Why culture is everything in DevOps


Successfully implementing a DevOps model can be easier said than done. IT leaders, driven by promises of greater collaboration, accelerated delivery cycles and improved software quality, may rush into DevOps without laying the proper groundwork first. That is a recipe for trouble, and organizations that jump headfirst into DevOps before making the right preparations are unlikely to get the kind of return on investment they were expecting.

One of the biggest factors to a successful transition to DevOps is cultural fit. It’s all about collaboration, after all, but if there isn’t complete buy-in from every corner of the IT department – as well as the C-suite – the rollout could falter. Research has shown that the presence of a strong collaborative culture can dictate the level of success that such initiatives achieve. According to a 2015 Gartner study, 90 percent of infrastructure and operations organizations attempting to deploy DevOps without addressing this issue will fail. Truly, culture is everything when it comes to the DevOps model.

Making the DevOps mindshift

Your main goal when establishing an organizational foundation that is conducive to DevOps is to bridge the gap between developers and operations teams, as well as other IT staff members. Those long-standing walls separating different IT units are difficult to tear down, reinforced over the years by competing interests and demands. Resentment can build up over the years and developers, quality assurance specialists, software engineers and operations staff alike may be hesitant to embark on this more collaborative process.

TechBeacon contributor Ericka Chickowski noted that the constant pressure placed upon these teams by executive officers creates a certain level of distrust between departments that calcifies over time. By keeping IT project stakeholders separated into distinct camps, businesses essentially pit both sides against each other. This is especially apparent when a deadline is missed or a project goes off the rails.

“[Software engineers and operations staff] rarely work together enough to understand the value each group brings to the ultimate objective of improving customer interactions,” Chickowski wrote. “Both sides operate in fear of missing their objectives, and too frequently they engage in finger-pointing when experiments go south.”

Given that potentially toxic working environment, it’s no wonder that so many organizations fail to make DevOps work if they don’t care of the culture element first.

A receptive cultural mindshift will pave the way for DevOps success.A receptive cultural mindshift will pave the way for DevOps success.

How to pave the way to DevOps success

Clearly, forcing this approach onto resistant IT departments is not going to work out in the end. How can companies implement the DevOps model while cultivating the kind of collaborative culture needed to drive it forward? The answer, according to Gartner, is to start small. Big, sweeping changes are likely going to elicit pushback from staff members – particularly those individuals who have been in their roles for several years and are used to the status quo.

Instead, the research firm recommends beginning with a narrowly defined pilot program. On this smaller scale, DevOps proponents can better control for variables and make needed adjustments on the fly. Be sure to avoid setting your sights too high early on, as the idea here is to show how successful the DevOps model can be and then building it out on a larger scale.

What you don’t want to do, however, is to focus on a project that could be viewed as an easy win. If you simply pick the low-hanging fruit, skeptics are unlikely to be swayed by any amount of success the pilot enjoys. In fact, it sets you up for failure because any misstep will be chalked up to the approach itself rather than any external factors.

“Making noise about early success stories, especially those demonstrating that the desired cultural shift is underway, will reinforce the change’s momentum,” Gartner explained.

“Top-down support is essential for making the cultural shift to DevOps.”

Look everywhere for DevOps culture support

Top-down support is also essential for making the cultural shift to DevOps. Even the staunchest critics of this approach will acquiesce if it has the backing of the C-suite. It’s up to DevOps advocates to make their case to their organization’s leadership to get everyone on the same page and start building a solid foundation.

The successful transition to DevOps will likely be a long one, but you don’t have to go it alone. An IT managed services provider and consultant can provide the guidance needed to stay the course, navigate around obstacles and be a loyal advocate for the DevOps cause. Along the way, adopters will unearth new requirements to facilitate collaboration and streamline workflows. A DevOps-savvy MSP can meet all of these needs while offering a consultative voice of experience and wisdom to carry this project to success.