DevOps accountability is the idea that both the development and operations teams have equal responsibility for success. But putting this approach into practice has been a thorn in the side of DevOps teams for the past decade, largely due to outdated organizational structures that place responsibilities on a single employee or team.
These outmoded structures restrict the lean flow of operations needed for DevOps and contribute to costly downtime when issues arise. But redistributing functions across the organization can help solve this problem.
For cross-functional teams that rely on organization-wide collaboration, redefining the org chart can clarify ambiguities about accountability and help organizations overcome internal obstacles.
Legacy Organizational Structures
Many organizations have not instituted an organizational structure that reflects a shared accountability model. This is partially due to leadership’s assumption that large teams work faster and more dynamically. In reality, after a team exceeds nine individuals, the rate of return diminishes and people are more likely to assume someone else on the team will take responsibility for a task. As a result, accountability falls through the cracks.
Additionally, there is frequently an imbalance in assignments and responsibilities between junior and senior employees. When senior employees take on the majority of important or interesting tasks, junior employees can feel overlooked and less responsible for their team’s success. This is both an individual and a company-wide issue; younger workers tend to bring fresh perspectives and insights—they can also adapt more quickly to unprecedented changes and issues.
Picture a team consisting of a line manager and team members, with a structure that places all major responsibilities on the manager. If the manager happens to be out of the office when an issue arises, the team would have to wait for their boss’s return to resume operations.
But the consequences of single-point accountability go far beyond lost time and downtime costs. When employees feel like they don’t have a significant stake in a project, they feel less aligned with the organization’s overall purpose and are less likely to be engaged.
DevOps is most effective when teams are built around a common goal rather than around the performance of individuals. If an employee can’t see the impact their work is having on the overall organization or project, it can create blind spots and disconnect between the business and its people. Shifting business frameworks is no easy feat, but with the right strategy, it can improve how tasks and responsibilities are allocated in your organization.
Three Ways to Switch up Your Org Chart for Greater Accountability
The days of allowing responsibilities to fall on a single employee are over. But to successfully embrace a shared accountability approach, you need to reimagine your entire organizational chart. Beyond de-prioritizing seniority and minimizing team sizes, consider these three initiatives to help settle DevOps accountability issues:
- Blueprint your organizational structure around products. Organize your work structure around products—not projects. Traditional project management models rely on passing responsibilities between specialized teams, which can slow down innovation and degrade the quality of work. With an organizational structure built around products, you can build a cross-functional team with all necessary skills for each system. For example, if you have a team that’s accountable for the payroll system, all necessary expertise you need to keep that system running smoothly is based on a single contact point.
- Redistribute talent. The product-oriented approach requires changing up talent distribution across teams. Let’s say you have a 24-person team for a single SaaS product and seven of those team members have similar skill sets and backgrounds. In this instance, you could move several of those workers to a different team where their skills are in demand.
- Establish hybrid workplace environment norms. Face-to-face communication has always been a critical part of successful teams. But in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace norms are evolving and organizations need to adapt to new ways of working. Many teams are no longer able to participate in informal knowledge sharing and other typical in-office interactions, so it’s critical to identify new norms for your team. Initiate conversations about applying DevOps concepts in a hybrid world, along with creating rules of engagement and accountability that are realistic for remote work.
The Great Redistribution
As technology advances, so should your organizational structure. To optimize efficiencies and ensure products reach the market on time, consider rethinking your org chart. In practice, this will enable you to more seamlessly adopt a culture that celebrates shared responsibility and employees who feel they have a stake in your product’s future.