Abraham Maslow proposed in 1943 that healthy human beings have a number of needs arranged in a hierarchy, which he constructed in the form of a pyramid. The theory suggests that certain needs, such as physiological and safety needs, are more primitive or basic than social or ego needs. The premise is that higher-level needs are addressed only once lower, more basic needs have been met.
A similar path can be uncovered when we map out the evolution of technologies. As technologies fulfill their intended roles, developers pursue greater achievements and solutions to more complex problems. It’s a pattern that exists at every new stage of technological growth as we are driven to satisfy loftier motivations. It’s also happening now in organizational structures as our work becomes more tied to the capabilities of technology.
This progression deserves particular examination in the role that DevOps strategy plays as organizations grow and mature. DevOps encourages a mindset of communication, collaboration, integration and automation among software developers and IT operations, but it can also be swept up by a motivation to go beyond the scope of its basic needs and seek constant betterment. Through this lens, it’s helpful to look at how DevOps culture strives to keep up with the need for a more holistic approach to the end-to-end software delivery life cycle (SDLC), and how it will continue to mature as needs change and evolve.
Maslow begins at the base of the pyramid with basic needs. For humans, these needs are physiological, the physical requirements for survival: air, water, food, shelter, etc. To make the analogy in technology, this is the realm of manual processes, where operators flick a switch, crank a handle or spin a wheel. It’s the basic functions of machinery.
The base of the DevOps pyramid is the notion that I have to use software at all, much less manipulate it to fit my business objectives. Not until that basic need is recognized can further development begin to take shape. Initially, Dev teams built applications and passed them to QA teams to test them. The production environment in these early stages got the job done, but at a basic level it lacked cohesion. Teams could harbor mistrust and production environments could become destabilized by poor communication or diverging points of view. Like a simple machine, tasks were performed separately and passed from team to team only after the basics were completed.
Recognizing the need for software was the first step, in fact it’s a basic requirement for most of today’s businesses and organizations. To make progress and mature an organization must take the next step toward addressing more complex problems and make choices that promote structural growth and organizational progress.
Moving up Maslow’s pyramid, human motivation addresses concerns for safety and well-being as choices of preference are made and a degree of order is sought. Organizationally speaking, burgeoning DevOps teams seek greater usefulness and functionality. It’s not enough for teams to perform a basic function, they need to adapt and find a way to get beyond a lack of cohesion. Organizations need a level of comfort (compared to Maslow’s concept of safety) in knowing that the development and operations teams can work together and have the best intentions for the project. This stage promotes an upgraded approach to software delivery and a reduction in production issues.
Once the realization that software is a basic need for companies and organizations, their sights turn to how best to make it happen across multiple teams with a common goal. And, if a level of internal stability and order can be achieved, the organization can begin to look beyond itself to develop outside relationships in the manner that Maslow describes in the third layer of his pyramid: belonging.
In the third stage of Maslow’s pyramid, after the physiological and safety needs are met, human motivation shifts to interpersonal relationships and feelings of belonging. In terms of an organization that services customers or constituencies, once internal structures are in place, greater resources can be allocated to outward pursuits. This stage in the business mindset is when the focus on outcomes shifts from being vendor-focused and satisfying internal needs to the servicing the customer. They ask the question: What answers or solutions does the customer want from me? Just like in Maslow’s acceptance stage when humans consider what it takes to be a friend or to find love, organizations try to answer what it takes to provide customers what they need.
In this stage, the automation of DevOps contributes as teams integrate into a structured or organized community that can provide those answers. Teams begin working together and develop the early stages of a feedback loop and full visibility into the SDLC. The workflow takes on an increasingly automated role as a cultural shift toward full lifecycle ownership occurs and teams take responsibility throughout the deployment life cycle, not just in stages.
If organizations succeed in putting customers first, they can take the next step to reacting to the customer’s needs at an accelerated pace. In Maslow’s pyramid, the next stage, commonly referred to as the esteem or status level, is divided into two elements: the internal and the external.
Maslow classified these two categories as: (1) esteem for oneself through dignity, achievement, mastery and independence, and (2) the desire for reputation or respect from others. To achieve everything that organizations want to for the customer, internally they must improve how the organization functions, and externally they must demonstrate to the customer that they are listening and the goal is to respond to the customer’s needs directly.
Internally, the organization requires its teams to communicate, collaborate and integrate better, and it puts pressure on its production activity to be responsive not just prolific. If this is achieved, it not only demonstrates that an organization is listening to the customer, but also that it can provide solutions at a cadence that makes the customer more successful.
The final stage of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization: the point of realizing potential and being the most that one can be. In any organizational structure, this may not be an end goal, because striving to be better should always be a core tenet. However, it might be argued that when the brain trust at the top—the CEO, the CIO, the board, etc.—are fully aware that the components of their organizations are working together and of what they are achieving, a level of corporate-actualization can be claimed.
Far from being the end, this is when thoughtful soul-searching should occur by asking the essential question: Is it all working? This is the most important question an organization can ask itself with regularity, and doing so is a sign of great maturity.
You can recognize your basic needs; build structure into your organization; service your customers, listen to their needs, respond promptly and make them more successful; and recognize internally what make your organization successful. But if you don’t consistently and rigorously ask if it’s all working, you risk slipping backward.
Once an organization reaches a mature level, how does it maintain or even enhance its hard-earned growth? The best thing it can do is to consistently define itself with the use of qualified actualization tools and reporting engines. True self-actualization and corporate-actualization require tools that can quantify how mature an organization is and where it stands by comparing how it’s doing against its competitors. Organizations need tools that can correlate data against a variety of peers in the vertical or in common geography, etc., and provide comfort in knowing what works and that they are leading the way.