DevOps Unicorns and Horses for Courses!

DevOps stable

I was triggered to write this article when I heard a cynical remark, born from experience I suspect, about organizations adopting DevOps and thinking that they can become technology company unicorns. It made me think. Very few organizations can become unicorns. It’s just not possible. These companies are, in DevOps buzzword-bingo terminology called “horses.” But then I thought, are there different types of horses?

It then made me reflect on the hundreds of organizations I meet, who participate in our Phoenix Project DevOps simulation. Many of them struggle to grasp what this DevOps horse is. And what type of horse they’re hoping to become.

If you don’t adopt DevOps in the right way, what type of horse could your company become? Or even more concerning for some, perhaps, what sort of a horse did your company become?!

Please take a look at the following definitions and ask yourself what type of horse are we? Or, perhaps, what type of horse are we evolving into?

DevOps pony

Pit Pony

  • Kept in the dark, with a blinkered view, and told where to go
  • Toxic working environment
  • “Ad hoc” delivery capability
  • Works on the rails (frameworks – follows the guidance blindly)
  • No point in using DevOps to go faster because speed isn’t needed!



  • Piled on the business demands – reduce costs, do more with less, etc.
  • Can see where they’re going but can’t get there
  • “Order taker” capability
  • Can’t say “No”
  • Gets the blame when it suddenly goes wrong
  • Thinks DevOps will help them to do more work with the same resources
DevOps workhorse


  • Works in teams going in the same direction to deliver service
  • “Service provider” capability, closely harnessed (frameworks)
  • Able to do a lot, and structure allows extra horses to be added as the load increases
  • Short lines for tight steering
  • Wants to use DevOps practices and exercises to eventually become a stagecoach horse.
Stagecoach horse

Stagecoach Horse

  • Works in teams
  • Built for speed
  • “Strategic partner” capability, helping to pioneer new frontiers Loosely harnessed, with the speed and ability to beat the competition
  • Loosely steered, but whipped by the demands of digital transformation
  • Using DevOps as a differentiator to gain new business value.
DevOps dressed unicorn

Carthorse Dressed as a Unicorn

  • Stick on one or two DevOps teams and say that you’re a DevOps/Agile shop
  • Two-speed IT, most of it a good stable carthorse plodding along – a good “service provider”
  • But it can say it looks like a unicorn.
  • Tick in the box, “We’ve done DevOps.”
DevOps table

Gym Horse

  • Hasn’t got a clue, believing all the hype, thinking that the technology now makes them a DevOps shop
  • Not really fit for purpose (as a horse it’s not going to move too far).
DevOps frog horse

Hybrid Frog-Horse

  • Believed the fairy tales – thought if you kissed a frog, you’d get a prince
  • Not even an effective service provider, not doing Agile and still believing it can make the leap to be a DevOps horse with a magic kiss
  • Pretty ugly and flopping about in all directions.
DevOps boxer

Boxer The Horse

  • The hardworking, naïve, and ignorant horse in George Orwell’s Animal Farm
  • He is the farm’s most dedicated and loyal laborer
  • Like many IT professionals, he’s dedicated and hardworking but naïve when it comes to the new skills needed and ignorant about what the business really needs and expects.
  • As Mark Smalley reminded me, “Slightly dim-witted and can only remember four letters of the alphabet at a time – ‘ITSM’” – I’m unsure if he was referring to Boxer or to me?
Dead DevOps horse

Flogging a Dead Horse

  • These are the ITSM organizations that think DevOps is all hype
  • They have to be carried off kicking and screaming into the sunset to see the benefits of a new mindset and way of behaving.


  • The mythical rainbow-colored thing that none of us horsy types are ever going to be
  • Better off giving it to the youngsters starting up.
DevOps King

Richard III (The Business)

  • Didn’t want a unicorn
  • He’s famous for saying “A Horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” after his horse is killed in battle, leaving him at the mercy of his enemies (the competition).

On a final thought. A quote from Jane Smiley “In the end, we don’t know what horses can do. We only know that when, over the past thousands of years, we have asked something more of them, at least some of them have readily supplied it.” Are you one of the horses that can do more?

Or, another addition from Mark Smalley: “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it DevOps.” I suspect he borrowed this from somewhere.

What sort of horse is your organization and why? Please let me know in the comments.

Paul Wilkinson
Director & Owner at GamingWorks

Paul Wilkinson has been involved in the IT industry for more than 25 years and has a broad background in IT operations, IT management, and product innovation and development. He was project team lead in the original BITE (Business & IT Excellence) process modeling of ITIL, an ITIL V2 author, and member of the ITIL V3 advisory group.

He is co-owner of GamingWorks and co-developer of a range of business simulations focusing on IT service management, project management, business process management, business and IT alignment, alliance management and co-author and developer of the ABC of ICT products and publications.

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One Response

  1. This was hilarious and informative – the best type of article!
    I’d add a last one – a goldfish. Happy where it is, doesn’t need to grow any extra legs!

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