DevOps and Culture Change in New Zealand


I had a busy few days at the itSMF New Zealand conference in Wellington this year. 

This conference was one of the best ITSM events I have attended in a long time. It was in a great venue (Museum Of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa), and included a wide variety of speakers on a range of topics. The presentations included lots of practical stories about people’s experience, as well as some very thoughtful sessions developing new ideas. It was interesting to see how different people had found similar solutions to solving their problems.

Service Bazaar

The conference started with a service bazaar, planned and managed by Sofi Fahlberg. She had organised three parallel streams of workshops where the people running them had been briefed not to bring PowerPoint slides, but instead to use pens, whiteboards, paper, and, of course, their ideas. Each workshop topic ran twice so that people did not have to miss out on any topics that really interested them.

The workshop I facilitated was called “Change Management in an age of Digital Transformation”, and challenged people to think about how they could transform their ITSM change management to be fit for purpose in a rapidly changing business environment. I ran the workshop twice, and was interested to see how different the two workshops turned out to be. The same basic themes were there, as I had planned, but different people, and their different experiences of IT, created different perspectives. For example one group was much quicker than the other to identify that change management can be a positive influence that helps the organization to adapt.

Overall, we agreed that change management must acknowledge that its primary purpose is to facilitate the rate of change that a business needs, and not just focus on reducing risks.


The conference had been advertised as covering DevOps and ITSM and there were lots of DevOps sessions. The first conference keynote was Rob England talking about “The Impact of DevOps on ITSM”. This was a wide-ranging overview of DevOps and the impact it has on ITSM, and amongst other things Rob talked about how change management needs to evolve to support DevOps. I was interested to find that Rob’s presentation addressed so many of the ideas and issues raised by people who had attended my morning workshops.

Jayne Groll then talked about “Keep CALM and Carry On: Is DevOps the SuperFramework of IT?” Jayne explained the DevOps acronym CALMS (Culture, Automation, Lean, Measurement and Sharing) and discussed how we can use DevOps to help combine ideas from multiple frameworks.

In my own session, “DevOps, ITIL and the 3 ways”, I talked about the 3 ways of DevOps: Flow, Feedback, and Experimentation and Learning. These three ways capture the most important aspects of systems thinking, and help organizations to focus on things that make a difference, rather than just following a set of rules.

There were lots of other DevOps related sessions, including some that I missed because I couldn’t be in two places at once. They included:

  • Scott Brown - ‘IT Mashup’ – DevOps, ITIL, Agile, Waterfall, Prince2 and WASP ​
  • Robert Lilley - Continuous Integration In An Integrated World
  • Jayne Groll - How to Make ITSM Your New DevOps’ Best Friend
  • ​Dave Hayes - Infrastructure as Code and why it matters to you
  • Philip Whitmore - Where's The S - A Focus On Security In A DevOps And Agile World

On the last day of the conference I took part in a panel titled “Is DevOps something new?”. It was an interesting discussion, but I was particularly struck by one Twitter comment which suggested that the panel would have benefitted from more DevOps practitioners. I certainly can’t argue with this. While some of the panellists have substantial DevOps background, and all of us have a strong interest in DevOps, there’s naturally going to be a bit of a bias towards people with an ITSM background at an ITSM conference. However, in view of the importance of DevOps with respect to the future of ITSM, I think we need to put much more effort into building collaborative partnerships with DevOps practitioners.

The main point that I took away from all this is that DevOps is now completely mainstream. Many IT organizations are using ideas from DevOps to structure how they work, and ITSM practitioners who cling to old ways are going to find life extremely difficult. DevOps doesn’t mean that you don’t need ITSM any more, but it certainly means that you need to change how you do ITSM. If you can focus on the PURPOSE of the things you do, rather than on the exact steps that you have always followed, then you should be able to navigate your way to a solution that works for you.

Culture Change

Culture change was not advertised as a specific theme of the conference. It emerged as a theme for me as I listened to speakers explaining how the culture of the IT departments they worked in had changed over the last few years. These were practical presentations, about real organizational transformation, and it was a pleasure to hear ITSM practitioners talking about how they have made a difference to the organizations they work for. In each case the need was the same, to move from an internally-focussed technology-driven culture to an externally-focussed customer-driven one.

There were two sessions that had a particularly big impact on me. These were:

  • Andy Keiller, University of Canterbury - Nurture the Culture ​
  • Rebecca Wilson & Setu Lepaio, Inland Revenue Department - Creating a Service Lead culture - what does that even mean?

What I found most interesting was that, despite the many differences between the organisations involved, the problems the IT departments faced, and the specific solutions they implemented, there was one common feature facilitating cultural change. The culture transformation had been led by a passionate and committed senior manager. I have seen many IT organizations try to change their culture and fail, and these examples confirm something I have long believed; sponsorship from senior leadership is essential to making culture change happen. It was heartening to hear about organizations that have achieved genuine change in their service culture because a passionate senior leader has had the drive, skills, knowledge and commitment to make this happen.

I guess if we’re going to have a conference that talks about DevOps and ITSM it’s not too surprising to find that culture change is going to feature prominently. What made this conference such a pleasure for me was the opportunity to listen to accounts of the process that were based, not on theory, but on first-hand practical experience.

Some final reflections

The most noticeable thing for me was that we have moved on from talking about ITSM processes to talking about how IT should be managed if we want to create real value for our customers. The format has also moved on. There are still many sessions that have a speaker at the front with PowerPoint slides, but there are also a range of different approaches. As well as the service bazaar that I described earlier there were many panel discussions, covering topics such as “Women in IT”, “Career Paths”, and “Is DevOps something new”.

The challenge we face now is to think about what future ITSM conferences can do to help people learn about 21st century ITSM. What new approaches can we take? Who should we be collaborating with and how do we develop that collaboration?  I’d love to see future conferences build on these ideas and help take ITSM to new heights.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the image in this blog. It is a photo of the gift that the conference organizers gave me. It’s a delightful piece of flax weaving made in New Zealand.

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