Building an Engineering Culture

In 2011, Marc Andreesen made an often quoted statement “Software Is Eating the World”. Now, about 11 years later I think we can all agree on the fact that this is true and every company has become a software company. Ok ok ok, I agree, there are some exceptions. The bakery, the butcher or the local retail shoe store maybe is not, but for almost all companies in the services industry we see that software and IT play a crucial part in their daily operations. If you take away IT from a bank, an insurance company or large e-commerce shop they are out of business in no-time.

In my role as consultant I get a lot of questions struggling with this. It usually starts with a technical question or technical solution but, after digging a bit deeper, we quickly get to the point that the technical solutions are not enough. You can build great software but if you cannot get in the hands of your customers quick enough it does not deliver the value.

Usually the solution to the struggle is more or less the same. Embrace the fact that you are actually a software company. And therefore start behaving like a software company. And that goes far beyond improving the software, building automation and pipelines and have you monitoring in order. It touches upon a deeper cause. The organization itself. And how the organization operates. At Xpirit we use the term Engineering culture that describes 8 pillars that we think need to be in place to become a software company.

Let me shortly go through these pillars

State of the art software

The first pillar is “State of the art software”. What we mean by that is that you need to build state of the art software. Cloud native, resilient, observable secure and compliant. Unit tested and maintainable, using the right patterns and architectures. Of course, not only the applications should be state of the art. We also firmly believe in the the “ops” side of development. Concepts like Infrastructure as Code and immutable infrastructure is the new normal and this needs to be part of every software solution.

Smooth Delivery

Another pillar is “Smooth Delivery”. This is crucial to be successful as an IT company and therefore part of an Engineering Culture. Think about the development toolchain and supply chain, that has become the heartbeat of product delivery, and an attack vector if you look at security. Having secure and compliant pipelines ensure repeatability and decrease faults and errors. But also the delivery process itself is important. Doing ITIL, CAB’s and a lot of handovers between various silos does not make the delivery process “smooth” and therefore it needs to be adjusted

Appropriate Continuity

With the increase of automation and the fact cyber criminals are adopting the cloud and DevOps practices faster than the average enterprise, we see an increase in the number of threads we need to deal with as an industry. Business Continuity, Reliability, and Security is essential. These topics are covered in the pillar “Appropriate continuity”. You need to be “secure and compliant by default”, while increasing your speed of delivery and the stability of the products you deliver.

Power Through Platforms

In this connected world, you should embrace what is out there and not reinvent the wheel over and over again. In the pillar “Power Through Platforms” you need to look at how platforms can help you to accelerate your business. Think about Azure Landing Zones, Data and IoT platforms. But also Open industry standards like authentication and the widespread use of Open Source and the in-company variant Inner Source.

Empowering Operating Model

When your vision is clear, and you know why and what you should do to deliver value to your customers, you should also organize in such a way that your company can execute on the strategy and vision. In order to do this you need an “Empowering Operating Model”. Aligned Autonomy, High responsibility and end to end value stream teams are topics you need to start looking at.

Move the Business Needle

“Move the Business Needle” is all about the transformative leadership that is needed to become an IT company. How do all the things we do adds value to the business. Topics like Product Management, Product Vision, Business Strategy and Enterprise Architecture are crucial to do right.

Knowledge Driven

Learning should be embedded in the DNA of the company. Companies need to embrace a new approach to knowledge sharing and adopt to a learning mindset. Because every profession changes over time. Especially IT.

Epic Work Environment

Your culture should match your ambition to become an IT company. DevOps is all about People, Process and Tools. The leadership in the company, the mindset, the workplace, should be all about people enablement. Trust, radical candor, people first ! That is what makes people tick!

As you can see, there is a lot to cover. And everywhere it is different. But if you embrace the fact that you are actually a software company, make sure you look at more aspects than tools and techniques only.

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