DevOps: a culture journey

DevOps: a culture journey

This week I’ve had the pleasure of running a session at the DevOps focus group in London entitled “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

I want to thank all the attendees, as I had fun having an energetic conversation about DevOps. It’s an interesting topic that touches the entire organisation and it dosen’t matter if you are a C-level manager, a developer or an ops guy, everyone feels the same.

Culture change is challenging and frustrating.

DevOps implementations are not as easy as many try to “sell”. This time it’s not the new shiny devops tool we are talking about, but something scary and quite overwhelming if not “managed with care”.

Time to be more positive now!!! DevOps is fun. It gives us the opportunity to actually make better what we’ve been moaning about our entire lives.

In Italy there is a saying,

Keep close friends and family, keep closer your enemy!

And we all know who the enemy is here. Right?

You’ll find listed here few take-aways from that session that can be stuck on the side of your monitor and shared with your colleagues.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

The management guru Peter Drucker once famously said:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

This alludes to the fact that the planning of a company strategy is just a set of tasks that can be described, documented, measured and completed, but the execution of a strategy, even if relatively straightforward, could end up into something significantly more complex and painful, because of company culture.

Indeed, strategy execution efforts sometimes fail to deliver expected benefits due to mis-alignement with company culture. It’s clash of clans, where cultural resistance overrules the implementation.

Transforming fear of change into continuous improvement

A great series of blog posts have been written by Stephen Walters on his LinkedIn profile. Steve talks about DevOps implementation in Enterprises and about the common questions always asked:

  1. What is DevOps?
  2. How can we implement DevOps in our companies?
  3. What benefits can get we out of it?

Fair questions you think, and I agree. Unfortuanately, my experience tells me something is not quite right.

Take the first question for example. In many conversations I’ve had with people undertaking DevOps transformations, trying to give a definition to DevOps and what implementation is, then ending up talking about tooling.

We’ve all heard about stunning DevOps fairy tales from the unicorn companies and how their cultures enabled the success of the overall transformation. We should learn a lot from it. However very often confusion and frustration is the general feeling. Frustration leads to uncertanty that in turn leads to fear of failure. For example, I heard people saying that by “implementing DevOps, we will lose our jobs”. In this case, you already know where your DevOps transformation is going to end up.

Fortunately this can be managed and turned into a positive outcome. In a simplistic way, if you promote collaboration and support people up-skilling, this will lead to improvements and then as a consequence your company will grow.

Okay Gianluca, we are clear on that, so what should we be asking ourselves to make all this happen?

Why do I want to move/change torwards DevOps? That’s the King of all questions.

Focusing on the why rather on the what, gives you the opportunity to think about improvements and benefits than can be undertaken to add value to your career and in the meantime support the growth of the company you work for.

What to take-away?

I’ve collected a few thoughts from the session, on how to make sustainable culture changes and avoiding getting stuck in the vortex of fear and resistance. You’ll find below a list of “commandments” that could be useful to share with friends and colleagues.

What is important to remember is that we are on a journey done a day at a time. To start getting great results in a true DevOps fashion, might take a couple of years.

Summing up what came out from the focus group:

  • Cultural change must not be done in isolation, but tightly-linked to the strategic goals of the enterprise.
  • Start small, setting out an adaptive culture rather a big bang change approach: let culture evolve with the strategy.
  • Check where you are. Monitor and assess frequently the gap between the current and the desired culture.
  • Formulate values that are meaningful and really do drive organisational and behavioural change.
  • Ensure that policies, procedures and decisions are in line with cultural values.
  • Management commitment and ownership is key for a successful culture change.
  • Support and celebrate DevOps champions, who demonstrate the new values and behaviours.
  • Ensure that values are considered in all decision-making and public actions.
  • Drive the changes with role-model behaviours amongst leaders and managers.
  • Ensure that you have governance mechanisms in line with company culture.
  • Ensure a strategy-aligned culture.
  • Say “Thank you” for every feedback given.

I’d like to hear about your experience on your DevOps journey and how you are shaping your dream-team. Leave a comment in the section below.

Gianluca Ciocci's Picture

About Gianluca Ciocci

Gianluca is a DevOps consultant spending most of his time on “getting things done” with automation - he believes that computers perform repetitive tasks and people solve problems.

London, UK