The search for IT’s Holy Grail: Fostering DevOps Collaboration

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The Tech industry is constantly drawn to new concepts and one of the most talked about topics of the moment is DevOps. This new kid on the block promises to deliver a faster response to business change while reducing single points of failure. But to successfully implement a DevOps culture in any organisation collaboration is key. Yet many teams struggle to obtain this highly sought after prize due to fear and distrust between Software Development and IT Operations.

So how can this culture of collaboration be fostered? Based on experience of working on DevOps projects over the last few years, here are my tips for making sure you get off on the right foot.

Not another Restructure!

The first misunderstanding many make when they wade into DevOps is thinking that a restructure of their organisation is required and that a new DevOps team needs to be created. But DevOps is not a branch in your company’s organisational chart, but rather a culture and a way of working together that bridges the gap between Software Development and IT Operations. It can also include members of other teams, such as Security and Networking. It is born out of the Agile philosophy, valuing people over process over tools. Teams work together through an entire service lifecycle, all the way from design to implementation to support to the eventual decommission. The lines that split the tasks between teams start to blur, but this a good thing!

Why is this a Good Thing?

Poor collaboration affects the outcomes of development projects. Fostering a good DevOps culture enables:

  • Faster software development
  • Frequent software delivery
  • Improved service quality
  • Reduction of bottlenecks
  • Creation of a holistic environment
  • Improved working relationships

Get off my Land!

One of the obstacles to collaboration is the distrust between developers and IT Operation teams. Trust needs to be built for all parties to willingly move their territory lines. Before you can build this trust, you need to empathise and understand what each party fears.

So what do they fear? No matter how much IT Operations reassure them, developers fear that the environment they are building in will be nothing like the production environment. If this is the case, any testing prior to implementation is meaningless. IT Operations on the other hand fear that if they allow developers to help create and configure these environments, Ops will be cleaning up the mess left in their wake. In the most negative mindsets, the other is out to get their job.

During initial discussions all teams need to openly acknowledge these fears. Write it on post-it notes before sticking them on a white board. Facilitate that discussion so that team members all understand where everyone is coming from and address it with logic and solutions. Rely on allies to help you.

Find your Allies.

There are individuals on both sides who will want to collaborate and believe in a closer working relationship. Join them for coffee and talk about the best way to implement a collaborative culture. Ensure that you all share the same message and one voice, regardless who is asked and who asks. As they bring up DevOps in conversations, support them and they will support you back. The more others hear it repeated by different sources, the belief in this new culture will gain strength and eventually momentum.

The Big Sell.

Besides listing the benefits to the organisation, you need to sell the benefits to the individuals. This includes access to new skills and training followed by the opportunity to put it into practice. At the same time reassure them that they are not expected to be an expert of all these new skills. It is more about breadth than depth. Show them that you value their own niche and expertise.

Tool Up

After people and process, comes tools, which will help support this new way of working. Tools that allow automation, continuous integration, delivery and deployment, should be agreed by members of both teams and implemented together. These tools should allow process transparency and open discussion.

Job done?

You finally reach the DevOps nirvana! But it isn’t the end of the line. Like any ecosystem, this culture needs to be maintained to remain healthy. Existing relationships will need to flourish and the belief in the culture will need to spread to new employees entering the organisation. You and your allies will continue to be the gatekeepers, guarding this trusted collaborative partnership.

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