DevOps, The Art of War

The DevOps of Fighting: Stanley McChrystal

When I was in college, I was often bored of the material that as being taught in many of my compulsory English literature classes. I gained the reputation amongst my peers and professors that I can turn just about any writing assignment into a piece on military history. This post is no exception to that rule. In this case - I am not doing this for idle pursuits -  I feel that this post is the single most important use of my time at this very moment to write, and yours to read. Warfare and business have many parallels, the only difference between the aforementioned two is the means upon which the mandate is executed.

Retired General Stanley McChrystal is a huge part of my day in many ways. I have a ton of respect for the general, and have read every single book he has written to date. I often listen to his TED talk about leadership on my shower radio when I need a boost for the day. His picture hangs on my wall, and I look at it every day. It has a quote on it, and that quote reads “Strength is leading when you just don’t want to lead.” To my knowledge, he has no idea that I literally have a ‘What would Stan do?’ moment many times daily. 

Stanley McChrystal is a man obsessed with systems, routine, but above all - he is a master at bringing different elements together and driving consensus and shared purpose. Getting different people to work together is a tough thing to accomplish, when you throw in the machinations of military bureaucracy, territorial pissing contents and all the rest of it - there are only a select few that are able to achieve consensus on especially sensitive operations.  When he took over in Afghanistan, he was able to turn several siloed agencies within this task force into a ruthless war fighting machine. Previous to Stanley, intelligence would sit in boxes and nobody was aggregating that information or acting on it. When McChrystal got things into full swing, ISAF would get intelligence in the morning (from signals intel, raids the night before, or any assortment of human intelligence sources), civilian and military analysts would pour over the data, prepare strike packages and have special operations forces deployed on target within HOURS instead of days. This was an amazing feat that few in the higher echelon of the US Military could accomplish without screwing something up.

By bringing all the elite players and talent into the same room, and operating with shared purpose, General McChrystal created DevOps for US and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"While technology facilitated many of our advances, the biggest determinant of our ability to communicate and act with speed was in fact cultural—how all the diverse members and units of the task force felt about their participation. We faced a cultural challenge familiar to many businesses: Our force was very good, but this was not enough. They had to believe that it didn’t matter if we were excellent if we weren’t winning. The results of this renovation were evident by the numbers: Our task force, which was primarily focused on tearing apart Al Qaeda in Iraq’s network, went from doing 14 raids per month in Iraq in August 2004 to more than 300 raids per month in August 2006."

(Source: [General Stanley McChrystal: Leadership Lessons From Afghanistan](

There is a ton of smoke out there when it comes to DevOps. Is it tools? Is it a project management methodology? Is it all this other buzzwordy nonsense? It is none of those things. DevOps is a cultural shift in corporate thinking, that happens to have tools that are designed to execute DevOps functions like Continuous Integration, Unit Testing, Automated Deployments, Configuration Management, etc.

Every company is a software company, whether they like it or not. The technology that allows us to reach our customers is driven by software that runs in a client facing manner that has specialized hosting, and a specialized mentality within your corporate culture with respect to the continued improvement of your offering - as well as overall care and feeding of the application or service that makes your offering available. The only way that product or offering will ever see the light of day is through the effort put forth by your people, and your people cant work effectively without a shared sense of purpose.

To wage war and get the leg up on your competitors, you have to adopt the McChrystal model, bring everyone into the same room, work on the project together, and choose the tools that enable your team or tribe to deliver code quickly. This is DevOps.  

Rick Conlee

Rick Conlee

Rick is an entrepreneur and networking expert who has spent the last 2 decades designing, building and maintaining special use case technology implementations for government institutions and private industry.