Enterprises can achieve certain levels of success by filling a need in the market, hiring skilled teams and utilizing cutting-edge tools and technologies. However, to set themselves apart and chart a course for long-term success, they need to address the values, beliefs and behaviors that make up organizational culture as carefully as they address business decisions. It’s culture that ultimately informs the decisions made about how a company evolves its concepts from idea to value, so when you want to make a change and grow, that’s where you need to start.
One area where culture is particularly important is the introduction of new practices and processes applied to software engineering and the role that a DevOps strategy plays within organizations. DevOps encourages a mindset of communication, collaboration, integration and automation among software developers and IT operations, so it’s more than just a new set of tools; it’s a cultural shift. This change doesn’t happen immediately or automatically, it requires deliberate steps and actions to be taken, and calculated decisions to be made.
The shift also requires commitment. A recent Gartner report, “New Insights into Success with Agile in Digital Transformation,” found that organizations must be prepared for a commitment of three or more years to ensure success when moving to a more agile development process. Teams with less than a year of experience with a new development process show a success rate of 34 percent, while that rate jumps to 64 percent with between one and three years of experience. After three years of agile experience, the success rate skyrockets to 81 percent.
New Technologies Accelerate Momentum, not Create It
Implicit in the decision to move to DevOps is the desire to develop faster. To do that, organizations often begin the process by saying to themselves, “We need to automate things.” They buy a variety of testing automation tools, production delivery tools and anything they think will make them more agile. However, if they don’t take steps to prepare the people in the organization, things can get worse, not better, because the new elements can create isolated teams centered around “campfires” where separate teams use the various new automation tools individually.
When teams are undergoing transformation, we often see them go through a roller coaster of up-and-down results. This was illustrated in the DORA report, “Accelerate: State of DevOps 2018: Strategies for a New Economy.” When the transformation begins, teams quickly identify wins and automation helps lower performers improve, creating an uptick in overall performance. However, as the process moves along, automation increases test requirements, which are still dealt with manually, and a pile of technical debt blocks progress. At the same time, the mounting technical debt and increased complexities cause additional manual controls and layers of process around changes that, more often than not, slows work. Teams generally don’t see an upswing in results until putting in relentless efforts toward improvement, leveraging expertise and learning from their environments, which finally results in a jump in productivity.
This is a moment when organizations need to lead with their brains, not their pocketbooks, and stay committed to the process. To minimize the risk of failure, they must address the people and the process with the same rigor and commitment they address the technology. In fact, evolving the culture and process associated with how people work is the biggest challenge in adopting DevOps. People resist change and no amount of technology makes change easier.
Any initiative that begins with just buying software or technology to make the organization agile is a mistake. The best way for a business of any size to launch a DevOps initiative is to get people comfortable with the vernacular and the process before changing anything. I’ve seen organizations go so far as to change the name of existing processes just to get teams thinking differently before the real change is made.
Putting in Tools Before a Plan is Like the Cart Before the Horse
After seeding the terminology and idea of change, the next step has to be tactically thinking through how the organization will evolve. It’s often thought that tools will make an immediate impact, but not enough planning is done to integrate the tools before being taken out of the box. Basically, they end up like a bunch of kindergartners at recess: Everyone has their own toy to play with but they do it alone and no one works together.
Before putting in new tools and changing processes, there needs to be understanding around where the gaps and inefficiencies are so KPIs and metrics can be mapped back to tell where progress is being made. You can’t manage what you can’t see, so you have to develop visibility into the process to understand where those inefficiencies currently are. When that is achieved, remaining constantly vigilant to understand the constraints that exist while establishing new processes and using the new DevOps tools will allow you to continuously improve.
It needs to be known that the reward is worth the risk. Making the move to DevOps can’t be thought of as a decision or a choice, it’s an imperative for organizations that want to remain competitive. Every organization needs to become a software company and to do that they need to move to DevOps and make continuous improvement part of their DNA. Organizations can’t fear the move, they just need to be diligent with the transition, monitoring and follow up when adopting DevOps.