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Skills to remain relevant in 21st century and enabling High-performance Digital Organizations

To stay relevant in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world, organizations are looking for ways to decrease their time to market and become more customer-centric. This requires new ways of working like Agile, DevOps, and new 21st century skills.

The Agile/DevOps movement began in 2001 and so far has been largely IT-driven. When you look at the various frameworks, it is very evident that the greatest contributor (or barrier) to digital transformation will be educating and enabling the leaders and employees within these organizations.

Many companies have already invested in DevOps training and the DASA DevOps Competence Quickscan is a great way to identify which competencies have been already developed, but also which ones are still needed by everyone working in a DevOps and Agile environment, and which training can support reducing gaps.

On the other hand, the business simulation game ‘The Phoenix Project’ has been used to help translate DevOps theory into practice and support developing team skills. In the simulation game I, as the facilitator, get to play the CEO role and as such challenge the teams to apply DevOps to deliver value.

Recently, a Global analysis of all the DASA DevOps Competence Quickscan performed so far has been done. The results show for each of the DASA knowledge and skill areas the current level of maturity on a scale: Novice, Competent, Proficient, Expert, and Master.

We need to transform from ‘proficiency’ to ‘mastery’ if we are to create true high-performing, end-to-end teams that can enable real business agility.
– CEO Parts Unlimited

As CEO of Parts Unlimited in the Phoenix Project simulation, I am concerned about some of the capabilities that I see within teams in the way that they apply DevOps practices.

NOT just the IT teams. The culture and behavior changes required relate to the business as well. Product owners have a critical role in linking the IT solution to business value.

As CEO, I have certainly seen improvements towards ‘proficiency’ in the last few years, my compliments. There has been a significant investment in DevOps training (and certification) and installing a massive array of tools. However, with the amount of digital disruption and demands of digital transformation, it is time to raise the bar.

Based upon the experiences with hundreds of global teams in the previous 2 years who have participated in the Phoenix Project simulation, I still see challenges relating to #Leadership, #Empowerment, #Collaboration (End-to-End) #ContinualImprovement, and, dare I say it, #Value.

What have all these investments in DevOps delivered to my business bottom line? I see a lot of investment in ‘Epics’, ‘Features’, ‘Stories’ (and other buzzwords thrown at me), but not the hoped-for ‘Outcomes.

Where are we now and what needs to change?

As CEO I was shown a DASA DevOps Competence Quickscan maturity matrix and decided to look at this to identify where we are, compare this to what I experience, and determine what we should do to accelerate the creation of high-performing teams and capabilities.

In this article, I want to look at the Global results of the DevOps Competence Quickscan that reveal the current level of skills development for the Knowledge and Skills areas of the DASA competence model.

I am looking particularly from the perspective of the CIO, Digital Transformation Lead, Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Service Manager. These have a critical role in fostering the right culture by helping adopt the embedded new ways of working into practices and procedures and creating and sustaining new behaviors.

However, as revealed in a recent article, CIOs say they still struggle with IT culture change, even as they recognize that a poor IT culture could hinder or even torpedo digital transformation initiatives.

Failing to get it right puts my business at risk.

So, what can we do to help improve success?

Here are the Global Quickscan results for the roles I mentioned above and an analysis of where we are and where we need to be. The scores on the image represent levels of ability:  Novice, Competent, Proficient, Expert, Master.

(An immediate observation relating to the Global results across all roles, not just the roles in this article, is the low capabilities “Architecture and design”. This is very worrying considering the vast amount of “DevOps tools” that are mushrooming in my organization and the legacy systems that inhibit our agility. But this can be the subject of another article). 

In this article, I want to explore the concerns I mentioned above about #Empowerment, #Collaboration (End-to-End) #ContinualImprovement, and #Value.
Global Report of the DevOps Competence Quickscan

Global Report of the DevOps Competence Quickscan

Let us start with the most important one from my perspective as CEO. After all, DevOps is NOT the goal! It is the intended outcome in the investment into DevOps. I am concerned about teams’ awareness of the relevance of this area. In a recent article on, the results of a survey revealed a gap between how CEO’s perceive the importance of this area and how teams perceive the importance.

Business value optimization

Role Rating
CIO 3.5
Digital Transformation Lead 3.4
Service Manager 3.3
Product Owner 3.2
Scrum Master 3.1

The current level that these roles score themselves at is 3 (Proficient). The maturity matrix describes this as: “Initial feedback loops are put in place to ensure that the team understands how the users experience the Service (product). The team bases its plans for the future of the service (product) on feedback from users, monitors the behavior of the service (product), and uses the information to steer improvements.”

Level 4 (Expert) requires the following growth development:

“The team actively seeks fast feedback, involves stakeholders in the development and health of the service(product), and creates plans together with the user community.”

Level 5 (Master) requires the following growth development:

“The team is acutely aware of the business value of each adjustment to the service (Product) and steers to optimize the delivery of value concerning the ‘health’ of the service (product). Service Level Agreements need to be replaced by cooperative action and understanding between team and users.”

CEO Observation: “A worrying observation above is the lower score that Product owners give themselves. They are the linking pin between the needs for business value and the Epics, Features and Stories that you all keep throwing at me as CEO.

I still see teams with a strong focus on Features (not the ‘health’ – such as technical debt) and a lack of understanding of the business value. This business value needs to flow through the end-to-end value streams into live production and value realization. There is also a lack of understanding of the types of value and value-related work flowing through these streams, such as value-creating work (for example, Features), value leakage work (for example, technical debt(Health)), value improvement work (for example, continual learning and improvement initiatives), and a lack of conscious balance in these types of work.”


Role Rating
CIO 3.7
Digital Transformation Lead 3.7
Scrum Master 3.6
Service Manager 3.4
Product owner 3.3

Once again the scores indicate good proficiency. (I am curious to see how the teams would score these roles if asked to provide 360-degree feedback).

What are the changes required to shift to more mastery?

Level 4 (Expert) requires the following growth development:

“The team takes over leadership of the development and delivery roadmap of the products and services from the formal hierarchy.”

“Formal hierarchical leadership actively transfers responsibility and authority to the teams.”

Level 5 (Master) requires the following growth development:

“Team members fulfill the leadership roles themselves, actively promote their way of working, and help other teams and the organization to reflect and improve.”

“Inspirational and facilitative leadership close to the work floor, aimed at removing impediments beyond the control of the team.”

CEO Observations: “I often hear managers complaining that teams won’t take empowerment and ownership, and teams complaining that managers don’t empower them to do that. It would appear that many of my managers think that by saying ‘…right! You are all empowered’ that it will miraculously happen. Many of my managers fall back to the safe ‘Command & Control’ style and struggle with ‘inspirational and facilitative’ leadership styles and skills. This fits in with the findings in the article about the ‘struggle with IT culture change.’ From my observations, this to me represents a significant risk.”

Team building (collaboration)

Collaboration and Communication are often cited as core skills and behaviors. Particularly as there is a demand to create end-to-end value stream capabilities. This means the collaboration between business and IT, between Dev and Ops, and between competing business managers – all insisting their ‘Features’ are the most valuable, (which brings us back to Business Value optimization).

Role Rating
Digital Transformation Lead 3.7
CIO 3.6
Scrum Master 3.6
Service Manager 3.6
Product owner 3.4

Again a strong score in proficiency.

What is needed to develop high-performing collaboration skills and behaviors?

Level 4 (Expert) requires the following growth development:

“Norming/Performing phase of team-building. Team members become aware of their mutual strengths and weaknesses and optimize the way of working based on this knowledge. Team members encourage learning within the team.”

“Leadership encourages the diversity of views in the team to enhance reflection and accelerate innovation. Leaders help manage conflict constructively and use team-building best practices to help the team achieve its goals.”

Level 5 (Master) requires the following growth development:

“A multi-disciplinary team with all skills required to provide the services required autonomously. A large overlap in skills and knowledge between team members.”

“Team members are able to switch between roles within the team. The team is fully mutually accountable.”

“Management explicitly facilitates teams in their improvements. Leaders are focused on steering emerging behaviors instead of actively being involved in team dynamics.”

CEO Observations: “In terms of ‘norming,’ very few teams have defined ‘what behaviors will we see that demonstrate effective collaboration” and when they do in the simulations they then ignore them and do not give feedback to correct behaviors. In terms of teams being ‘fully mutually accountable’, I often see conflicts between balancing ‘Features’ and ‘technical debt.’ I also see little steering for ‘emerging behaviors’ and many managers do not understand or apply behavior management skills or organizational change management skills.”

As mentioned in the article referred to above “…rate of clearly successful organizational change at a mere 34 percent…….Organizations that are successful really do look at change management as an art and a discipline and invest in it,”

Continual Improvement

It is clear on DevOps that it is a continually evolving journey, coupled with continual disruption causing new changes. Continual Improvement needs to be a core capability within teams and at an organizational level.

Role Rating
Scrum Master 3.5
Digital Transformation Lead 3.4
Service Manager 3.3
CIO 3.3
Product Owner 3.2

Again proficiency.

What is needed to shift from proficiency through to mastery?

Level 4 (Expert) requires the following growth development:

“Teams are energized by the search for problems with the express aim of solving them. They recognize the need to redefine the standard, thereby creating a new problem to be solved. Teams look outside the boundaries of the team to realize end-to-end solutions for customers.”

“Leadership actively uses daily Kaizen to help build a habit of Continuous Improvement and rewards Continuous Improvement behavior. Leaders help to define new goals on meeting the existing goals.”

Level 5 (Master) requires the following growth development:

“The team redefines its goals autonomously and continuously to drive improvement. Improving the service is a daily activity including both small improvements and solving larger problems using an agreed method that is well-known within the team.”

“Leadership encourages organizational learning and rethinking of purpose through Continuous Improvement.”

CEO Observations: “Many teams do not reserve adequate time for continual learning and improving. WIP (Work-In-Progress) limits are often used to do more features or catch up on sprint backlogs rather than structurally learning and improving. Often there is little focus on improvements through the end-to-end value stream (Idea-to-Value) as opposed to (Code-to-Deploy). DevOps teams have ‘impediment backlogs,’ and ITSM teams have Continual Improvement registers. SILOed local optimization as opposed to value stream capabilities.”


AS CEO in the Phoenix Project simulation, I see clear proficiency in the adoption of DevOps practices. A solid base upon which to take the next step to mastery. However, it requires leadership skills and styles to evolve to the next level. There needs to be a shift in focusing on features to ‘Business value optimization,’ balancing value-creation work, value-leakage work, and continual-improvement work. It also means reserving time for improvement and making this end-to-end. The product owners have a core role to play in enabling this shift to focus on value optimization. While collaboration has improved there is still a need to focus on the shift in behaviors. Coaching skills need to shift from instrumental coaching to coaching on more behavioral and change management aspects.

Published at, written by Paul Wilkinson (GamingWorks)