DevOps - This Time it's Personal

The biggest barrier to successful DevOps is a failure to ensure that all your people are on board from the outset and the mistaken belief that your journey is over when you are finally working in a DevOps way. Everyone needs to understand the benefits to themselves and the whole business, while change and adaptability must be fluid and continuous.


~ Written By Victor Laurel

They say emotion has no place in business, but the culture change required for a successful DevOps transformation necessitates a re-evaluation of this old adage. DevOps is not a prescriptive set of processes and tools. It requires a paradigm shift in which previously siloed teams gain an understanding of the benefits of DevOps and of one another’s work and develop a passion that will drive the changes required to work in a more Agile, open, collaborative, incentive-driven, accountable and measurable way to drive service delivery excellence across the entire lifecycle. Organisations with a mature DevOps strategy are deploying code 30 times more frequently than their competitors and getting their code into production 200 times faster[1].  With these significant value-adds in mind, we all need to realise that before we were striving to align the goals of siloed departments to the requirements of the business, whereas now we are bringing people together collaborate, work towards common goals and change their way of thinking and working for good. Change and adaptability need to become the norm. This time it’s personal.

Cultural Characteristics

Culture is hard to pin down and describe so here is a checklist of what comprises a DevOps culture:

  1. Everyone understands why you are changing to a DevOps culture and the benefits for each team and individual including reduced time to market, faster deployment of releases, increased availability, earlier bug detection through test driven development and continuous testing, proper performance and user feedback resulting in a better product that clients love.
  2. A common understanding of the current culture in order to facilitate change more easily. For example, determining if you are a stick or carrot culture – and formulating a DevOps strategy that will eradicate the negative aspects of the existing culture and enable a more Agile and end-product focused way of working.
  3. Empathy, respect and trust between Development, Operations and Testing and across all non-technical teams of the company in regard to understanding one another’s roles, solving problems and delivering a better product.
  4. A dedicated DevOps team comprised of experienced operations people with a mix of skills and experience and the right tools and processes to facilitate continuous delivery and address pain points as individuals with a team mentality and shared goals.
  5. Clearly defined roles within the team but with a collective responsibility that negates a “blame culture”. Development isn’t rewarded for creating code and Operations isn’t blamed when the code doesn’t meet expectations in production. The whole team is accountable and rewarded when the product reaches fruition and is ready for the customer.
  6. Cross-functional team thinking in a DevOps way and cross-skilling to obtain a better understanding of everyone’s roles and a more efficient way of working by arranging resources around specific projects, rather than a more traditional approach of creating a core skillset.
  7. Understanding the problems that your customers are facing and cultivating a genuine passion to combat these issues and provide a better product and customer experience.

Cultural Challenges

The biggest barrier to successful DevOps is a failure to ensure that all your people are on board from the outset and the mistaken belief that your journey is over when you are finally working in a DevOps way. Everyone needs to understand the benefits to themselves and the whole business, while change and adaptability must be fluid and continuous.

Be aware that Operations may be concerned that automation will replace their role, leaving them redundant in the new DevOps culture. They may also worry that a shorter development lifecycle means increased risk. Developers may fear that they need to be available 24/7.  A common cry of resistance may be “that’s not how we usually do it” and a common mistaken belief is often that DevOps cannot be successfully applied to legacy systems in traditional enterprises.

Combating Cultural Challenges

These myths and challenges need to be recognised, discussed and overcome to achieve DevOps success and each success should be celebrated so that everyone knows what success and high performance looks like and is able and willing to replicate it. At Sogeti we advocate the following steps:

  1. Carry out a current state evaluation and assess where you are now compared with where you want to be. Create a clear Roadmap for change to a DevOps culture.
  2. Prioritise automating those things that lend themselves most readily to successful automation and continue to do the rest manually at first, until you have perfected the easy wins. This will help people to realise that automation is not stealing their jobs but rather freeing them up for more important work.
  3. Measure success with quantifiable KPIs that align to the wider business goals and give a clear indication of when DevOps is working for you. For example you could set a goal to reduce deployment by 33% from 12 hours to 4 hours or when testing for defects increase the number of bugs detected from 30% to 60%. These metrics enable you to pinpoint bottlenecks, banish silos and continuously improve. The metrics themselves should be dynamic and subject to change depending on your results and visible to every team member.
  4. Mentor and lead the way to successful DevOps by partnering with a company who has proven expertise and genuine DevOps evangelists who can engage with your executive leaders to help them better understand and disseminate the benefits and goals and create a DevOps vision that everyone can buy into.
  5. Train up existing staff, make new hires and utilise the expertise of your DevOps partner’s employees to scale your teams up and down on a per project basis.
  6. If you want to facilitate continuous improvement and innovation from the outset, consider a fully managed DevOps service at enterprise or program level.

It’s Been Emotional

There’s no doubt that if you are on your way to DevOps success, the journey will not only be about adopting the right processes and tools, it will start with the people, and it will be emotional. This needs to be inspired with the right leadership, passion and proven experience. Whilst DevOps is not simple to achieve, when it is done right, the benefits far outweigh the risks and challenges. This blog has focussed on the cultural and leadership aspects of DevOps but of course there are many other elements required to achieve success. To discover how Sogeti can help you make the change to a successful DevOps culture, take a look at our DevOps Services guide here.

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