Is It Time For A DevOps Culture Reality Check?

Is It Time For A DevOps Culture Reality Check?

By Flux7 Labs
September 23, 2020

In pursuit of the promises and benefits of DevOps, many organizations started down the path to DevOps, approaching it as a technology problem. The thinking was that if the right tools and technologies were in place, the organization could use technology as a means to DevOps success. And frankly, as technologists, we’re comfortable reaching for technology as an answer.

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However, these attempts failed as they relied too heavily on only one leg of the DevOps stool. Missing from these efforts was a culture of DevOps that is needed to embed communication and cohesive collaboration. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung too far with people now saying, “DevOps is all about culture.” The goal of this article is not to undermine the value of culture, but to provide a reality check that the right answer is in the middle. Efforts to improve culture will not bear fruit unless they are accompanied by tools that support the desired culture.

Positive Feedback Loop

In its 2019 Accelerate State of DevOps Report, DORA, the DevOps Research & Assessment organization, reports on four key metrics that define DevOps success. They include “technical practices, cloud adoption, organizational practices (including change approval processes) and culture.” With each of these weighing evenly on success, DORA notes that the “highest performers do significantly better on all four measures, and low performers do significantly worse in all areas.”

My point is the same. It’s not possible to adopt a culture of end-to-end application responsibility unless tools exist that support transparency of the entire delivery pipeline. A tool riddled with complex permissions and controls, and not designed to show data for a CI/CD pipeline, can deter the efforts — no matter how generative the culture.

Tools that support the culture and vice versa create a positive feedback loop that inspires the excellence seen in high-performing organizations. Research conducted by NTT DATA (Flux7’s parent company) illustrates the importance of this point when tackling new initiatives, like cloud-based digital transformation. Specifically, researchers found that successful transformation relies on a holistic strategy that simultaneously addresses people-related challenges and technology to support the modern application life cycle.

NASDAQ exemplifies the point. It rolled out a Cloud Excellence Program to facilitate the implementation of its corporate cloud strategy. They began the initiative by selling the idea to internal stakeholders, which was quickly followed by the implementation of self-service technologies that served to encourage wide-spread adoption of new processes that embedded culture change and allowed teams to see quick wins, which grew momentum for the initiative.

A Poor Tool Prevents Improvement

I hear IT leaders make the argument that if they have the right culture, they can change the tool. Yet I have seen firsthand how a poor tool can prevent culture change. A simple example of this came about at my company a few years ago, when we were trying to close the gap between the sales and marketing teams. We spent time conducting off-sites, coming up with collaborative ideas and frameworks and using external consultants to help us come together. Yet as soon as we went back to work, things returned to business as usual.

As we dug deeper, we found that one of the key issues was that our CRM system had two different tabs for sales and marketing. The views were different, the fields were different, definitions of life cycle stages were different and even reporting capabilities were different. Consequently, it was far harder for the teams to collaboratively work on tactical day-to-day tasks than it was to come up with a joint strategy at a cultural workshop. It was the wrong tool for the culture we sought to build.

The Culture Reality Check

Joe Biden has been quoted as saying, “…show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” Building on this, I would say, “Tell me what tools you use, and I can tell you what kind of culture you are building.” While every company’s culture is different, it’s important to analyze tool choices from the lens of the culture you are trying to create or reinforce. You will likely have to make sacrifices in other areas in order to use tools with features that support your goals. For example, tools that embrace open communication and collaboration will often have fewer controls to prevent someone from editing a record. Tools that are geared for a very closed and tight environment will prevent collaborative work. It’s a trade-off. And, for each trade-off, you will need to decide what is more important.

It’s oft-debated what should come first: culture or technology. Ultimately, I would argue that it doesn’t matter as long as the tools you choose reinforce the desired culture. With culture and tools that complement each other, DevOps can create a virtuous cycle that helps it achieve high-performer status, optimizing outcomes and accelerating business momentum.

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Written by Flux7 Labs

Flux7, an NTT DATA Company, is the only Sherpa on the DevOps journey that assesses, designs, and teaches while implementing a holistic solution for its enterprise customers, thus giving its clients the skills needed to manage and expand on the technology moving forward. Not a reseller or an MSP, Flux7 recommendations are 100% focused on customer requirements and creating the most efficient infrastructure possible that automates operations, streamlines and enhances development, and supports specific business goals.