Welcome back to this series, ‘Enterprise DevOps Q&A.’ In my last post, I talked about breaking down the barriers between dev and ops. Now, I want to address another, very typical question from a global enterprise about managing cultural differences in a globally dispersed enterprise.
Q. Being part of a large org, our biggest issue seems to be a global culture clash. How can we address the issues of geographic location and culture that are a big obstacle for us?
Large multi-national enterprises, like CA Technologies too, often have major data centers in multiple geographies in North America, EMEA, Asia and Latin America. Despite so much data center consolidation and cloud migration, cross-geo cultural issues remain a major issue.
For example, in Israel the holy day is Saturday, while in the US and Europe it is Sunday, so it can be hard to lock down a release window. In Japan it is common to work long, late, and on the weekends, while by contrast some French labor agreements specifically limit the workday, so ‘crunch time’ may not have the same meaning in both locales. In the USA, staff may only get ten days annual vacation, and not even take all of it, while much of Europe takes all of July or August off, so consistent teaming can be a challenge.
To help you address these geo-cultural challenges, here are some approaches I have seen my customers adopt including:
A local approach
A local approach, such as co-locating devs and ops to service business users in a common geographic or cultural area allows teams to adopt DevOps practices within cultural norms. This may mean imposing a difficult structural change, but it can also be very effective. See my last Q&A for more on this approach.
A ‘core team’ approach
Some businesses have assigned one or two team members from each cultural area to represent their teams in a common virtual or ‘core’ DevOps transformation team. Representatives on the core team can translate (sometimes literally) for their ‘home’ teams, and bring unique culture back to the core team. This can raise process/hierarchy barriers, but when done well can also help to break them down.
A vertical approach
I have seen a handful of global businesses implement DevOps vertically, with devs and ops teams, often geo-located, acting as service providers to individual business units, rather than the whole company. This is best suited for organizations that are already organized by business unit, but it ensures teams have common focus on specific and shared business problems.
A ‘known good process’ approach
Speed the flow of software delivery by focusing on refining and documenting specific processes all teams can rely on. Each geographical or cultural team can define and share their own ‘known good process’ (cf. the Visible Ops handbooks), and share the interfaces to those processes, so they can continue to optimize their own activity, but work seamlessly with other teams at handoff points.
A process automation approach
Even better is if each team can encode their processes in automation to make it possible for anyone, anywhere, using any language, to execute those processes remotely. Even small improvements matter, so even task automation can help get closer to a cross-cultural, ‘enterprise-wide,’ DevOps approach.
A ‘pace-layered’ approach
Different business services have differing levels of acceptable risk and tolerance to change. Mobile app dev, for example, is more tolerant of risk than, say, accounts receivable. Rather than changing the world (literally!), instead build a DevOps approach into a specific service delivery team, even in a single geography. This ‘pace-layered’ approach is working very well for some of the world’s largest enterprises.
A tactical approach
Similarly, you do not need to fix all your service delivery problems at once. In a global enterprise, pick one big winner at a time instead. Identify constraints in the test process, a roadblock in QA, a provisioning delay, a problematic release process, a monitoring gap, or a broken feedback loop, and connect cross-cultural staffs from similar functional teams to solve specific shared issues.
A technology-assisted approach
Regardless of the approach, technology can assist. Global tools with multiple language support can enable common experience and terminology. Telecommuting can give regional staff a virtual presence in team meetings. At CA Technologies, we are trialing remote-controlled robotics to give staff a physical avatar in meetings from anywhere across the globe.
As with most of DevOps, there is no definitive prescription, and I am sure there are many other approaches that can work. If you have ideas or experience to share, please post in the comments below, and let us all know how you have or could address these cultural and geographic barriers.
And remember, if you have questions about Enterprise DevOps, let me know and I will try to answer them for you. If I can’t answer them myself, I will find someone who can! Please leave your questions in the comments below; hit me up on Twitter at @AndiMann; or send me an e-mail to me at email@example.com.