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How to build a DevOps compatible culture

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DevOps transformation series: part two

In this blog series, we’re taking a deeper dive into DevOps, with top tips on how to improve fundamental processes and build a better toolkit for your teams. In this installment, we’re focusing on people – how you can empower your teams and create a culture that goes hand in hand with DevOps.

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Get stuck into DevOps

If this sounds like the ideal anecdote to your DevOps dilemmas, take a look at our eBook: Building blocks to boost your DevOps transformation.

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A DevOps mindset

Traditional software development doesn’t make sense anymore. On one siloed side, you had developers and system architects working independently of the operations engineers and database administrators on the other. Now, companies have recognised the value in a united DevOps approach. But making the mental switch for some won’t be easy.

This is especially true when it comes to operations teams. They’re used to taking things slowly, working to minimise change and reduce risk. DevOps is a much faster way of working, encouraging Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD), regular releases, and a fail-fast pipeline with a fertile feedback loop. 

If you’re going to bridge the gap between developers’ more change-friendly thinking and operations’ vigilance, you should pay close attention to your culture. You’ll need the right balance of skills in your teams to bring everyone else onboard – get that right and the new hires and tech can follow.

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Culturally speaking

There’s a reason 75 percent of DevOps initiatives fail to meet expectations. It’s not so much problems with processes or tech, but issues around organisational learning and change. It’s a culture problem, often brought about by leadership imposing practices on employees without giving them the support and understanding they need to transition to this new way of working.

It’s vital that your teams know why they’re being expected to change and how doing so will make their jobs easier. They need to understand the underlying thinking and benefits DevOps can bring. With that in mind, here are some top tips for building buy-in and transforming your culture. 

1. Arm teams with information

Knowledge is empowering and enables your people to learn the whats and whys of DevOps. Think about different levels of understanding and resistance across the organisation, and know that people will come around at their own pace. Sharing actionable insights, which people can apply to their own work, or building a DevOps simulation experience, helps them learn by doing.  

2. No sudden movements

Approach DevOps as a gradual change, allowing employees to merge slowly at the team level and redefine their roles. Implementing new practices one team at a time will help people realise the possibilities, unearth the pitfalls, and find fixes – they can share their learnings with the wider organisation as they go.

3. Talk to each other

Communication is a big part of doing DevOps right. Teams should feel empowered to share information with each other and work much more collaboratively than before. Think about how your tools might hinder organisation-wide knowledge-sharing and find out what will work best for your people.

4. Don’t point the finger

Failure and frustration are all-important parts of the process. People need to be able to share what’s not working, not worry about recrimination. Without the crutch of control frameworks, checklists, and risk mitigation, you need to start from a place of trust – trust in your teams to act responsibly and share their failures. It will be fruitful in the long run.

5. Perfection is not end goal

DevOps will bring major improvements in process, quality, and speed, and these are the results you’re looking for (not perfection). Having a ‘good enough’ approach means people can get improvements out quickly, see how they work, and iterate issues away based on feedback.

6. Build towards a best-case scenario

Involve experienced, senior people from the beginning who can support your transformation. This might mean hiring in – so budget for what you’ll need to make it work. Don’t underestimate when it comes to people power; having the right people in place will make all the difference in convincing others of the benefits.

7. Set common goals and reward accordingly

People thrive when they know what they’re striving for. Make sure your objectives are centred around business outcomes – measurable results that help gauge success and enable your people to see the consequences of their efforts. This will encourage teams more than target-setting (especially if those targets conflict with another team’s).

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Build better teams

People are central to your DevOps transformation, which means you’ll need the right mix of tech experience and soft skills to see your teams soar. Here are a few considerations to get you thinking about what your people bring and how to fill the gaps.

  • The right stuff: software development is tech-heavy, but you’ll need people capable of effective communication, collaboration, flexibility, and decision-making to make DevOps work. 
  • Be patient: it’s going to take time to get everyone up to speed. But don’t be complacent either – self-learning alone won’t be enough to upskill your teams.
  • Train for transition: consider implementing a DevOps training program to help familiarise people with the tools and practices pivotal to transformation.
  • Hire in some help: strike a positive balance between upskilling existing employees and recruiting for experience. Consider the cost of hiring and make sure you’re clued up about what you need and how to spot it.

Flexible tools for everyone: your tools will need to work for the whole organisation – some people will become experts, while others can benefit from automation and efficiency.

Successful DevOps teams are ones where everyone has been brought along for the ride. People are the most important part of your transformation, so don’t overlook their needs or assume they’ll have the knowledge or motivation to make the transition. Build from what you’ve got and make sure lines of communication stay open so everyone can feel informed, encouraged, and supported as they become more DevOps adept.

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Up next

In the next installment of this series, we’ll explore how to move from a ‘trust but verify’ methodology to a new outlook of Continuous Integration and Delivery by incorporating a set of essential processes.

Ready to read more right now? 

Download our free eBook, Building blocks for DevOps Transformation here.

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About the authors

Jobin Kuruvilla

Jobin Kuruvilla

Jobin Kuruvilla is a DevOps subject matter expert, and an experienced solutions expert and App developer. Jobin has several certifications under his belt, including Atlassian products, GitLab certified PSE, AWS, Kubernetes, Jenkins to name a few, and has spearheaded implementing Digital Transformation for teams and enterprises.