I wish I had a dollar for each time I’ve now heard, “we’re adopting DevOps, but we have to operate within the constraints of what the business is ready to accept.” Basically, this is becoming the battle cry of many enterprise IT professionals that are DevOps believers, but are stuck with the limitations of operating within a complex, political and immovable business structure.
One on hand, it is very pragmatic to approach adoption of new methods, techniques, technologies, etc. on a small scale and then expand based upon success. However, what is the result of a DevOps initiative in which existing organizational constraints and bottlenecks continue to remain in place?
If you’ve been in the business world for more than a few years you’ve probably already had the experience of having a really good idea only to come to the realization that implementation of that idea requires cooperation of another organization. For example, Marketing might have a great concept for how to acquire new customers, but would require sales management to provide incentives to the sales team for it to succeed. For purposes of this example, let’s assume that marketing has made its case to sales and sales rejects the proposal (many times there is a perception that the idea will be rejected limiting those from even trying; this is a worst-case scenario for any business). In this case, Marketing might attempt to operate around the need for the sales incentive and, ultimately, come to the realization to abort the plan or lower expectations for results.
Is anything more debilitating to morale then end up with these two outcomes as the only choices? What would you do if you were in the position of driving this for Marketing?
Often times in businesses there is no grievance committee. To steal a line from “A League Of Their Own”, “there’s no crying in business!” What DevOps is surfacing is that business is about relationships and managing cross-departmental and extra-departmental relationships is not something that many IT professionals have had to or want to foster. Ultimately, this will have a detrimental impact on DevOps adoption.
In most cases, DevOps requires that some leader within IT steps up with the idea to foster a frictionless ideation-to-operation lifecycle. By frictionless I mean the removal of as many bottlenecks and constraints for transitioning from the idea phase to a production-ready support application. Like Marketing in my earlier example, this may require this leader to “sell” their idea to the heads of IT Operations, Application Development, Quality Assurance, Information Security, and potentially C-level executives. A “No” response by any of these teams will result in the leader working around this limitation resulting in no change for the processes and work output of that particular group or attempting to do what they can within the organizational boundaries within their control.
Hence, business agility is tied to velocity of accepting change, which is further dependent upon individuals fostering a strong enough personal relationship–at a minimum one of mutual respect–to be willing to accept risk in support of a larger goal. I believe many would see this as a high-risk constraint on the business agility deliverable.
One way to increase likelihood of avoiding this trap? DevOps needs to be sponsored from C-level management from the start inclusive of the necessary incentives required to help drive the changes that will lead to more rapid adoption of DevOps practices and speed the way to business agility. There’s enough evidence now available to convince most C-level executives that a DevOps program is a worthy investment in moving their IT organization toward greater alignment with their business goals, producing faster, reducing operating overhead and improving quality.
As with most changes within IT, and DevOps adoption is no different, there is a requirement for bottom up support as those closest to the work need to believe, and there is a top-down requirement that provides the coverage, financing. motivation and accountability to the business to allow the change to occur.