Can Culture Detract from Success with DevOps?

NOV 05, 2016

Collaborative culture is considered to be an essential best practice for enterprises. DevOps culture correlates strongly with enterprises that achieve the highest level of business performance. However, is it possible that an organization can get overly fixated on organizational culture improvements? Can culture actually detract from achieving success with an enterprise DevOps transformation?

An article by Curtis Franklin Jr.,”8 ways to fail at DevOps,” indicated that there are “plenty of places in the DevOps process where an organization can run aground on rocky shoals of woe.” My blog, “7 Pillars of DevOps,” identified seven essential best practices areas that make up successful DevOps. One of the seven pillars is collaborative culture. These pillars are not silos, but rather foundations that need to be kept in balance.

I bet most of us have experienced situations in which cultural improvement missteps hindered an enterprise DevOps transformation.

Culture Missteps

I’ve listed some examples below which I have personally seen. Have you experienced these? I would love to hear examples of your experiences and solutions you have observed, too.

  1. Unrealistic expectations from leadership: Business expectations from leadership get too far ahead of the DevOps implementation reality—then teams reporting to leadership end up feeling unappreciated and experience frustration, resulting in organizational friction.
  2. Ops-side transformations fall behind Dev-side transformations: The Dev team accelerates ahead of the Ops team and implements “its part” of a DevOps transformation before the Ops team has a chance to implement complementary changes. The Dev-side is disappointed that Ops has not kept up with the complementary Ops-side planned changes. Dev changes cannot be put into effect, which deepens the mistrust between Dev and Ops.
  3. Dev-side transformations fall behind Ops-side transformations: This is the reverse of the second example, with similar effects.
  4. QA tester roles are confusing: When new continuous test strategies are implemented, the lines of test responsibilities between Dev, QA and Ops team members became blurred. Communication between cross-functional team members become confused, resulting in misunderstandings, dissatisfaction and organizational friction, which obstructs progress.
  5. Infrastructure and tools teams are siloed: Dev, QA and Ops teams maintain separate, siloed tools and infrastructure staff and do not cooperate to support end-to-end infrastructure and tools improvements. The transformation needed for a smooth DevOps pipeline stalls.
  6. Rewards and measures are not consistent with DevOps goals: The organization makes changes toward a cooperative culture but fails to change the way people are rewarded and measured. Conflict results between the teams.Below are solutions that were applied to the situations listed above. Do you agree with these solutions, or have others to suggest?

Solutions

Leaders were coached to be more aware that DevOps transformation is a journey of continuous improvement. Leaders then understood that there is really no “end state” to DevOps—there are specific business improvements that can be expected along the way. Each DevOps improvement initiative was refocused on realistic specific use cases and goals. With improved clarity, leaders were more realistic in their expectations for each improvement. This drove alignment between leaders and their teams, improved satisfaction and productivity.

  1. Project goals and team meetings were realigned and organized. Dev and Ops sides could monitor end-to-end progress together. When situations occurred in which one team got ahead of the other, the end-to-end progress visibility helped overall group communication. Empathy across the Dev, Ops and QA teams improved. With improved communication, team members celebrated the success of each other’s improvements. Teams shared a common end-to-end goal.
  2. Same as 2.
  3. QA testing responsibilities changed significantly during the DevOps transformation. Separate independent test team member responsibilities changed toward QA testers being more integrated with Dev teams. New skills requirements for the QA engineers emphasized test automation more than in the past. Training for the cross-functional team helped mitigate concerns related to the new QA responsibilities. QA testers were uplifted with new skills and became more valuable and respected by their peers. Cross-functional productivity improved.
  4. The tools and infrastructure teams from the separate Dev, QA and Ops teams were combined into a common tools and infrastructure team. Project goals were realigned. The improved clarity around knowing they are working toward tools and infrastructures for a common end-to-end pipeline accelerated implementation of DevOps.
  5. Rewards and measures that had been in place for separate Dev, QA and Ops roles were changed to rewards and measures that encouraged end-to-end cross-functional team activities. This improved overall morale and job satisfaction and reduced organizational friction that was previously impacting progress.From the above real-life examples, it is clear to me that culture and organizational practices must evolve in concert with progress on other DevOps pillars. And as the pace of change increases with each transformation, the cross-functional teams must be even more cohesive. Continuous acceleration of interactions between team members drives the need for tighter relationships, more end-to-end responsibilities, improved customer awareness, continuous skills training and end-goal focused leadership.While DevOps implemented with all seven pillars provides a strong foundation for long-term enterprise business improvements, it is important to understand DevOps is not an island. Enterprises implementing DevOps should be aware that DevOps interoperates with other IT systems and practices. Enterprises are well-advised to choose tool-agnostic IT partners that can provide solutions that best suit the needs of each unique enterprise and can integrate and evolve DevOps together with all of their IT systems.
  6. The is no need to create the “perfect culture” before starting a DevOps transformation journey. It can be counterproductive for sections of the culture to get too far ahead of itself, as indicated in the examples above. Perhaps it is best to evolve the culture carefully. Changes most important for each transformation project should be the focus. Continuously communicate goals and progress, and evolve the culture together with evolution of other pillars. What do you think? Do you agree is it possible that an organization can get overly fixated on overall organizational culture improvements?

Summary

From the above real-life examples, it is clear to me that culture and organizational practices must evolve in concert with progress on other DevOps pillars. And as the pace of change increases with each transformation, the cross-functional teams must be even more cohesive. Continuous acceleration of interactions between team members drives the need for tighter relationships, more end-to-end responsibilities, improved customer awareness, continuous skills training and end-goal focused leadership.

The is no need to create the “perfect culture” before starting a DevOps transformation journey. It can be counterproductive for sections of the culture to get too far ahead of itself, as indicated in the examples above. Perhaps it is best to evolve the culture carefully. Changes most important for each transformation project should be the focus. Continuously communicate goals and progress, and evolve the culture together with evolution of other pillars. What do you think? Do you agree is it possible that an organization can get overly fixated on overall organizational culture improvements?

While DevOps implemented with all seven pillars provides a strong foundation for long-term enterprise business improvements, it is important to understand DevOps is not an island. Enterprises implementing DevOps should be aware that DevOps interoperates with other IT systems and practices. Enterprises are well-advised to choose tool-agnostic IT partners that can provide solutions that best suit the needs of each unique enterprise and can integrate and evolve DevOps together with all of their IT systems.

cta-devops

Marc Hornbeek
Marc Hornbeek
https://www.linkedin.com/in/marchornbeek

Marc Hornbeek is a Principal Consultant - DevOps at Trace3. Marc has over 37 years of experience architecting, designing, developing and managing high-performance solutions for IT infrastructures that are deployed in commercial and government applications globally. Marc has served as executive, senior management and solution architect for companies such as Bell-Northern Research, Tekelec, ECI Telecom, EdenTree Technologies and Spirent Communications. Marc is an innovator who has led many successful automation, Lab-as-a-Service and DevOps projects for systems manufacturers, operators and enterprises. Marc is a regular speaker, blogger and publisher on topics including DevOps, Lab-as-a-Service and continuous test automation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *