Why DevOps should take an organization-wide approach

Erik Harman
November 2, 2021

Even with the inception of DevOps more than a decade ago, many businesses still struggle to integrate it across the entire organization. At a high level, DevOps was created to speed the delivery of quality software by combining software development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops) teams. But when company-wide adoption is ignored, it negatively impacts the very purpose of DevOps. Rather than implementing an integrated approach, leaders often segment DevOps into its own practice within the business, effectively siloing these skilled team members from areas where their expertise is often desperately needed. 

 

In a 2019 DevOps Awareness Survey by Forrester, only 21% of respondents said that their DevOps practices were widespread across the entire organization, while 35% said they were expanding the use of DevOps across the business. This fractioned approach creates problems that can result in devastating and costly consequences such as downtime, damaged brand reputation, and burnout. I have witnessed firsthand what happens when companies have siloed DevOps teams and lack buy-in from management. Not only does it end up causing split DevOps toolchains (which solve the same problem multiple ways), it can also lead to unsupported or insecure toolchains being implemented to fix a problem that was already fixed by another team and tool.

 

What’s worse, it doesn’t appear that company leaders plan to change their ways anytime soon. According to the same survey, a mere 12% of organizations were considering DevOps as an option but hadn’t done anything about it yet, and 10% had no plans to use DevOps. In a time when every business must operate as a technology company to succeed, these numbers are grim. 

 

Not only should DevOps professionals be fully integrated into the organization, but the DevOps mindset must also become a part of the culture and be embraced by all employees for it to work. All team members — not just those wearing the DevOps hat — must learn the fundamental concepts, become aligned with DevOps best practices, and wholly lean into this mindset moving forward. 

 

When a company-wide approach is ignored, things get complicated. 

 

Silos are created or strengthened, reinforcing old ways of operating, and eventually, these communication problems affect the software development itself. Even when small wins occur in this complex environment, they’re often completely overlooked because the team is constantly working to fix problems that could’ve been resolved if DevOps had been fully incorporated into the culture from the start, which leads us to the next point. 

Organizations are unintentionally creating DevOps burnout

Placing the burden of all DevOps-related tasks (such as tool expansion/management) on one person or team pulls key players away from important tasks and creates additional, unplanned work, eventually leading to total burnout. According to research from PagerDuty, 70% or more of technology workers are negatively impacted by unplanned work in three or more different ways, including heightened stress and anxiety, reduced work-life balance, and less time to focus on meaningful work. 

 

Further compounding this problem is that many organizations opt for external solutions instead of systems built by an internal team. Let me be clear that using off-the-shelf tools isn’t a bad thing; it makes sense when it fits the need. But buying tools without a full view of how they will (or won’t) harmonize with current investments often creates more harm than good. According to Forrester, this method leaves an overwhelming majority of development teams, release/DevOps teams, software tools teams, and operations teams ultimately responsible for maintaining toolchains, thereby increasing the volume of unplanned work.

The primary role of DevOps is to create value by helping software teams innovate and accelerate delivery to customers, not to become overburdened by rote tasks that could likely be delegated or automated. 

Developing a DevOps culture

How can company leaders encourage the entire organization to embrace DevOps practices? First, recognize that you won’t be going from zero to 100% DevOps. In the early stages, the most crucial point is to encourage and help employees understand what DevOps means to your business and how it can help everyone achieve their goals. From there, executives should work directly with DevOps leaders to design an implementation plan and provide continuous feedback and improvement as you scale throughout the organization. Remember that continuous feedback doesn’t work if it only occurs at the end of the development process; instead, it requires constant collaboration throughout every phase of software development, even from teams that don’t work directly in IT-focused roles.

 

Here are some key things to keep in mind as you create your company-wide DevOps strategy:

  • Create collaboration opportunities between your DevOps experts and other employees to easily foster learning opportunities. 
  • Demystify DevOps “business speak” that might confuse other team members; provide information through company-wide training and reference materials.
  • Identify DevOps success. Share real-world wins and examples of what it looks like when everyone embraces DevOps to reach their goals. 
  • Define key metrics. Clearly outline the metrics that you’ll use to track DevOps success. 
  • Focus on the fail-forward mentality, combined with proper testing and environment progression. Understand that sometimes things don’t work, and that’s OK—just make sure to log the lessons learned so that any errors or missteps are not repeated.

Moving beyond the “not my job” mentality

One often-overlooked area of creating a DevOps culture is to help current employees move beyond the “it’s not my job” mentality through upskilling and training. The idea of “DevOps” can be intimidating to team members who are not fully immersed in this world, and leaders can help ease this transition by providing new learning opportunities. When hiring new team members, seek individuals eager to move beyond rigid ways of doing things and open to operating outside of a fixed role. 

 

While your teams embrace the DevOps mindset and move toward a fully integrated culture, make sure not to overwork them. The key is to get (and keep) everyone on board without causing burnout. If needed, consider temporary or permanent staff augmentation to help you reach your goals faster. 

 

It’s worth noting that small businesses may have an easier time integrating DevOps into the company culture simply because fewer team members mean more streamlined communication. While mid-market and enterprise-level organizations may need to spend more time creating their DevOps strategy, they also have the advantage of additional resources and are often in greater need of company-wide adoption.

Takeaway 

Building a DevOps culture doesn’t happen overnight, but it does need to happen. DevOps experts within the company should become coaches to those in need of training and actively work to avoid communication bias. Executives should make room at the table for DevOps leaders and actively seek their input to help close gaps and provide the organization with best practices.

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