organizational design

Incongruent Organizational Design and Misaligned Incentives: 7 Deadly Diseases of DevOps

Thursday, February 06, 2020

We continue our seven-part blog series as we explore “Misalignment of Incentives” and “Incongruent Organizational Design” and how they are hindering IT organizational success. Misalignment of incentives has to do with siloed teams within an organization working towards different goals or incentives. When every team in an organization is trying to deliver software in their own bubble, bottlenecks and tensions amount. While value stream mapping is a remedy to this, John Willis (Electric Cloud advisor and co-author of  The DevOps Handbook) describes that it shouldn’t be your first stop on fixing this problem and highlights some best practices with value stream mapping.

organizational design

In addition, Willis and Anders Wallgren (Electric Cloud CTO) covered incongruent organizational design. This concept is built around how an organization is structured – are there lots of siloed teams working independently? Or, are there smaller teams collaborating and working together efficiently? This can even get as bad as top-level executives reporting to the wrong people – ouch! Willis and Wallgren share some of their personal experiences and ways to combat incongruent organizational design.

In their recent webinar, Willis and Wallgren discussed the “7 Deadly Diseases of DevOps.” Miss some of the series? Check out these quick recaps of each of the seven DevOps “diseases”.

1) Invisible Work 

2) Management System Toil 

3) Tribal Knowledge 

4) Misalignment of Incentives 

5) Incongruent Organizational Design 

6) Managing Complexity 

7) Security and Compliance Theater 


Deadly DevOps Disease #4: Misalignment of Incentives

misalignment of incentives

Willis explains that value stream mapping is a remedy to misaligned incentives, but you must first tackle the first three diseases before jumping into value streams: “Misalignment of incentives is where you have different teams that are siloedValue stream mapping is a good way to remedy this. However, this is not where you should start. What you want to do is start targeting the teams the way they’re already structured and siloed. With value stream mapping, you’re creating this first meet and greet in an artificial environment, putting a team together that really don’t work together except for on the peripheral. And I think it’s a brilliant tool, but I don’t think it’s the first tool that you use.”

Wallgren uses Dilbert as an example of misaligned incentives: “My favorite illustration of misaligned incentives is the old Dilbert strip where they talk about bug bounties and the one engineer kind of creeps off into the back and says, ‘Ooh, I’m going to write myself a new minivan this afternoon because there’s going to be bug bounties.’ Or my other favorite misaligned incentive, which is quite real, is MBO’s around ship dates because of course the ship date is the most important feature of a piece of software.”

Willis emphasizes the importance of considering all of the DevOps diseases before progress can be made: “An incredible tool for misaligned incentives is value stream mapping and what I practice is graphical storytelling, but I think starting here is dangerous. It’s really about uncovering the truth. And I don’t think you get to the level of truth without getting through these fundamental seven sins.”

Deadly DevOps Disease #5: Incongruent Organizational Design

incongruent organizational design

Willis provided some great insight into the incongruent design and how best to figure out what type of organizational structure you are in. “Incongruent organizational design is where you start looking at Conway’s Law. This is about how your organizational design has put you in a position to produce software and service in a way that might not be desired. You have this opportunity as you’re uncovering and finding how people really work together, what type of organizational design a company is in. You only find this out from the people on the edge, and then you can start working your way into moving from I-shape to T-shape to E-shape. And then ultimately this is a great segue point for funneling the ideas of transitioning into two pizza teams.”

Wallgren shared his personal experience with incongruent organizational design. “My best example of incongruent organizational design dovetails with misalignment of incentives. I once worked for a software company where for a period of time the QA organization reported to the CFO. And mind you this was back in the day before the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. You often recognized revenue the day you shipped product. Talk about screw your organizational design and having poor incentives when it comes to doing the right thing. That did not work well.”

A final, real-world example of an incongruent organizational design was detailed by Willis, who shared, “A latent example of Conway’s Law that I have seen is a CSO reported to the chief legal officer, not the CIO. And at one point during the testimony they asked the CSO, ‘When you found out that private identity information data was compromised, how come you didn’t notify the CIO?’ And she said, ‘I just didn’t think of it.’”


About the author: Gabriel Martinez, Director of Product Marketing at Electric Cloud

Gabriel Martinez is a friendly, neighborhood product marketer that likes DevOps and writes fancy words about it so others will like it too. Outside of his continuous delivery crusade; Gabriel is dad, Scrabble champion, and music lover.

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