DevOps in Financial Services – Be Like Messi

May 14, 2019

by Andy Colhoun

“DevOps” continues to be the buzzword across technology departments in Financial Institutions. It means different things to different people, regularly including automation, change management, deployment, continuous delivery, culture change… essentially, an “easy” fix where dev and ops collaborate to save cost, improve productivity and lower risk.

In practice, success rates in the DevOps transformation journey vary dramatically across the industry. Delivery managers tasked with scaling an organization’s capabilities have faced challenges in cultural resistance, disparate tooling, complex procedural changes, deep-rooted silos, and conflicting advice/recommendations across the industry.

The trendy DevOps titles of Continuous Delivery and Continuous Integration (CD/CI)  sparked my comparison with Lionel Messi. I could probably add speed, agility and teamwork also. Given the many challenges Messi has overcome in his successful quest to “continuously deliver”, surely there are some lessons that can be learned from the greatest player of his generation.

“I think being smaller than the rest allowed me to be a bit quicker and more agile, and that helped me when it came to playing football.”

1. Start Small

Messi was famously diagnosed with a growth deficiency as a child and continuously told he was too small to make it as a footballer. Through a torturous daily regime of hormone injections he gradually, inch by inch, developed and finally ended up 2cm taller than Maradona.

“It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success” – Lionel Messi

This day-by-day method can also describe the best approach to implementing DevOps. The most common failure in DevOps initiatives relates to people aiming straight for the top without considering the individual steps to get there. This has led to many DevOps transitions failing or not achieving their original goals.

Start small. Identify the easy wins and replicate those changes first. For example, get all your dev and ops teams using a modern version control system like Git, then move forward from there. Even what may feel like minor tasks, like automating a small number of test cases, is a step on the journey.

Even more importantly, don’t forget to share your wins along the way. When seeking to change culture and earn buy-in across IT and Business teams, good news stories can be excellent sales collateral. One of my clients, a Tier 1 Investment Bank, rolled out a simple tracker to help teams assess impacts of changes on their practices, including increases in the number of release changes and reductions in testing time/effort.

2. Get Creative

Passing, shooting and tackling are to football what revenue and expenses are to business. Outside these fundamentals though, it’s fun to get creative and, like Messi, just react, attack and pounce on opportunities (of course Messi doesn’t have Compliance and Regulatory departments to keep happy so it can’t be all-out attack). This approach can be adopted to not only enhance your DevOps solutions but also to increase the buy-in of individuals.

“I have fun like a child in the street. When the day comes when I’m not enjoying it, I will leave football.” – Lionel Messi.

Despite DevOps being around for many years there continues to be evolving and innovative ideas and solutions across the industry. Promoting the participation of individuals and encouraging them to try out existing or new techniques or tools can be a great way to reduce skepticism and increase buy-in across departments. An excellent example of this comes from a client who encouraged application teams to innovate/compete on enhancing application build and deploy techniques. This hands-on and competitive environment greatly improved the interest of the teams and brought out some best practices which then progressed to a roll-out of DevOps tooling.

3. Consistency

From hot and humid summer afternoons to freezing cold snowstorms, football is played under any and all conditions. Messi was questioned directly by critics on his talents using the famous yardstick “You would not do so well on a cold, wet night in Stoke”. His reply: “You should have seen the pitches I played on in Rosario and I was quite good there too”. Having scored over 600 goals in his 15 years with Barcelona, Messi has proven beyond any doubt his consistency through all conditions

In business and technology, we will often be at the mercy of elements that we cannot control. The transition to DevOps can mitigate against such risks through aiming for consistency across IT Solutions and Business processes.

It is a common theme across Banks and Financial Institutions where similar tools and solutions are used independently across different functions creating silos, inefficiencies and cost.

A well thought out and comprehensiveDevOps transition plan provides an opportunity to create a set of shared tools. Building this common DevOps foundation where all teams can share best practices, easily access each other’s work in progress, and create optimal workflows and processes will cut through these silos. This standardization and consistency will provide greater flexibility and understanding when the inevitable “cold wet night” hits.

4. Teamwork

In the DNA of DevOps culture lies the principle of constant and continuous interaction as well as collaboration between different people and departments. Proper implementation of DevOps shifts the focus from personal effectiveness to team efficiency but changing how teams work in Financial Institutions is seriously hard work.

By just implementing Docker, Kubernetes or Jira, you do not get DevOps. Bringing people together should be the main goal of DevOps planning as only with good collaboration between teams will it work efficiently. However, conflicts will occur in any company. Usually, people’s fears stand behind the conflict and it could be as simple as “DevOps is automation what if I automate myself out of a job?”

Properly-implemented DevOps principles and strong and regular communication channels make the team’s work more comfortable, efficient and productive. The key outcomes of much greater final efficiency and a much smaller time-to-market make this effort worthwhile.

There is further help at hand through a very large DevOps community, with vast amounts of online resources. There are also professional services offerings where getting help from an experienced DevOps practitioner can save you time and effort.  Just like Messi wouldn’t have been a success without his ten teammates, the key outcomes of DevOps won’t be achieved without teamwork and taking the right advise.

5. Dream Big

“I have many years to get better and better, and that has to be my ambition. The day you think there is no improvements to be made is a sad one for any player.”  – Lionel Messi

As DevOps continues to move towards the mainstream it will continue to be the topic highest on the agenda for many Senior Managers across Financial Services. Once people start to discover the benefits and realize the positive impact DevOps practices have on their daily routines, these practices will catch on and develop. As such transitions plans should also be forward thinking and ensure the chosen tooling is future proof and stable against heavy usage. Similar to Messi integrating with Ronaldinho, Suarez or Neymar, a companies DevOps approach should also grow and integrate with other core strategic plans such as Cloud strategy, security, compliance, and cost management.

Pursuing his football dream required Messi, and his family, to make huge sacrifices, but his determination and ability enabled him to realize his ambition and gain the God-like respect he now enjoys from millions. While the DevOps transition may not get you that God-like respect across your organization, these 5 steps can at least steer the start of a journey. There will always be ways to improve, new techniques to adopt, better collaboration techniques to implement, and better ways to in getting the buy-in of people. Be like Messi.