DevOps: Essential Cultural Changes for a Successful Transition

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It's no secret that digital business requires different thinking and approaches. One of the biggest changes that has rippled through the enterprise is DevOps, which addresses the need for a high level of agility and flexibility. By adopting a framework that pushes out changes incrementally and regularly, it's possible to become more responsive to fast-changing market needs and industry trends.

DevOps, which promotes closer collaboration between lines of business, development and IT operations, delivers a more holistic and business-driven approach to software development. It can help an organization improve code quality and boost security. A study conducted by Puppet found that high performers achieve 46 times more frequent code deployments, 440 times faster lead time from commit to deploy, and five times lower change failure rates.

However, many organizations fall short of a best-practice approach. Frequently, the problem isn't a lack of technical expertise or an unclear understanding of how a DevOps framework operates. The challenges revolve around key cultural issues. Organizations that do not address these factors—a Gartner study indicates that about half of initiatives fall short—substantially increase the risk of subpar results or complete failure.

Cracking the code on DevOps success

A starting point for any discussion about DevOps is to understand that it isn't only about speed. Accelerating already inefficient workflows and processes usually contributes to new and bigger problems. In the DevOps universe, success spins a tight orbit around three primary issues: people, process and technology. There are several key components that support the cultural change required for a successful DevOps initiative. These include:

Communication and collaboration tools

Various business and development groups must have access to the same information, conversations and code libraries. Without a strong collaboration framework, there's simply no way to keep everyone on track and sync teams effectively. It's critical to connect all key business and IT constituents and ensure that everyone is operating under the same expectations and methods

Process changes

DevOps success hinges on understanding how applications and code connect across the enterprise—and beyond. As a result, an organization must rethink and rewire how numerous processes take place, including code quality reviews, vulnerability scans, and how and when software is approved and deployed. This requires a strong governance framework and clearly defined rules and procedures that are tightly aligned with DevOps. Gartner suggests using a gap analysis approach and working with key stakeholders to gain consensus. A feedback loop is critical.

Structural changes

Developers work in entirely different ways in a DevOps environment. Simply porting over current methods and workflows guarantees failure. This translates into a need to revamp the fundamental way coding and software development practices take place. For example, an organization must adjust its processes to accommodate new and different code libraries and the use of open source code. The takeaway? It's wise to introduce new approaches slowly and on a limited basis—typically through pilots—while gauging feedback and gaining buy-in.

New and updated metrics

It's crucial to introduce new metrics that drive the desired results. While these metrics typically vary from one organization to another, key performance indicators typically revolve around factors such as deployment frequency, change lead times (the period from the start of a development cycle to final code), change failure rates and the mean time to recover from failure. Other business metrics may also apply, including user or customer satisfaction scores.

Updated job descriptions and new roles

Practical changes in the way an organization produces code also results in a need to alter roles and responsibilities. Business and IT teams will likely require updates for job descriptions to reflect new and different roles. This may also ripple into updated incentives and revamped job and performance review processes. It's also important to focus on subcultures within an enterprise. The needs and responsibilities of various subgroups—particularly surrounding training and professional development—may vary significantly.

Building a culture of success

Establishing a framework that promotes DevOps is only part of the picture. It's also necessary to fuel practical changes in the way people interact and behave. This means promoting input, discussion and dialog about what's working, what's not working and how the enterprise can make the adjustments required to achieve greater success. Ultimately, business, IT and software development teams must understand the structural underpinnings of DevOps and how it works. Groups must understand new roles and responsibilities—and what's expected from everyone.

Likewise, executives must accommodate input—and build mechanisms into the organization—so that DevOps teams can adapt and adjust on the fly. This means loosening the reigns and giving DevOps teams far greater autonomy. Tapping this input, along with feedback from metrics, it's possible to refine and tweak processes and workflows to reflect a group's specific needs and requirements. Ultimately, this ensures that processes align with organizational needs along with the practical realities of software development.

At the same time, it's important to provide support for managers and group leaders that oversee a DevOps initiative. This may require new resources and professional development materials, but it also involves a greater tolerance for the inevitable glitches, mistakes and failures that will occur. Of course, it's critical to learn from mistakes and failures and make quick adjustments. This is at the heart of DevOps.

Finally, it's important to promote and celebrate progress and key wins. This can help convince other groups and constituencies within the organization that a DevOps initiative is warranted. It also helps build morale and gain buy-in—particularly among executives that oversee and manage a DevOps initiative.

It's critical to understand that the transition to DevOps doesn't happen easily and it doesn't take place overnight. What's more, there are always new tools and new improvements to consider. This means that those who oversee the initiative must facilitate ongoing conversations about how to continue to adapt, change and improve.

Successful DevOps fuels results

Organizations that build a culture that supports DevOps achieve spectacular results. The Puppet report noted that successful DevOps organizations spend 21 percent less time on unplanned work and rework, and channel 44 percent more time to new projects. This translates directly into greater productivity, better quality software and, ideally, a level of innovation that wouldn't otherwise be possible. Successful DevOps helps organizations stay ahead of the competitive curve and, in a best-case scenario, unleash a level of disruption that catapults them to the top of their industry.


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