What’s the definition of a successful DevOps practice? Is it purely the velocity and volume of the software packages delivered? The efficiency and cost-effectiveness? The bottom-line numbers about the business value derived from the software the team produces?
The answer is ‘yes and no’, says Barry de Waal, chief executive for strategy and sales at 9TH BIT Consulting, which implements solutions in the SOA, middleware, big data and DevSecOps landscape. “While these measures of DevOps success are certainly important, they’re also somewhat one-dimensional.
“To measure true success,” he argues, “we need to include criteria like how well the team has collaborated, how happy and engaged its people are, and how well it’s been able to attract high-calibre new talent into the operation. Also to be taken into consideration are the DevOps team’s responsiveness to the organisation, its creativity in decision-making, its vision, and its ability to ‘sell’ concepts to business stakeholders.”
All of this, he adds, only becomes possible when the team develops a positive working culture, guided by the right norms and behaviours that set-up the DevOps practice for success.
As leadership guru Peter Drucker famously said: ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ …. It’s a doctrine that’s particularly applicable when talking digital transformation.
Unleashing new potential
De Waal believes that DevOps is often wrongly cast as a set of technologies and processes. “At its heart, DevOps is a philosophy, a movement, a way for an organisation to rally around a common goal of rapidly transforming itself and testing out exciting new concepts for the future.”
In successful DevOps practices, a powerful culture of teamwork and trust help to bond together key players from across the organisation. Early-stage software is developed in live environments and immediately tested by the team, generating insights that are continually fed into the development streams, allowing teams to adjust and iterate software in rapid cycles.
“In theory, DevOps can allow you to reach incredible velocity – dramatically closing the gaps between ideation, creation and deployment – to deliver leaner software aligned with ever-changing business and user demands.
“But to truly unleash that potential, it’s important for everyone to be deploying their energies in a unified way. This begins with business execs and IT leaders that must create an enabling environment, and extends downwards throughout team leaders – who should generally motivate and reward team effort rather than individual brilliance.”
In many cases, it’s helpful to have DevOps ‘champions’ within the organisation, actively promoting the discipline and highlighting the benefits, always available for their colleagues who will have many questions.
Tech columnist Irma Kornilova’s impactful article https://medium.com/@neonrocket/devops-is-a-culture-not-a-role-be1bed149b0 on Medium, provides sage advice on embedding the right culture: “Start small with the cultural shift – don’t expect to sell DevOps to everyone at once. In fact, by winning over smaller groups with specific projects, you’ll create ambassadors who can help promote DevOps elsewhere in the organization, creating a multiplier effect.”
No man left behind
For some IT pros, feelings of fear and uncertainty cloud the team’s migration from traditional waterfall approaches to the likes of agile and DevOps. In living up to the principle of ‘leave no man behind’, De Waal says it’s important for leaders to create reskilling programmes that help people to update their skills and knowledge, and ensure that they quickly add value in the new DevOps frameworks.
“Moving to DevOps requires new roles to be defined among the team members and new skills to be nurtured. But more broadly than that, it requires new approaches to one’s role – such as the willingness to embrace continuous learning, and to develop a more proactive and creative attitude to one’s role.”
Building a winning DevOps culture often involves individuals shedding the narrow scope that they previously have held as their ‘identities’ (such as “I’m a developer” or “I’m a UX designer” or “I’m a tester”). Now, they’ll need to adopt greater levels of accountability for the overall delivery, and involve themselves at various points in the DevOps value chain, even areas outside of their traditional comfort zone.
To align the personal growth journeys of the individual team members with the overall team strategy, De Waal says that clear, regular communication is vital. Teams need regular feedback on the issues at hand… whether that is encouraging them to celebrate successes, to beef-up in areas where they may be lacking, to understand their role in the broader strategic vision, or indeed anything else.
De Waal concludes by saying that the research doesn’t lie. For instance, GitHub’s survey earlier this year of almost 5 300 software developers reinforced the essential point: “high-performing teams are more likely to report having a strong DevOps culture, resulting in better visibility and collaboration than their lower-functioning counterparts.”