Greetings from the lab

Ohai, Chefs! This is my first post on the Chef blog, and I’m thrilled to be part of this fantastic community of innovators. It was great to meet so many of you at ChefConf 2015, where I spoke in the plenary session.

Since I joined Chef, many of you have asked about my role as Director of Organizational Performance and Analytics (OPA!). Broadly speaking, analytics focuses on measurement, metrics, and the analysis of those metrics. My primary mandate is to help Chef continuously improve, whether that improvement be in developing and delivering software, understanding customers, or understanding the DevOps space generally. Like all of you, I want Chef to be an organization that moves at velocity.

As an example of my work, be on the lookout for a series of upcoming posts on this blog about the Chef Community Cookbooks Survey.

For now, I’d like to start by telling you a bit about my perspective on developing a metrics-driven culture, some measures that I think are important to Chef, and a little about what has brought me to Chef.

When I joined the company, there were pockets of people thinking about measurement and doing awesome things around it, but that mindset wasn’t widespread. So, in my introductory email to Chef employees, I included a reference to Data Driven: Creating a Data Culture. It’s a great, short book by Hilary Mason and DJ Patil that describes what data-driven cultures are like and how to create them. I also wanted to let people know they could come chat with me about metrics and measurement, whether they were already doing it or not.

My current work centers around three primary initiatives.

  • Rigor. The bulk of my work at Chef focuses on initiatives in the company where rigor and science can help us answer questions in precise ways. For example, this includes continued work on my DevOps and the Bottom Line, which will help both our customers and the industry at large better understand how DevOps can help achieve better ROI and organizational outcomes. This work also includes the use of research methodologies in addressing questions like:
    • How does infrastructure as code make an organization more effective and efficient?
    • How do governance, risk and compliance play a role in DevOps initiatives in organizations?

It’s an exciting time, because it’s providing opportunities to partner with external stakeholders and other organizations on great projects. Stay tuned!

  • Strategy and Measurement. I’ve met with the leadership team at Chef to compile and refine the list of measures that are important to us at Chef. I call this list the Chef Scorecard 2015, and it’s only about a page long. I wanted the list to be concise for several reasons:
    • It ensures that there are a manageable number of things to focus on.
    • It makes it easier to communicate the measures to the organization, which increases alignment.
    • Team members find it easier to map their work to organizational goals.
    • You can post the list around the office.
    • You can read the list quickly.

Each functional area owns the specifics separately, but it was useful to have an overall framework for strategy and measurement.

  • Analytics and Measurement. I’ve been working with the Engineering and Product teams in Chef to better measure our R&D process so we can understand and optimize it. I’ve also been working with customer-facing teams so we can understand and optimize the customer experience in areas such as using Chef and learning Chef. Finally, other teams in the company have consulted with me for advice on activities that involve writing survey questions, such as interview evaluations and employee surveys.

I’ve always been interested in technology and got my start as an AS/400 programmer. Before getting my PhD, I also worked with databases and enterprise hardware, and supported these systems as a sysadmin. Today, my research often investigates the ways that tech professionals choose and use technology, and the outcomes of that technology use, and was inspired in large part by a side project.

A colleague and I conducted a usability study for a backup and replication solution that was specifically designed for high-level sysadmins. Our findings showed that sysadmins had specific system and information needs that were unique to the complex, adaptive environments that they worked in and supported. Imagine my surprise when the company pushed back at our findings! Something that I had assumed was widely understood—sysadmins interact with systems in different ways than standard end users because of the complexity of the systems they manage–was not obvious to the usability and development team. That experience prompted me to change the focus of my dissertation research to examine tool use and its impact among technical professionals. The rest is history. (If you want more detail on my research interests or work background, you can find that here.)

Within our community, I’m best known as the lead investigator on the 2014 State of DevOps report. Prior to joining Chef, I was a Professor at Utah State University and Pepperdine University. Leaving academia was a difficult decision, but I’m thrilled to be at Chef, and I look forward to the exciting work I’ll be doing here. I hope you’ll all keep in touch, and let me know if you have any questions.

Nicole Forsgren

Former Chef Employee