To Build a Healthy DevOps Culture, Look to Your Ecosystem


How do you do DevOps?  Here’s a hint: Don’t fixate on finding the right tools or implementing the right processes. Instead, think about the broader ecosystem in which you operate, the culture that prevails in that ecosystem and which parts of the culture you can borrow to help enable your DevOps transformation.

This is true no matter which type of ecosystem you work in–even one that depends in part on mainframes. In other words, to quote from Rouan Wilsenach, writing on Martin Fowler’s blog, “Even with the best tools, DevOps is just another buzzword if you don’t have the right culture.”

Keep reading for tips on what this means in practice, and how to build a successful DevOps culture by engaging your ecosystem.

Tools and Processes in DevOps

To be sure, tools and processes are a key part of DevOps. We’ve yet to see an organization that achieves continuous delivery successfully without the help of a continuous integration server or a continuous feedback process.

But the reality is tools and processes are not what ultimately separates DevOps success from DevOps failure. Tools and processes help you to implement DevOps; but on their own, they don’t deliver the cultural priorities that allow DevOps organizations to thrive.

This is an important point to digest. The market is teeming with tools pitched as critical enablers of DevOps, and there is no shortage of articles about why processes such as shift-left testing or de-siloing your team are important for DevOps.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that doing DevOps is as simple as implementing one of these tools and processes. If it were, we wouldn’t be spending so much time talking about DevOps in the first place, because it would be a trivial thing for anyone to achieve.

DevOps Culture

What matters above all in DevOps is culture. By culture, we mean the values and viewpoints that shape how your team approaches software delivery.

If your team members don’t believe in constant collaboration and transparency as cultural values, no amount of continuous integration servers or real-time communication tools are going to enable you to achieve the type of team-wide collaboration necessary to support continuous delivery. Similarly, if your developers, software testers or admins don’t recognize the importance of doing continuous delivery in the first place, having the tools and processes in place to perform continuous delivery is not enough to ensure it actually happens.

This is why instilling key cultural values is critical for DevOps. This isn’t an exhaustive, universally applicable list of essential DevOps cultural values, but most folks would include the following items in this category:

  • Collective accountability. Everyone on your team should assume responsibility for ensuring that software is delivered on time and meets expectations. Software delivery is everyone’s responsibility in DevOps.
  • A blameless environment in which the team as a whole, rather than individuals, owns the system.
  • In a DevOps culture, all team members should have constant visibility into what other members of the team are doing.
  • DevOps places a priority on minimizing manual effort. It promotes automation over allowing some team members to perform tasks manually in order to protect their turf or increase their individual value.
  • Collaboration and shared roles. In DevOps, no single engineer should exclusively own a particular task. Some people might bear primary responsibility for certain tasks, but at the end of the day, everyone should be permitted, qualified and willing to assist with any task.
  • Support from management for all of the above. Executives need to embrace the concept of collective ownership for IT processes, while also giving IT teams the flexibility to scale and change tools and processes as needed.

Your Ecosystem and Your Culture

How do you actually construct a DevOps culture founded on principles like those described above? Part of the answer lies in evaluating your current internal company culture, of course, and taking steps to change it.

But another important part of the answer lies in your business’s ecosystem. After all, culture is not something that develops only on the basis of internal factors. Culture is influenced to a tremendous extent by what is going on around you.

So, in order to build a healthy DevOps culture, think about what other companies you engage with are doing. In many cases, you can jump-start your DevOps cultural transformation by borrowing ideas from partners who have already been there.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you look only for partners who have won accolades as DevOps-first organizations, or startups that have had the benefit of coming of age when DevOps was already a big deal. Think also about established companies that have deep experience working with an array of different technologies, integrating those technologies and bringing them up-to-speed with modern software delivery practices.

Those are the organizations that have sophisticated, organic cultures. They’re also the ones that know what it takes to update existing cultures to support DevOps. And they may be able to help you identify the specific tools and processes that will enable DevOps for your business.

Building a Healthy DevOps Ecosystem

As an example of what the process of constructing an effective DevOps culture might look like in practice, consider how you might approach this challenge if your ecosystem (like many today) includes a mix of modern, cloud-based infrastructure on the one hand, and mainframes on the other.

This might seem like a difficult circle to square. Conventional wisdom tells us that mainframes may be difficult to integrate with modern DevOps processes.

But that is not the case. IBM offers a range of solutions to help integrate mainframes into the rest of your ecosystem. For example, Z Open Development makes it possible to standardize your SCM and build processes for mainframes using modern, Git-based tooling. Likewise, Z Open Unit Test makes it possible to bring modern unit testing to mainframe applications. And you can even test and build mainframe apps on commodity x86 servers using Z Development and Test Environment.

Of course, integrating mainframe infrastructure into the rest of your ecosystem using tooling like this also requires a culture and attitude adjustment. Developers and ITOps admins must move past the cliché that mainframes have no role to play in modern DevOps shops, or that they are too difficult to integrate into modern ecosystems. That’s not at all true and building a successful DevOps culture that embraces the mainframe means discarding this inaccurate viewpoint.


In short, succeeding at DevOps means adopting the right cultural principles to turn a DevOps toolset into an actual DevOps workflow. The good news is you don’t have to invent those principles from scratch. Look for an experienced ecosystem partner or partners who can help you in your DevOps cultural journey.

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