The fact you’re reading this article on DevOps.com suggests you’re already a DevOps fan. Or maybe you’re visiting this site because you’re considering moving to DevOps in your organization, or you’ve been told you must move to DevOps and are figuring out how on earth to do it.
Whatever your view on DevOps, let’s get my position clear from the outset: I am a big believer in the power of DevOps to deliver continual innovation to an organization. I advocate DevOps in every project I do because I believe those organizations that innovate and change the fastest become the leaders in their sector, and since almost every business innovation relies on a technology innovation first (“every company is becoming a technology company,” after all), DevOps is the best way for an organization to adapt to, and benefit from, new technologies and gain a lead in the market.
However, as anyone who has managed the transition from waterfall to DevOps will know—or, in fact, anyone who has overseen any change management project will know—the transition is rarely a smooth one. So, what is behind this reluctance to innovate and work in new ways?
First, the Technical Arguments
At some point, most organizations have been burned due to a lack of quality control in technology, whether a security breach, bugs or implementations/changes that went horribly wrong. We all know stories like these. They can have an immediate and catastrophic effect on the organization’s ability to do business. Therefore, there has been a tendency to inhibit change in favor of “stability” and known entities, and to adopt a “Better the devil you know,” strategy.
DevOps has rocked this view of the world, and teams are reticent to move away from tried and tested approaches and processes because they are held responsible for operational stability. In addition, those people in a quality-control role believe their very purpose and job is under threat. There is also a view that DevOps is system- or application-centric, and can introduce risk to an interconnected IT estate.
While these are all valid concerns, it is worth bearing in mind they are all technical arguments against DevOps, and they have all been countered before. Implemented correctly, DevOps does not jeopardize stability or undermine quality (in fact, many would argue it does the exact opposite), and it does not undermine a person’s role in development or operations, but rather liberates them from their silos.
Culture is the Real Reason
From my experience, innovation of any kind cannot be held back by technicalities alone. While the technical arguments are certainly valid, in most instances, the reluctance to adopt DevOps comes from something much more basic: the organizational culture borne from natural human behavior. Most people are simply risk-averse and resistant to change, so the resistance to DevOps is just a manifestation of human nature.
The only way for DevOps to succeed is to change the organizational culture to be more open to change and to adopt an “innovation mindset.” The change must also encompass the whole organization. If you only bring half of the business with you, the innovators will become frustrated and find ways to circumvent processes and policy, resulting in additional operational risk and shadow IT.
The influence that senior managers can have in facilitating—or undermining—the move to an innovation mindset must also be factored in. It is common for senior management to inadvertently foster a hero culture, where those individuals who get things back on track after a catastrophic event are rewarded, yet the well-structured and “stable” DevOps deployments are not given the same weight or focus. Again, it is human nature to be drawn to the dramatic event than the non-event. But you must ask yourself: As exciting as firefighting is, is it a sustainable way to run a business?
Instilling a new mindset into a business is the same as any other transformation project. It requires you to tackle the four elements of process, organization, technology and information to bring about meaningful and sustainable change. To bring DevOps into your organization you must:
- Align operational teams with development teams, embedding where possible for early involvement of Ops.
- Ensure that operational/non-functional requirements have the same weight and priority as functional requirements—no user story is complete without a stable and secure operational environment.
- Automate where possible to reduce human error and increase the speed of delivery.
- Improve knowledge management to reduce “hero culture” or bottlenecks where knowledge is concentrated across a few people or one team. Never make exceptions for “heroes”; you need their support more than anyone else because they hold the biggest sway over the rest of the team.
- Have accurate and comprehensive configuration information. Having a good understanding of the IT estate (including interconnectivity) can help move an organization from a one-size-fits-all governance model to a tailored risk assessment approach through better understanding of the impact of changes.
DevOps often fails when people can revert to their default behavior. Only by actively identifying and supporting a project in a DevOps manner (considering process, organization, technology and information as previously explained) will you be able to change to a new “business-as-usual” innovation mindset and behavior. But this needs strong sponsorship, guidance and patience.
DevOps must become the culture of the organization, driven from the top as well as the engineering teams, and people need to understand the implications for their role and responsibilities. CEOs and leaders need to actively support and drive the change, while providing the necessary working environments (tools and training) for those people who will be held accountable for operational stability. It is no good investing in technology and training for engineering to innovate if your ITSM functions are not brought along with the change, for example. But if you bring everyone with you, and address all concerns along the way, you will soon be reaping the rewards of the DevOps approach.
About the Author / Romy Hughes
Romy Hughes is director at Brightman. Romy is a business change specialist with expertise in service integration and management (SIAM) for managed services, business transformation and IT service management (ITSM and ITIL). Connect with her on LinkedIn.