Driving Organizational Excellence: A Comprehensive Book Review and Personal Insights on 'Accelerate - Building and Scaling High-Performing Technology Organizations'

Last updated Apr 14, 2024 Published Jun 19, 2021

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Delivering software fast and keeping quality is challenging (Dave Farley challenges the potential trade-off between speed and quality, elaborating on the argument that the one depends on the other, instead of the one blocking the other). Accelerate brings the light through data on the DevOps culture and practices. DevOps (even though the term wasn’t there?) has been adopted by the industry for a while and Accelerate dives into the practices of what makes successful teams deliver software fast and also what holds them back from improving the delivery process. Besides that, the book is accessible for different profiles within the technology world (software engineer, cyber security, quality engineer, etc) [1].

This post follows the same structure as the book, but instead of three (as the third one is related to a study case and challenges faced) it will be split into two parts. The first will go through the results found and the second, will dive into the research process.

The companion for this content is the mind map that was built after the reading process and along the reading process, the sections that follow have the mind map bit, which corresponds to the subject being discussed.


Part 1

The first part of the book focuses on the insights that the data showed to researchers, pointing to which capabilities lead to improvement in software delivery. The premise used is that business as usual is not enough to innovate and strive to succeed in business, according to the authors, a Gartner survey showed that 47% of CEOs face pressure to deliver digital transformation. On the other hand, if the CEOs face that pressure, part of it might impact how companies deliver software. Note that the delivery of software is not something new that was introduced by Accelerate, Alistair in 2004 was pointing towards a Crystal Clear that has as its first property frequent delivery. [2].

The following list depicts the four metrics used to build a guideline of what to measure. Early in the process, the authors described that measuring velocity has several flaws, as it focuses on how fast something was delivered, it is context-dependent and teams usually game their velocity. In other words, teams once perceive that they are being measured for how fast they deliver they will start to overcome pre-defined rules to improve that, which in this case, for the results presented makes not much sense.

Mind mapping Accelerate key metrics bit

The four metrics as described by the authors focus on the global outcome, rather than the velocity itself. Global outcome is an approach that is harder to game in terms of velocity. It even makes it easier to see the effect on the deliverables.

  • Lead time (LT): Measures how long it takes from a request until it is available for the customer to use (often related to deployment to production).
  • Deployment frequency (DF): This metric is associated with the pain that engineers have to deploy changes for customers.
  • Mean time to restore (MTTR): Restore is measured by how long it takes for something to get fixed if it is broken, it is related to the next metric.
  • Change fail percentage (CFP): How often you fail, if anything gets into production that fails.

I liked the image that IT Revolution made with the metrics, it makes it easier to remember and the adaptation that was made in the post is welcome for people who want to have a taste of what the book looks like.

The metrics are connected to the capabilities found by the authors, in a sense that, each capability listed, may impact the metric score, positively or negatively. [3] Published a prototype to automatically measure those metrics.

Capabilities

The key for metrics is connected to 24 capabilities that impact the global outcome, depending on which capability is being inspected, it might interfere with one or more metrics used.

Mind mapping Accelerate capabilities bit

In total, 24 capabilities were found [4], they were classified into five categories:

  1. Continuous delivery
  2. Architecture
  3. Product and processes
  4. Lean management and monitoring
  5. Cultural

On 2, I can refer to [5] that talks about using microservices as a way to enable the four key metrics measurement and improvement.

Part 2

Accelerate introduces the results that came from the research in part 1, and in part 2, it goes deeper into the science behind that. The interesting part is how it was decided to follow up with a survey instead of any other method.

Mind mapping Accelerate research bit

The authors argue that a survey usually is not a trusted source. Survey takers can lie leading to “invalid” data, which would be “easier” to avoid using logs for example. If that is the case, the authors also argue that trust in the system is needed as well. In that sense, there is no 100% guarantee that all the collected data, be it from surveys or logs will be correct.

Therefore, there are ways to mitigate this issue, and for that, the authors used a statistical analysis. Another way to frame it was the size of the survey. In total, there were around 23.000 answers, and to impact that, a lot of people would have had to lie in an orchestrated way. (Which is not impossible but very unlikely that happened).

Final considerations

Accelerate for me gives me a perspective on how to approach software delivery in both ways: in theory and practice. The collected data points to how effectively delivery software is in a digital era, in which each day developers are on the front line, trying to deliver as much value as possible.

The metrics, used to measure global outcome (delivered value) rather than individual contributions are connected to how it is important to work as a group, the team interests have priority on individual goals. This is the present and the future. Even though, I would bet that most big organizations that are struggling to innovate are penalized for not having this mindset in place.

All in all, for me, the argument used to depict the context of why to use a survey and how to approach the analysis statically gives the perspective on how the work was conducted, focused on the data, instead of biased opinions or “feelings”. Some might argue that still there will be bias, and that’s for sure, but exposing the methodology as it was done is a way to make it explicit to the reader.

Changelog

Edit Apr 14, 2024

  • Included reference to Crystal Clear in the text
  • Updated grammar errors

Edit Jul 08, 2022

Response from Jez Humble to a tweet that criticized the Accelerate book content:

Edit Oct 20, 2021

Adds [3] in the section Part I.

References

  1. [1]N. Radziwill, “Accelerate: Building and Scaling High Performance Technology Organizations.(Book Review) 2018 Forsgren, N., J. Humble and G. Kim. Portland OR: IT Revolution Publishing. 257 pages.” Taylor & Francis, 2020.
  2. [2]A. P. Becker and A. Cockburn, Crystal clear: a human-powered methodology for small teams. Pearson Education, 2004.
  3. [3]M. Sallin, M. Kropp, C. Anslow, J. W. Quilty, and A. Meier, “Measuring Software Delivery Performance Using the Four Key Metrics of DevOps,” in Agile Processes in Software Engineering and Extreme Programming, Cham, 2021, pp. 103–119.
  4. [4]G. K. Nicole Forsgren Jez Humble, “Accelerate: Building and Scaling High-Performing Technology Organizations,” 2018 [Online]. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/35747076-accelerate. [Accessed: 16-Jul-2021]
  5. [5]H. Suryawirawan and C. Richardson, “#53 - Principles for Adopting Microservices Successfully - Chris Richardson,” 2021 [Online]. Available at: https://techleadjournal.dev/episodes/53. [Accessed: 30-Aug-2021]