25 November 2019

Mayank Prakash on the world of DevOps and the Unicorn Project

Mayank Prakash

By Mayank Prakash
Chief Information Officer, Consumer

Mayank Prakash on the world of DevOps and the Unicorn Project

The Unicorn project is a blueprint to deliver exceptional customer experiences and to compete with Unicorns

Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Gene Kim, the author of the eponymous novel, The Phoenix Project. As the global Consumer Chief Information Officer of Centrica, I’ve always been passionate about how technology, data and design can be applied to deliver great customer experience. Since the book was written in 2013, the rise of DevOps has propelled the success of the incumbent industry leaders re-imagining their business as well as FANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) as more organisations iterate design, data and technology to achieve business outcomes.

Software is eating the world at an increasing pace. This leaves us all with the choice to either get on the ‘bus’ or continue to stick with the familiarity of ‘horse and carriages’.

Why does this matter to all consumer / retail industries? I knew from experience that technologists need to work with colleagues across the business to solve some of the biggest issues that companies face. At Centrica, we use DevOps to develop and make changes to code in days rather than weeks for our website. So if we want to make changes at speed we can to improve the customer journeys based on feedback from customers.

In practice the Centrica DevOps team are multidisciplinary made up of Ops, Marketing, Designers, Developers and Engineers who can make changes to our app and website fast. This is a dynamic way of working and helps us serve our customers faster and meet their changing needs at pace.

This summer, Gene and I caught up about his learning since writing The Phoenix Project in 2013, which showed clearly how businesses need to work closely to make tech a core business function. Gene emphasised the importance of the next generation of transformational leaders who create value using DevOps. I quizzed Gene on how boards become convinced of the value of DevOps to organisations and his answer was insightful.

1. The story of the Phoenix project has now been proven by data
Gene explained to me that since 2013, the idea behind the Phoenix Project has now been proven by research of over 30,000 DevOps practitioners (the combination of development and operations in IT) across all industries, energy, fintech and it’s been proven to be the fastest way to deliver code iterations. For companies like our Centrica, we are using DevOps to serve customers’ needs quicker. We are using DevOps to serve our customers’ needs quicker: through reducing the time taken to deliver customer journey improvements; by starting with customer needs rather than requirements; with interactive testing and rapid deployment. And high performers can do it in minutes.

2. The importance of the transformational leader
The Unicorn Project is told through the eyes of a developer and an architect, it’s a rebellion where a small group of people are trying to overthrow the older ways of working, often representing very powerful orthodoxies, including project management. It takes a very special leader to do this. Leaders who understands the goals of the organisation and are willing to break the rules in order to help the organisation survive and thrive.

The Unicorn Project looks at the role of the transformational leader, based on five ideals:

  1. The First Ideal—Locality and Simplicity
  2. The Second Ideal—Focus, Flow, and Joy
  3. The Third Ideal—Improvement of Daily Work
  4. The Fourth Ideal—Psychological Safety
  5. The Fifth Ideal—Customer Focus

To be truly successful, transformational leaders need to ask themselves the following questions:

Do I understand the vision of the organisation? Intellectual stimulation to learn? Relate to real work to make correct assumptions of how we work? Practice inspirational communication? Be supportive leaders and lead with personal recognition for the right behaviours? Life is much easier for technologists, when colleagues like Peter Simon and Sarwjit Sambhi are curious about technology and understand the imperative to design propositions and customer journeys using data and new technologies.

3. How the developer community can drive economic value
Gene explained that research by Carlota Perez asserts that the economic value created by FANGs, Facebook-Amazon-Netflix-Googles will be dwarfed by the economic value that is created when new practices and technologies are adopted by the largest brands across every industry. Gene believes that by elevating every one of those 18 million developers on the planet to be as productive as if they were at a Facebook-Amazon-Netflix-Google, we could generate trillions of dollars in economic value per year. And the best is yet to come. IOT, Smart Home Automation, Home Energy Management and Electric Vehicle Management is here and scaling to re-imagine our view of an Energy business.

4. How do Boards get convinced to get on this journey of digital transformation? To continuously try and improve customer experiences?
Boards need reassurance that working with DevOPs isn’t a crazy idea. Because of the iterative ways of working you can see value very quickly, how it creates value and proof points quickly. Technology leaders who have the full buy-in and trust of their colleagues across the business – can re-imagine markets, propositions and customer experiences to disrupt markets.

Meeting and chatting with Gene, I am reminded that it is even more important than ever that technology, marketing, finance and operations come together to create a competitive advantage.

At Centrica, we are passionate about re-imagining our customer experiences and that is inspiring us to learn by doing. We are committed to putting the principles of DevOps into practice.