DevOps Video Chat: DevOps Transformation with Tasktop’s Carmen DeArdo –

By Alan Shimel on

Carmen DeArdo is well-known in the DevOps space mostly because of his work at Nationwide, where he was DevOps leader and technology director. In August of last year, Carmen moved to Tasktop, where he works with other DevOps luminaries Mik Kersten and Dominica DeGrandis, helping organizations along their transformational journeys.

In this DevOps Video Chat, we speak with Carmen about his move to Tasktop and the culture shifts that are almost universal in embracing DevOps.

The video is immediately below, followed by the transcript of our conversation.


Alan Shimel: Hi, everyone, it’s Alan Shimel,, and welcome to a DevOps Video Chat. Today’s guest on our DevOps Video Chat is well-known DevOps personality, Carmen DeArdo, as well as huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Carmen, welcome to DevOps Video Chat.

Carmen DeArdo: Thank you, Alan. Great to be here. Glad to be talking to you.

Shimel: Absolutely. So, Carmen, to paraphrase a religious question, this one’s a little different than all other chats we’ve done before, in that we’ve always spoken to Carmen from Nationwide Insurance DevOps team, where you really pioneered a lot of DevOp s – not only at Nationwide but set the tone and the course for a lot of DevOps journeys throughout the industry. But now you come to us as Carmen DeArdo as part of Tasktop.

DeArdo: As you said, I always enjoyed, within the DevOps community, talking to other companies. You know, we talked a lot at conferences, where I was a reference customer for some other customer – companies, like IBM, and I was just really intrigued by Mik’s book, which I know we’ll be talking about, and some of the concepts that Tasktop was getting involved with because we were a customer. And I really liked their vision and now I’m here on the Tasktop roster, so to speak, working with customers to help them go through the kind of journey that we went through at Nationwide and also to bring in some of the concept of Mik’s book, which I think can take it beyond, to the next level of what we were doing at Nationwide.

Shimel: That’s fantastic, Carmen, and I – first of all, I wish you a lot of luck in the new position, new sort of career path, and I’m sure you’ll do great because you’re just a great person with this. Well, you mention Mik’s book and I happen to have a copy of it here. It’s called Project to Product. It’s by Mik Kersten. And, not to brag, but I happen to have a signed-by-the-author copy of it, you know?

And I will tell you, Carmen, I was fascinated with some of the concepts in the book and I’ve discussed some of these concepts with people, as part of my communication, and it really is – this concept of moving from a project-centric IT environment, right, to a product-centric is really – I mean, it’s fundamental, in a lot of ways, right?

DeArdo: Yeah, it is. So I think, you know, we were at DOES London and that’s where they galley copies of the book came out, so the official copy, I think, the coming out party, officially, I think is gonna be in the Vegas conference, and then the book will be available shortly after that to everybody. But – through IT Revolution, but it is a fundamental change and it was something even that Mik and I had been talking about and we had been trying to work through at Nationwide because, before I worked at Nationwide, I worked at Bell Labs for quite a while. And one of the things that struck me when I came to Nationwide was we went – at Bell Labs, we already had this concept of kinda like products, right, because you had your switches, you had your network control points, you had – so work really came to the team. And so we were always working on the next set, for example, way back when I worked on Advanced 800 features, and so we had a team that stayed together and the work came to us and we were very focused on our product, that 800 service concept and then the systems that we build.

So I came to Nationwide, what struck me was almost all the work was done through projects and these projects seemed to have a life cycle, a lot of ’em, that got funded as part of the funding for that year. They started up. You brought all these people to the team. You went through the “norming and forming and storming” kind of parts of the project. And then, once they were done, the project dispersed and the people went. And what you would do – it was very difficult to do – was, if a project touched five or six systems, you would start to allocate – you know, we were using Clarity – two people, three people, a half a person, a quarter person, whatever you thought you needed from those systems.

And so it was a very fragmented kind of experience because the project was temporal; the systems people were all separated and spread out among these projects. Sometimes, a person might be working on a half-dozen projects at the same time. And, you know, you were constantly forming in these teams and so one of the ideas of the product focus is you have a set of people that are focused on that product. They’re gonna live, eat, drink around that product. And it may be more than one team – we’d like to say it’s a two-pizza team that can solve the world’s problems, but we know, sometimes, it’s gonna be more than one team – but still their focus is on the product and now the whole idea of bringing them a continuous flow of work, you’re bringing it to this established product teams.

And the other thing that came up with projects a lot was there was this tension between doing the feature work versus the defects and the risk items and some of the technical debt because project managers were very focused on “You have a budget. You have a set of scope. You’re supposed to deliver that.” So who wants to pay if there’s a vulnerability in a Struts library or making the next thing faster, right? Technical debt is always about – is really about investing to make the next thing go faster, so, if you don’t really have a long-lived relationship with what you’re working on, you tend, just because of the nature of business –

Shimel: You make short-term decisions.

DeArdo: Make short-term decisions. Right.

Shimel: Yeah. I mean, you know, Carmen, that was one of the things I realized in talking to people, about shifting from a project focus to a product focus, and, to me, it was almost – I learned a lesson. I helped take a company public back in the dot-com days – ’99, 2000 – and the difference in how we managed the company as a pre-public, as a private company, to a public company just blew me away. Right? All of a sudden, we were managing in three-month cycles, right? ‘Cause we were managing quarter to quarter ’cause we had to just, you know, go to the street and tell them our results. And you start making decisions that ultimately led to the failure of the company, frankly, because we were making very, very short-term decisions that were maybe good for the short term but not for the long term.

DeArdo: Right. And you know I’m a – you know, we talk about Deming a lot and Deming warned about things like that, right, about the short-term thinking and lack of systems thinking, but you’re right. It drives you that way because the market’s saying, “Well, what’s your next earnings per share? What’s your next report gonna be?” So it does take more – it’s a different way of thinking about things and, really, you’re more in it for the long haul. Now that’s not to say you can’t do things well in the short term because absolutely you can. You can apply all the DevOps practices we’ve talked about. You can run your experiments or ideas of what you think is gonna get value. You can get that feedback much more quickly.

So you can still apply all the things that we’ve talked about and everything, over the last five, six years, but now you’re doing it for the benefit of that product and you can start to tie the business in with how the value’s actually flowing, right? Because, a lot of times, you don’t – a business doesn’t wanna go up and show ’em an Agile team board, with a bunch of different stories, if they can’t relate it to “What’s the value of what I’m getting through this value stream? Right? Where is my value? What’s going on with what I’m trying to do?”

And, with that product focus, it kinda tears down that wall and opens up that black box of IT and says, “Okay, all the way from the idea through deployment, we’re gonna make this work visible and we can see it and we can make decisions and priority calls based on how we’re gonna deploy our resources. And it’s across the features, the risks, the defects, and the investment in debt items so that we can continue to make this product good, not just now but in the future.”

So it seems subtle, but, actually, it’s a very different way of thinking and it even gets back into how things are funded. So I think, in the past, with Agile and DevOps, we stayed away from that left-hand side of the value stream, closer to the customer – we’re kind of in our comfort zone – but now it forces you to engage the business and really have them come along to the journey with you. So that’s another change, I think, in how this applies, versus some of the things we’ve done up to this point.

Shimel: Good. Now – I mean, Carmen, I think you’re so right on with that, though, in that it sounds subtle, but yet it’s so fundamentally different. And I guess one of my biggest fears around it is people are so resistant to change.

DeArdo: Right.

Shimel: And, thought – you know, maybe that it sounds subtle will help sneak it in, right, as a Trojan horse or whatever, but to tell people that they’re gonna have to shift the way they think about this, about the way they go about doing IT in products, knee jerk is “No, we’re not.” Right? It’s –

DeArdo: Right.

Shimel: And that makes it hard.

DeArdo: It makes it hard. And that’s an excellent point, Alan, and I think we’ve been talking about this since I joined, which it’s almost two months now, about the fact that, just like – when I was at Nationwide and gave some of the talks with Cindy and Jim, we talked about the journey. We even had that mountain which showed you climbing to the summit. This is a journey, right? And, if you start out with what you just said and saying, “Okay, you can’t even get started until you do all these things and they involve your business,” you’re right. You’re gonna lose folks right there because “Wait. I gotta change my organization. I gotta change how we do funding. I gotta change this.”

So the way you have to present it and the way I think we’re looking at is we’re taking the customer on a journey. And that journey starts, really, with – and I used to talk about this with you – thinking horizontally. Right? So, when you think of a value stream, a value stream starts and ends with the customer. And if you start to get people to think horizontally and the concept across that value stream and the artifacts that flow from your PPM, your portfolio planning, through your build cycle, through your deploy, and the fact that, in order to get flow, your tools have to be connected, which is where Tasktop essentially was started, was around this concept of connecting your tools, making your tools talk, synchronizing artifacts from tools so, when a defect is created in quality center, it can flow into the backlog of your Agile team. When an instance’s created in ITSM, it can become a defect; it can flow.

So it’s really starting with this concept of “Let’s start with getting the tools talking. Let’s get your artifacts flowing.” And even – and this may sound heresy – even if those artifacts initially are really focused on the work of an initiative or a team or even a project, dare I say, you can still start to utilize the concepts in Mik’s book around the flow framework and see things like lead time, flow time, the flow efficiency, flow velocity. You can still see those things as part of this journey.

Now I think, ultimately, yes, you need to turn the boat more to get that product focus, to get some of the things – advantages we just talked about, but you can start this journey, I think, from wherever you are, as a enterprise, and just take those incremental steps in order to get to the point where then you’re ready to experiment with one product. Right? And then you just wanna start with one product. Pick one product, get one business owner that is interested in this.

And then, from that, you even call it maybe an “experiment,” get some results, and then that’s what starts to change the culture. Right? It’s not gonna be me talking or giving talks; it’s gonna be – you know, I used to joke about this at Nationwide, right? When I would go around to different areas and talk, that didn’t have near the impact of getting one team to actually do something and get results ’cause then that opened people’s eyes and said, “Okay, that is possible. It’s possible right here, right now, and I wanna create my own story.” So you’re absolutely right. It needs to be structured in a way that allows companies’ teams to go on that journey; otherwise, the impact of the change is gonna be too much and you’re not really gonna get any traction.

Shimel: I agree. You know, Carmen, that was one of the first lessons I learned in business a long, long time ago, which is nothing succeeds like success.

Shimel: No one wants to jump on a sinking ship; everyone wants to be with the winner. And if you could show that you’re winning somehow, that you’re succeeding, you have upside, everything kinda flows from there. Right? People wanna be associated with that and they’re willing to tolerate and even embrace change, in some –

DeArdo: Yeah. Absolutely. And, you know, and some of the – you know, you can’t just decide you’re gonna wake up today and change culture, right? I mean, you have to do things through what you’re talking about, right? Creating those experiences, those successes, those stories. Stories are very powerful. That’s what ultimately will change the culture, right? Sharing credit. Right?

If it looks like – you know, at Nationwide, if it looked like, “Well, this is Carmen’s show,” that’s not gonna get anywhere. It has to be everybody’s show. It has to be Jim’s show and Jane’s show and Donna’s show and everybody’s show, where they’re now showing how they can be successful. That then really has the impact of changing the culture and showing people that, yeah, this is possible because that team on the fifth floor’s doing this, right? It’s not in this book. It’s not in this conference. It’s that team. It’s that team on the fifth floor and why can’t we do it?

Shimel: Agreed. Agreed. So, Carmen, you mentioned you’ve been at Tasktop now two months. We spoke a bunch about the book, Project to Product, by Tasktop CEO, Mik, but the Tasktop people have really amassed a great Murderers’ Row lineup there. They’ve got you; they’ve got Mik. And I can’t –

DeArdo: Dominica.

Shimel: Dominica DeGrandis, of course. You know, that’s a lot of brainpower. Lot of brainpower over there. What else are you working on?

DeArdo: Well, I mean, it’s obviously a pleasure. There’s a lot of – it’s a great company, it’s a great culture, and Dominica beat me over here by a few months, but to be able to collaborate with folks like Dominica and Mik and then just the whole community, right? Because they were folks that were already in the great community that has been built, that Gene’s built, other folks like yourself have helped build this whole community. I mean, yeah, it’s a pleasure. It’s an honor to be able to talk about these ideas. I mean, Dominica’s concepts of flow and visibility naturally just relate to what we’re talking about.

I thought it was interesting, in the London talk, the London conference, I mean, you go to all these conferences and you can sorta see, over year to year, how things are going and what topics now are becoming more in the mainstream. And there’re a number of talks this year where flow was either in the title or key concept. Jonathan Smart talked about it; Fin had a talk about flow. So flow is kinda where it’s at, I think, now, as people are seeing, “If I’m gonna accelerate my delivery, become more responsive, I gotta understand flow and, as my ex-boss, Tom Payter, would say, where things aren’t flowing.”

And so, with Dominica’s great work that she’s done with making work visible and concepts of flow, her book, Mik’s book now, I mean, yeah, it’s a great opportunity to be involved with just a great company, great culture, and great folks, to see how we can help other companies succeed in the marketplace.

Shimel: I think it also speaks to the coming maturity of the DevOps marketplace, where we’re seeing sort of leaders kinda come together, community leaders come together and combining in ways that it’s sorta synthesis, right? _____ synthesis and I think it’ll lead to yet another wave of innovation, another wave of thinking about these things.

DeArdo: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I think people like Gene have done a great job of bringing people – creating forums for people to come together and the community, as you know and as you contribute to, is very open about sharing ideas. Right? So, for example, I would use – Topo Pal, we both know at Capital One – I would use his example all the time at Nationwide, when people would say, “Well, we can’t do this. We’re not a unicorn. We’re a regulated industry.” I’d go, “Well, let’s see what Capital One has to say about this,” right? They’re a bank. They had a great presentation with auditing, where I think Jennifer Brady was the auditor that came up on stage with Topo and gave a talk.

So it’s just such a great community where people are willing to share and – you’re right – that allows everybody to get better and the whole community is kinda propelling each other forward. So it’s really been a great blessing, honor to be involved, getting to know all these folks and getting to do this kind of work.

Shimel: Absolutely. Well, Carmen, we’re about out of time, but I wanna wish you luck at Tasktop. I think they’re really, really lucky to have you. I’m sure we’ll run into you somewhere on the DevOps conference circuit and we’ll catch up in person. But congratulations on the move to Tasktop. You’ll make us proud, Carmen. Keep innovating. Keep leading. And thanks for being our guest today.

DeArdo: Well, I appreciate the kind words, Alan. It’s always great talking to you and I look forward to keep the conversation going. Thank you very much.

Shimel: All right. Carmen DeArdo – you know, Carmen, I forgot to ask, what’s your title at Tasktop?

DeArdo: My title is senior value stream management strategist.

Shimel: Carmen DeArdo, senior value stream management strategist at Tasktop, our guest today on DevOps Video Chat. Thanks, everyone. Have a great day.


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