I assumed that the drag on moving from IT as we knew it to a DevOps approach (with its continuous software deployment and other advantages) was due to the separation anxiety and fears of loss or change on the part of enterprises on the whole. As you may know from the 70’s TV show, The Odd Couple and its character Felix Unger, played by Tony Randall, you should “Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME.” *
And so I was mistaken, but not far off from the truth. “I don’t think that enterprises as a whole fear change so much; what I think happens is that individuals fear change and erect a number of barriers to change,” says Alan Baker, President and Chief Consultant, Spitfire Innovations (link), a business process optimization consultancy. Let’s investigate some of those fear-based barriers.
Barriers to DevOps, Based in Fear
The first barrier is resistance due to a loss of knowledge. “There are individuals within IT who have built their careers around the current practices and approaches,” says Baker. These IT professionals have developed reputations as subject matter experts, which they truly are. This enhances their value, but only so long as the current subject matter retains its value. By moving to DevOps and making material changes to the way developers and IT operations accomplish their work, the enterprise will diminish their knowledge as well as perhaps their status and their usefulness to the company. They have a vested interest in the status quo. They would have to have more to gain by joining DevOps than by opposing it in order to move to a more progressive approach to change management, according to Baker.
The second barrier is political; it’s the loss of control. IT professionals who shoulder accountability for operations day in and day out are typically averse to loosening their grip on how change is introduced into their environment. “That’s understandable, because once something is productionized it’s their responsibility; they want to be completely sure that the deliverables are defect-free,” says Baker. For this reason, these individuals are going to need assurances that the new processes will maintain the integrity of the deliverables, says Baker.
The third barrier is structural. In an environment where some form of management by objectives is practiced there is typically little alignment of objectives between different groups. “Day-to-day operations typically have objectives relating to efficiency (such as throughput), whereas development objectives are driven by dates and cost,” says Baker.
Reaching for Change
If the enterprise is going to break down these barriers and change its practices, all the stakeholders need to come together and agree on a plan of action. The stakeholders, including anyone tempted to resist DevOps, need to fully and collectively develop the future state of the enterprise, focusing on shared objectives. “All groups that are concerned need to have a set of common goals to work towards that satisfy all stakeholders,” says Baker.
There also need to be necessary supports. A DevOps approach requires increased integration and communication between all of the stakeholders. The walls need to come down. “This openness doesn’t necessarily come naturally to all IT staff; the organization will need to invest in the appropriate education and expert guidance (as well as some patience) to ensure that the cultural change has a chance to take root,” says Baker.
The final item consists of two value propositions. These value propositions give the organization the opportunity to demonstrate its vision, transparency, and resolve. The first concerns the need of the organization for someone to take an approach that answers the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions surrounding DevOps activities and responsibilities, and then to clearly articulate all aspects of the change to everyone. It’s a necessary step in order to get the buy-in. The second value proposition is directed at the individuals impacted by the change. Help answer the question ‘What’s in it for me?’, particularly for those individuals working themselves out of a role.
*It was one of the show’s funniest and most memorable lines and is repeated to this day. Though proper attribution for the original comment may ultimately be out of reach, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Belson for the Television Writer who placed it in the Odd Couple episode.