Book Review: The Visible Ops Handbook

A few months ago, I purchased The Visible Ops Handbook: Implementing ITIL in 4 Practical and Auditable Steps, by Kevin Behr, Gene Kim, and George Spafford and published by the IT Process Institute (ITPI). Those names may sound familiar, as these are the same authors of The Phoenix Project. Where The Phoenix Project is a novel that teaches us general concepts through storytelling, The Visible Ops Handbook is a set of instructions to help us implement the changes that are now so vital to the DevOps movement – it’s all about executing! The Visible Ops methodology it teaches is one of many precursors to DevOps, and it’s a wonderful foundation that I feel should be explored by all.

Visible Ops has a nice structure. There are five sections describing the four steps of Visible Ops (70 pages) followed by a few appendices (30 pages). The content is a result of studies done by the ITPI (contemporary equivalents of today’s State of DevOps reports) and the implementation of Visible Ops, before it went to print, by IP Services. In those 100 pages, the lessons learned from the studies is codified using ITIL terminology. The writing is very accessible, but also very dense, and is worth referencing repeatedly as you work through the included steps. The target audience is decidedly technical, but everyone in an IT organization can benefit from the material.

The book has a single overall goal: to provide quality answers to the questions everyone was asking “I need to improve our IT, but where and how do I do it? Where do I start?” It describes what ITIL actually is (not just the bad things you hear about it on the internet!) and how to start and maintain process improvement efforts. We are shown how to discover causal factors of downtime, remediate them, and implement the practices that set the high performers apart – and how to tailor them to your needs specifically.

Visible Ops provides terminology that we can all share and related statistics from the studies. These are crucial as it gives you the ability to make an apples to apples comparison with your industry peers. For instance, Change Success Rate is defined as “changes that are successfully implemented without causing an outage or an episode of unplanned work,” and high performing IT organizations achieve rates of over 99%. Their studies show that in typical IT organizations, 35-45% of work effort is on unplanned, unscheduled work, whereas in high performing IT organizations, that number is 5% or less. That kind of shared vernacular, and the realistic numbers attached to it, helps you set realistic goals as you work through the process.

Visible Ops goes into great detail of describing the high performing IT organizations and their common characteristics. This includes common cultures – i.e. a culture of causality – and their use of ITIL processes. It describes how these organizations made the journey from good to great, breaking it down into accessible concepts and processes. This leads to the key characteristics of Visible Ops. Chief among them is that it’s an iterative, ongoing process; the first cycle can be completed in as little as 90 days. You don’t have to invest in it for years to see results.

The authors also specifically point out that high performers have a productive working relationship between Operations and everyone’s favorite groups, Security and Audit. This is called out numerous times throughout the book, emphasizing that not only is the working relationship helpful, but that by following Visible Ops methods, Operations’ ability to respond to security and audit requests is significantly improved. There will no more reason to dread the yearly or quarterly audits!

After describing the critical concepts and languages, the book moves into step-by-step guidance and a prescriptive roadmap for organizations starting or continuing their IT process improvement journey. The four steps, or phases, of Visible Ops (which map fairly well to the Improvement Kata) are:

  1. Stabilize The Patient and Modify First Response: reduce your amount of unplanned work
  2. Catch & Release and Find Fragile Artifacts: Create and maintain an inventory of production assets
  3. Create A Repeatable Build Library: Implement effective release management processes, starting with the fragile artifacts identified in step 2 that generate the most unplanned work
  4. Enable Continuous Improvement: Implement metrics to enable the continuous improvement of all areas to best meet business objectives.

Each of the four steps is discussed in its own chapter that delves into the multitude of tasks and process changes to undertake. The chapters all explore the “Why?” behind the steps which is extremely helpful to provide to your management (or buy them their own copy!) to ensure you have the backing you need as you proceed. This is perhaps most crucial during the first step, where your goal is to reduce the amount of unplanned work. Visible Ops suggests that you may even go so far as to prohibit changes entirely on the most fragile artifacts until you get things under control, or at least for some significant duration. A week of not having to put out fires can go a long way toward removing the kindling from your environment, as long as management can help hold the wolves at bay.

The book and its steps are a very helpful guide for all IT organizations and team members. I really enjoy the solid terminology that Visible Ops provides. I can share this glossary with my coworkers and management and ensure we are all on the same page. The detail and direction provided by the four steps lay a solid foundation for your organization build upon. The iterative nature ensures that you see results fast with a minimal investment.

There are also two other books in the series, Visible Ops Security and Visible Ops Cloud, that may be of interest to fans of Visible Ops.

Recommendation: Buy now! (amazon)

In fact, I like Visible Ops so much that I’ll be doing a short four-part series on each step. I will highlight some of the important details and concepts, commenting on some of the differences between Visible Ops and DevOps and why I think Visible Ops is still relevant today, but you’ll still need to buy the book to get all the details.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Visible Ops Handbook

  1. Pingback: Visible Ops Phase One: Stabilize The Patient and Modify First Response | rnelson0
  2. Pingback: Visible Ops Phase Two: Catch And Release and Find Fragile Artifacts | rnelson0
  3. Pingback: Visible Ops Phase Three: Create A Repeatable Build Library | rnelson0
  4. Pingback: Visible Ops Phase Four: Enable Continual Improvement | rnelson0
  5. Pingback: Wochenrückblick KW23 | the world needs more puppet!

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