I learned about The Diffusion of Innovation Theory in a DevOps Foundation training course. I wanted to get my DevOps certification, but more than that, to learn about what makes a DevOps initiative successful. When I mentioned the Diffusion of Innovation Theory to a coworker, he said, “It sounds like Sheldon talking to Raj on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ television series.” Although the name sounds “Big Bang”-ish, the usage of this theory could be the real difference for success in any transformational change including DevOps.
Let’s begin with the definition of DevOps. DevOps is a professional and cultural movement that that stresses communication, collaboration, integration and automation to improve the flow of work between software developers and IT operations professionals. Improved workflows will result in an improved ability to design, develop, deploy and operate software and services faster. That’s where this “Big Bang” or Diffusion of Innovation Theory comes in. DevOps is a culture shift.
DevOps requires us to shatter the silos and to quickly integrate our teams to increase the flow of work from idea to end of life for the strategy, development, deployment and the sustaining of service over their life. Adoption of a new idea, behavior or product (i.e., innovation) does not happen simultaneously in a social system. It is a process whereby some people are more apt to adopt the innovation than others. Researchers have found that people who adopt an innovation early have different characteristics than people who adopt an innovation later. Learning what those characteristics are and then how to apply the proper technique for each will help with the management of organizational change.
The Diffusion of Innovation is a theory that seeks to explain how, why and at what rate new ideas and technology spread. While most of the general population tends to fall in the middle categories, it is still necessary to understand the characteristics of a given target population.
When promoting an innovation, there are different strategies used to appeal to the different adopter categories:
- Innovators – want to be the first to try the innovation. They are venturesome and interested in new ideas. These people are very willing to take risks and are often the first to develop new ideas. Very little, if anything, needs to be done to appeal to this population.
- Early Adopters – represent opinion leaders. They enjoy leadership roles and embrace change opportunities. They are already aware of the need to change and so are very comfortable adopting new ideas. Strategies to appeal to this population include how‐to manuals and information sheets on implementation. They do not need information to convince them to change.
- Early Majority – rarely leaders, but they do adopt new ideas before the average person. That said, they typically need to see evidence that the innovation works before they are willing to adopt it. Strategies to appeal to this population include success stories and evidence of the innovation’s effectiveness.
- Late Majority – skeptical of change and will only adopt an innovation after it has been tried by the majority. Strategies to appeal to this population include information on how many other people have tried the innovation and have adopted it successfully.
- Laggards ‐ bound by tradition and very conservative. They are very skeptical of change and are the hardest group to bring on board. Strategies to appeal to this population include statistics, fear appeals and pressure from people in the other adopter groups.
When promoting an innovation to a target population, it is important to understand the characteristics of the target population that will help or hinder adoption of the innovation. The Diffusion of Innovation Theory could be the “Big Bang” that you are looking for to ensure the success of your DevOps initiative.