The Intersection Between Digital Transformation and a Barbershop Quartet

by Dave Cliffe June 14, 2017 | 3 min read

Question: What does a barbershop quartet have to do with digital transformation?

In what has become a yearly ritual for the PagerDuty Product team, we attended the consistently wonderful Mind The Product conference in San Francisco this week. There were a few key and relevant themes specifically for IT Operations professionals that showed up throughout the day — below is a quick recap of the ones that stood out to me. 

Manage Effectively for Digital Transformation

One of the most validating points of the conference was from Janice Fraser, SVP of Bionic, related to the seemingly ever-increasing rate-of-change in our world — a fact that was also referenced earlier by Zenka. To paraphrase her overarching point: management by planning and prediction is great for tuning a machine, but hockey-stick growth (disruption) requires a profoundly different approach to management.

We see this same issue arise in DevOps transformations with so many of our customers — a lack of understanding of the necessity of cultural change results in missing out on the desired outcomes. The term “kaikaku” or “radical change,” came to mind as Janice outlined why so many large enterprises fail to properly equip their “innovation labs” or “startup culture” that are meant to drive that digital transformation.

I especially loved the point that she made about rewarding learning, not certainty. In a world where change is so rapid, this makes so much sense!


The Value of Empathy

Another point that bubbled up consistently was around empathy (also referenced earlier by Nate Walkingshaw) and creating an emotional or social connection with your users and different roles in your organization. Dave Wascha, CPO of PhotoBox, delivered an outstanding and wildly entertaining talk to “give advice to baby Dave [a young product manager]”:


Dave brought up some great examples of how product managers can’t just focus on business ROI: you need to create an emotional and social connection with your users. Beef jerky with dental floss provided? Yes, please!

Sing Like Nothing’s/Something’s Broken

Another shining example to Dave? The PagerDuty barbershop ringtones. In a fun twist, Dave Wascha reached out before the conference and suggested a BarberDuty live performance at Davies Symphony Hall. Given that we were already attending, it was a no-brainer!


As users of PagerDuty ourselves, this point really resonated because of the circumstances in which we have to engage our users: in the worst of times. Anything we can do to help those on-call to not feel so alone, to be part of a community, or just to laugh a little is a great reminder that technology problems will come and go, but people are the important part.

As a Product Manager who can be seen frequently attending or organizing DevOpsDays conferences, having a community of professionals to engage with is absolutely crucial for growth. Mind The Product really fills that gap for Product Managers. Kudos to the whole team (especially @bfgmartin) for a fantastic event!

A special thanks to Muriel Gordon, Taavi Burns, and Irving Reid for their amazing vocal skills! And to Luke Albert & Peter Sobot, honorary BarberDutonians.