Is Ops the quarterback of the DevOps team?

Without stepping too deeply into the charged debate on whether or not developers are at the pinnacle of the IT food chain, I’ve recently observed that many of the DevOps leaders I’ve been speaking with are from operations. For me it begs the question – are the ops folks quarterbacking the DevOps process at most companies? In other words let me put it bluntly, are the Ops folks leading the way forward in DevOps?

Many DevOps thought leaders have taken great pains to describe and articulate that development, ops, qa, security and many other groups need to work closely together to make DevOps a success inside of a company.

Some have focused in on the leadership role that developers have taken (and the associated burden that goes along with that role). For larger companies developers are often not the leads when it comes to DevOps. Developers are no doubt a key part of the equation and integral to practicing DevOps within the organization, but the Ops people seem to be calling the plays and leading the teams. This has led me to the question of who really leads the DevOps process within a company?

Why Ops?

As with any key initiative within a company, there needs to be a focal point, a champion or leader to advance it. DevOps is no different. So, then, how do companies organize themselves to become and execute a DevOps methodology?  Recently, we’ve spoken with three senior IT leaders – all in ops – from companies that are beyond the initial startup stage, but aren’t yet behemoth enterprises either. All three ops leaders either had the title and role of VP of Operations or VP of DevOps (without trying to get into the “is DevOps a job title controversy). Their job is to deliver code to production as fast and safely as possible. This meant that they are directing, helping even conniving their counterparts in engineering to deliver smaller batches of code faster and on a regular basis. They then push this code out to production. In essence they were playing the role of the quarterback of the DevOps process.

Just as the quarterback directs the players, calling the play in the huddle and directing the offense, these Ops folks are quarterbacking the process of DevOps.

As such, these senior leaders were building the overall product delivery pipeline – from ideation all the way through deployment and feedback. While the ops team may not be involved in each part of the pipeline, these leaders were integral in building out the product delivery pipeline. For most organizations that product delivery pipeline is starting with sales and marketing – what needs are the business trying to solve in this particular iteration of the product or service. From there, the various teams are understanding the implications for their particular piece of the pie. Engineering is understanding how to build the features and functions. QA is understanding how to test the functionality as well as automate the QA process. Security is making sure that the functionality doesn’t create vulnerabilities or security holes. And, ops is thinking through how to push all of these features out to the customer. As in any DevOps organization, there are a lot of moving parts with many pieces needing cross functional coordination. And, therein lies the question – we all may practice DevOps and should all practice it; but, who leads the effort?

Clearly other senior leaders could take the lead on this activity. There is frankly no reason why the VP of Product or VP of Engineering could take the lead, but it has been an interesting observation that I have been seeing more and more ops leaders taking the reigns of DevOps at mid-sized organizations. We would really appreciate hearing who you have seen taking the leadership role in DevOps – in your organization or elsewhere. Let us know by commenting below!

About the author  ⁄ Rajat Bhargava

Rajat Bhargava

Rajat Bhargava is co-founder and CEO of JumpCloud Inc., a provider of Directory-as-a-Service solutions. An MIT graduate with two decades of experience in industries including cloud, security, networking and IT, Rajat is an eight-time entrepreneur with five exits including two IPOs, three trade sales and three companies still private.