Build resilient systems at scale
28–30 October 2015 • Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Autonomy at bol.com is like putting a man on the moon: A small step for a team, a giant leap for the company

Frederieke Ubels (bol.com), William de Ronde (bol.com)
11:50–12:30 Friday, 30/10/2015
Location: G104/105
Average rating: ***..
(3.77, 35 ratings)
Slides:   1-PDF 

Prerequisite Knowledge

Agile does ring a bell, knowledge that in some companies there’s a difference between development and operations.

Description

Bol.com opened its doors on 30 March, 1999. Almost 16 years later bol.com is the largest (web)shop in the Netherlands and Belgium, and market leader in the field of online sales of books, entertainment, electronic devices, and toys with over 5 million active customers and 900 employees.

Over the years bol.com has grown fast and steadily. The in-house IT department has been a powerful driver of innovation: all functionality and tooling for customers, suppliers, partners and employees is built and run agile and 24/7. To make sure we can support our business with a short time-to-market and parallel progress in all key business areas, we started working agile in 2009. And to take all things necessary for growing further and staying agile in our own hands, we built our own datacenter last year and insourced all web operations capabilities. This enables us to best use the technologies that we want to meet our customers’ requirements, and automate what we need to keep our productivity high, and eliminate bottlenecks.

At the same time, this paved the way for the next step in our evolution of innovation. And that’s a necessity, because with growing comes growing pains: too many teams working in the same code and applications, too many dependencies between development and operations, too many silos, too much waiting, releases getting bigger and buggier, and the risk of frustrations getting out of hand. And with our ambition to grow more than 200 people every year, that’s not risk but a certainty.

So in the summer of 2014 we started “Man on the Moon”, our program to ensure scalability, productivity and motivation. Our goal is to help our teams to become independent and autonomous while delivering a continuous flow of new functionality to our customers, partners, and colleagues. Putting a Man on the Moon is not just a program, it’s a movement: it requires boldness, creativity, inventiveness, and the commitment of everyone in the organization. It’s a technical challenge as much as it is a cultural, organizational, and, as it turned out, sometimes an emotional one as well. And it’s something that requires lift: of teams wanting autonomy, trust and tooling to fly their own mission.

In the program we focus on three things:

  • You build it, you run it, you love it: development teams pulling in operations run responsibly and eliminate dependencies that hold them down, one-by-one
  • Building a self-service and self-scaling platform to help us grow
  • A new IT organization that enables autonomy and combines build and run responsibility

So where did this bring us so far? Well, some teams are still on earth, a lot of teams float somewhere in the atmosphere, and a few are preparing their landing on the moon. We redesigned the IT organization and made it feel small again. We gained scalability and boosted motivation, on the IT side as well as on the Business side. Releases are getting smaller and smaller, the number of incidents is dropping and best of all: we didn’t suffer more downtime (Yes, that’s right! Even though former developers are now running things ;-)).

Are we there yet? No, not yet, not by far, but we hope to be a lot closer in November. And as with so many trips: the journey itself is as much fun as reaching the destination, so we have a great story to share about everything we did, messed up, learned, and gained on the way. And as we’ve learned a lot from Velocity in the last years, our goal is that in 2016 some company will present what they’ve learned from us!

Photo of Frederieke Ubels

Frederieke Ubels

bol.com

Frederieke Ubels has been working for bol.com for 10+ years. As director of IT innovation, she is responsible for continuous improvement of the innovation process at bol.com, alignment with business departments, and for the transition to a DevOps way of working, to ensure scalability of the IT organization. This helps bol.com grow, stay ahead of the competition, and hold its leading role in (e)commerce in the Netherlands and Belgium. Frederieke started as the manager of the book department, and switched to IT in 2007. Her background in the marketing department has played a key role in aligning the IT organization with the business departments within bol.com.

Photo of William de Ronde

William de Ronde

bol.com

William de Ronde joined bol.com 10 years ago. In the years since, he did a full Tour of Duty in IT: as a developer, project manager, manager technology, and head of operations. His experience combined with his gut-feeling way of working made him the best candidate to lead the migration to bol.com’s newly built datacenter in 2014. Now that that’s completed very successfully, he’s the IT innovation manager helping the IT organization to stay on the edge by constantly motivating every engineer, manager, and director to get the most out of themselves.