DevOps Leadership Culture – Staying Cool When it is Getting Tough

LeadershipFor many organizations, the move to DevOps is more complicated than simply putting Agile methodologies, tools, and techniques into practice—it requires a cultural shift. This is especially true when running into the inevitable roadblocks that occur along the path to disruption. This is when IT leaders must stay the course and have faith in their DevOps vision.

In this post, I would like to talk about how IT leaders can create a culture to enable DevOps to thrive, and what the future of IT organisations might look like if they successfully stay the course.

How DevOps and Agile have evolved over the years

I find that the industry seems to have moved along the same phases of focus as myself (but perhaps that is a case of confirmation bias). Let me describe what I mean. Coming from some form of waterfall development and in a time when the best answer to productivity improvement was going offshore or using packaged software, Agile provided an alternative way to deliver projects successfully. The initial focus was on small teams of highly focused individuals and the success of those teams showed what is possible. Early successes meant that many more organizations wanted to adopt Agile and so it was adopted for larger and more complex environments.

At this stage, Agile projects got into trouble as the relatively simple recipes and the tendency toward offshoring and packaged software worked against the ideal of small, co-located teams for Agile delivery. This is where I saw the next two trends picking up: Scaled Agile Frameworks (like SAFe) and DevOps with its cultural and technical aspects. While there is a lot more to be done in this space, I can already see the broader organizational change as the next frontier. Otherwise successful Agile/DevOps teams run into problems with the funding cycles and other organizational practices at the moment. While Agile and DevOps was used in small pockets of organizations, it was easy to fly under the radar; with mainstream adoption we will now have to solve these other, more complex problems in the organization and do so while shifting the overall organizational culture.

Cultural transformation needed to become truly Agile and adopt DevOps: What IT leaders need to do

Over time I came to realize that methodology and technical practices can only get you so far. Staying the course in tough times is not easy and reality is that it’s likely going to get worse before it gets better. Leaders need to believe in their mission and support the team in times when it does not look like there will be quick wins.

There is this story about Toyota and how they introduced a cord in their factories overseas. This cord is pulled whenever there is a problem with the production system. Of course this is disruptive at first and some factories stopped using the cord because of the disruption. The ones who used it had a negative impact on productivity initially while the others continued to produce the same results as before. Management could have easily given up on the cord, but they stuck with it and over time improved their production system so much that they outperformed the other factories significantly. There was no chance for the other factories to catch up afterwards as the improvements were systematic and not just focused on fixing defects as they appeared as the other factories had done. To me this serves as a worthwhile example for management who adopts DevOps. Management needs to find ways to measure progress of the improvements and need to stay the course of systematic improvements even when productivity takes an initial hit. I have seen many transformational efforts that start well and then get stuck when disruption is necessary, which might mean some steps backwards in some regards. Here is where management can show what it means to support a vision and to stay the course. The ones who do and have the right vision will win this race.

Let me share one more piece of personal advice on cultural change. I subscribe to Dan Pink’s sources of motivation at work: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Management should look for opportunities to create a workspace where each team member can increase their satisfaction along those three dimensions. We are all knowledgeable workers in IT, and the best way to get the best out of us is for us to be highly motivated and work in line with the company vision. From talking to people in the IT industry, I often find that we have optimized work in a way that has not considered the relevant characteristics of knowledge workers, and this is likely to be the next area that will increase productivity significantly if addressed correctly.

A look at the Lean Enterprise of the future

Honestly, I think Agile and DevOps will be part of every organization in the next few years. So far, very few have really transformed their whole organization to become as lean as possible. After all, Agile and DevOps are both ways to become leaner. I think that Agile and DevOps practitioners and change agents will join forces with organizational change management practitioners to examine organizational processes. While I don’t know how the end-state looks like in detail, I have a few things in mind that I hope to see in organizations over the next few years, and I will hopefully play my part in some of those transformations. Here is what the organization of the future looks like to me:

  • HR practices have been transformed to recognize the team-based nature of work and that outcomes of the organization matter the most.
  • Financial governance has found a way to decouple funding cycles so that Agile teams can continue working as long as certain organizational results (financial and otherwise) are achieved by teams.
  • Project-based teams are a thing of the past. Teams exist as persistent entities with stable members that transcend traditional role definitions and even organizational boundaries where vendors and system integrators are involved.
  • Stakeholders across the organization have access to real-time information from both business and IT systems to steer the organization.

This post has been adopted from an interview I gave “The Enterprisers” project in the lead up to the DevOps Enterprise Summit 2015 – you can find the full interview here: https://enterprisersproject.com/article/2015/10/creating-culture-devops-thrive

Picture: Leadership vs management by Olivier Carré-Delisle
Taken from Flickr under Creative Commons license

One thought on “DevOps Leadership Culture – Staying Cool When it is Getting Tough

  1. Pingback: 你和你的团队是否已经具备了开展DevOps的必备技能? | 大众阅读

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