Nicole, Jez, and Gene asked me to contribute a foreword to their new
book Accelerate. I’m very chuffed to be asked,
as I think this is going to be the most important software book published in
2018 (and I don’t say that lightly).

A few years ago I read a report that said “We can now assert with
confidence that high IT performance correlates with strong business
performance, helping to boost , profitability and market share.”
When I read something like that, my usual response is to toss it with great
force into the rubbish bin, because that’s usually a tell for some bogus
bullshit masquerading as science. I hesitated this time, however, for this was
the “2014 State of Report”. One of its authors was Jez Humble, a
colleague and friend who I knew was equally allergic to this kind of twaddle.
(Although I have to confess that another reason for not tossing it was that I
was reading it on my ipad.)

So instead I emailed Jez to find out what lay behind this statement. A few
weeks later I was on a call with him and Nicole Forsgren, who patiently walked
me though the reasoning. While I’m no expert on the methods they used, she
said enough to convince me there was some real analysis going on here, far
more than I usually see, even in academic papers. I followed the subsequent
State of Devops reports with interest, but also with growing frustration. The
reports gave the results of their work, but never contained the explanation
that Nicole walked through with me on the phone. This greatly undermined their
credibility, as there was little evidence that these reports were based on
more than speculation. Finally those of us that had seen behind the curtains
convinced Nicole, Jez, and Gene to reveal their working methods by writing
this book. For me it’s been a long wait, but I’m glad I now have something
that I can genuinely recommend as a way to look at IT delivery effectiveness,
one that’s based on more than a few analysts’ scattered experiences.

The picture they paint is compelling. They describe how effective IT
delivery organizations take about an hour to get code from
committed-to-mainline to running-in-production, a journey lesser organizations
take to do. They thus update their software many times a day, instead
of once every few months, increasing their ability to use software to explore
the market, respond to events, and release features faster than their
competition. This huge increase in responsiveness does not come at a cost in
stability, since these organizations find their updates cause failures at a
fraction of the rate of their less-performing peers, and are usually fixed
within the hour. Their evidence refutes the Bimodal IT notion that you have to
choose between speed and stability, instead speed depends on stability, so
good IT practices give you both.

So, as you may expect, I’m delighted that they’ve put this book into
production, and will be recommending it willy-nilly over the next few years.
(I’ve already been using many bits from drafts into my talks.) However I do
want to put in a few notes of caution. They do a good job of explaining why
their approach to surveys makes them a good basis for their data. However,
they are still surveys that capture subjective perceptions, and I wonder how
their population sample reflects the general IT . I’ll have more
confidence in their results when other teams, using different approaches, are
able to confirm their reasoning. The book already has some of this, as the
work by Google on team cultures provides further evidence to support their
judgment on the important role that a Westrum-generative organizational
culture plays in effective software teams. Such further work would also make
me less concerned that their conclusions confirm much of my advocacy –
confirmation bias is a strong force (although I mostly notice it in others
;-). We should also remember that their book focuses in IT delivery, the
journey from commit to production, not the entire software development

But these quibbles, while present, shouldn’t distract us from the main
thrust of this book. These surveys, and the careful analysis done on them,
provide some of the best justification around for practices that can
significantly improve most IT organizations. Anyone running an IT group should
take a good hard look at these techniques and work to use them to improve
their practice. Anyone working with an IT group, either internally or from a
IT delivery company like ours, should look for these practices in place and a
steady program of continuous improvement to go with them. Forsgren, Humble and
Kim have laid out a picture of what effective IT looks like in 2017, IT
practitioners should be using this as a map to join the high performers.

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