        dialog regarding this feedback.
   •    Leaders are conscious of voices not present in dialog
        and actively seek to include or incorporate them.
   •    People feel a duty to voice opinions on issues relevant to
        their work or about which they are passionate.
   •    People work transparently and share materials via com-
        mon standards and/or agreed-upon platforms that do not
        prevent others from accessing or modifying them.

       Open organizations are flexible and resilient organiza-
tions. Organizational policies and technical apparatuses ensure
that both positive and negative feedback loops have a genuine
and material effect on organizational operation; participants can
control and potentially alter the conditions under which they
work. They report frequently and thoroughly on the outcomes of
their endeavors (see also transparency) and suggest adjust-
ments to collective action based on assessments of these
outcomes. In this way, open organizations are fundamentally ori-
ented toward continuous engagement and learning.
       In open organizations, adaptability looks like:
   •    Feedback mechanisms are accessible both to members
        of the organization and to outside members, who can of-
        fer suggestions.

                The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

    •    Feedback mechanisms allow and encourage peers to as-
         sist   one   another      without     managerial          oversight,   if
    •    Leaders work to ensure that feedback loops genuinely
         and materially impact the ways people in the organiza-
         tion operate.
    •    Processes for collective problem solving, collaborative
         decision making, and continuous learning are in place,
         and the organization rewards both personal and team
         learning to reinforce a growth mindset.
    •    People tend to understand the context for the changes
         they're making or experiencing.
    •    People are not afraid to make mistakes, yet projects and
         teams are comfortable adapting their pre-existing work
         to project-specific contexts in order to avoid repeated

        Open organizations are communal. Shared values and pur-
pose guide participation in open organizations, and these values
—more so than arbitrary geographical locations or hierarchical
positions—help determine the organization's boundaries and
conditions of participation. Core values are clear, but also sub-
ject to continual revision and critique, and are instrumental in
defining conditions for an organization's success or failure (see
also adaptability). In open organizations, collaboration looks
    •    People tend to believe that working together produces
         better results.

              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

   •    People tend to begin work collaboratively, rather than
        "add collaboration" after they've each completed individ-
        ual components of work.
   •    People tend to engage partners outside their immediate
        teams when undertaking new projects.
   •    Work produced collaboratively is easily available inter-
        nally for others to build upon.
   •    Work produced collaboratively is available externally for
        creators outside the organization to use in potentially
        unforeseen ways.
   •    People can discover, provide feedback on, and join work
        in progress easily—and are welcomed to do so.

       Open organizations are communal. Shared values and pur-
pose guide participation in open organizations, and these values
—more so than arbitrary geographical locations or hierarchical
positions—help determine the organization's boundaries and
conditions of participation. Core values are clear, but also sub-
ject to continual revision and critique, and are instrumental in
defining conditions for an organization's success or failure (see
also adaptability). In open organizations, community looks like:
   •    Shared values and principles that inform decision-mak-
        ing and assessment processes are clear and obvious to
   •    People feel equipped and empowered to make meaning-
        ful contributions to collaborative work.
   •    Leaders mentor others and demonstrate strong account-
        ability to the group by modeling shared values and

            The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

  •   People have a common language and work together to
      ensure that ideas do not get "lost in translation," and
      they are comfortable sharing their knowledge and sto-
      ries to further the group's work.

                                                               Version 2.0
                                                               April 2017
      The Open Organization Ambassadors at

Learn More
              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

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              The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change

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