Embracing a DevOps culture to accelerate digital transformation

I chaired a panel at DevOps Live, Tech Show in Excel, London on 2 March and learned a thing or two about digital transformation from my panellists, Fabian Basciani at JP Morgan Asset Management, and Kristof Goossens at devops platform GitLab, whose analogies and stories will stick in my head for weeks.

Basciani, who is a software engineering manager and developer, joined JP Morgan just under six years ago, just as the company began a shift to a more agile culture. The financial institution previously suffered from red tape and not enough automation – sound familiar? Developers had to raise a ticket and ‘ship code’ (deliver code) once a month, and were not empowered to act under their own steam.

Now, Basciani’s team ships code nearly every day and – perhaps counterintuitively – have reduced major incidents from 20 to just one a year, so how did they get there?

Culture makes – or breaks – transformation

The changes made were cultural, and Basciani and Goossens are in agreement that layers of management who all have a say in the decision-making process simply kills an organisation’s ability to make progress.

GitLab, which is all remote, has become well-known for its cultural values, which are regularly shared.  Goossens, who is a solutions architect but works with the GitLab community to help them achieve a DevOps culture, says: “You can have several layers of management but each of those layers needs to be empowered.”

Giving a small number of senior people the power to make decisions means they become a block. Instead, you need to hire good people that you trust, and then trust them to get on with the job in hand.

Similarly, leaders must lead. Basciani uses a gardening analogy to bring the concept to life: you can’t tell a tomato to grow, but if it needs a sunny spot, you must create the right environment for it to grow and remove impediments. Pesticide is red tape that kills the fire in talented people.


None of this can happen without senior executive buy in. As an observation for law firms, executives need to push for agile adoption and work to unblock any barriers by providing funding, training, and support. Agility, as JP Morgan says in one of its own blog posts, starts from the top.

Key takeaways

  • Work together – not in a siloed way.
  • Everyone needs to feel responsible for the same thing.
  • If your organisation doesn’t support failing fast and people who make mistakes are punished, you will never achieve a DevOps culture.
  • You need to bring your stakeholders on board. The business might not know what you’re talking about – communication is key.
  • You need to give your people all the information you have – don’t assume they don’t need to know everything; how else will they make the right decisions?
  • Make lots of small changes – avoid one large change.

You can read (and watch) more about JP Morgan’s shift to agile here: https://www.jpmorgan.com/commercial-banking/insights/building-agile-business

Caroline Hill is editor-in-chief of Legal IT Insider