For some reason talk of DevOps and culture can spark heated debate. Some contend DevOps is mostly all about culture, others say it comes down to the tools that enable collaboration. Some say it’s all about building the right processes. What if, to differing degrees, they are all right? Right. It can be a silly debate, especially when some argue that one of the three is more important than the other. After interviewing developers, operations, management, industry analysts, vendors, and IT managers I’ve concluded that building continuous collaboration and improvement culture is about the proper orchestration of people, process, and technology.
It’s about tearing down barriers between operations and development teams and getting better individually and collectively. But what does it take to achieve a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration? Over the past 18 months I’ve noticed a few common threads that repeatedly surface in these conversations about getting there, and want to share them here. This is not meant to be an exclusive list in such a complex topic as organizational change, but a way to spark some though and conversation on the subject.
Here they are in no particular order:
This sounds simple, but teams that work together tend to play and talk together – and it ends there. There is very little play and talk with other teams in IT. Encourage developers and operations teams to spend time together in things that are not directly related. This can be as simple as having lunch together on a regular basis. Matt Selheimer, a regular here advised just that in our Q&A with him of DevOps and Culture Change. “One thing I recommend is to have your developers and system administrators have lunch once a week. Have your teams get to know each other better and understand each other’s work better. That’s what is important when it comes to culture change.”
Agreed. And consider adding fun get-togethers, perhaps attend conferences together, engage in outdoor activities that help to build teams. Whatever works for your people that will help to foster communication and teamwork. While important at relationship building, having lunch and attending conferences together certainly isn’t enough.
Go for a number of swift wins
Success breeds success. If you want to build momentum in your DevOps efforts, pick something that can be reasonably quickly achieved, that will also require collaboration. Set reasonable success goals and metrics, and then execute well against them. In my interview with IBM’s Dibbie Edwards on Standardizing Tools, Process, and Technology to Build DevOps Success Edwards stressed exactly that.
“If you can get some good momentum under your belt with something that really has a positive impact, then it will get other people to buy-in,” she said. The example she used here was to reduce build times.
Standardize on toolsets as well as processes
Standardizing on tools comes with many benefits: lower costs, potentially fewer vendors to manage, and with fewer tools it’s also easier to cross train and integrate your development and management programs. But it also has a soft skill benefit, says IBM’s Edwards. “Standardization, or coming to a common way of achieving DevOps practices, is an important aspect because it gets people speaking the same languages. You’re able to have, then, a single version of the truth in terms of the viability of the project and where you’re going and you know that you’re communicating effectively,” he said.
Over time, it’s central to these efforts to build standard processes, tools, and metrics so everyone is always on the same page.
We hear a lot about the importance of empathy and DevOps. I think that’s a good thing. We need to be reminded at times that it’s vital that we try to see the world from the perspective of our customers and those we are working for. When it comes to DevOps, we are also talking about building empathy with those we are work with. “It’s all about effective empathetic communication,” said David Mortman is a recent interview. “Empathy is the killer app of DevOps. Many times we speak about the technical benefits, but the thing that makes all the stuff work is the ability to breakdown the silos. Break down the “It’s us versus them” mentality.”
“Effective empathetic communication is also about creating a blameless postmortem-we’re looking at outcomes not blame,” Mortman said. “And making this about blame and coaches and tools and just getting to a place of “How can I help us all succeed.”
Don’t push culture change for sake of culture change
There is a lot of talk about the need for culture change as a central theme to DevOps. And building a collaborative culture is part of it, but organizations just don’t flip a switch and decree themselves a new culture. It takes the conversation, the momentum building, standardizing on tools and processes, and an understanding of the challenges and motivations of others on different teams. But it also takes good leadership, and training, and the right types of IT management incentives. Benjamin Wootton covered this in Why I Dislike the Term DevOps Culture. He goes into more detail about how taking affirmative actions will help to build and foster the collaborative culture the organization wants.
That’s probably one of the most important considerations of all when it comes to building a culture of collaboration. Culture is something that grows from within the right environment; it’s not something that is implemented upon it.