There has been an explosion of interest in DevOps over the last few years, but for people who are new to these ideas, it’s not always obvious what DevOps actually entails and what the benefits are. Additionally, given that DevOps started off as a grassroots movement and continues to be heavily influenced by practitioners, it may be even less clear to senior and middle managers why it is so important. Especially as there is no clear-cut definition of what it means to adopt DevOps practices. So why does DevOps matter at all, and what do senior and middle managers need to know to improve their organisation using DevOps?
What Does The Term DevOps Mean?
The term DevOps is a compound of ‘software development’ and ‘operations’. It was coined by a grassroots movement of software developers and operations professionals seeking to change and improve the relationship how organisations build and operate software. It was intended to emphasise collaboration and communication while automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes. For management, its significance is in aligning both groups and creating a culture that encourages them to do DevOps-practices.
Why Is It Important To Adopt DevOps Practices?
Every organisation needs some software to meet customer and user requirements. People expect reliable and convenient services that are improved regularly, which adds pressure to deliver more software more frequently, and at higher standards of quality. In the meantime, the complexity of computing infrastructure continually increases. Successful senior executives understand their organisation’s success is closely connected to how well their IT works and many already focus on creating great software and running it on reliable infrastructure.
However, the conventional way of delivering software in organisations is often incredibly dysfunctional, partly because incentives for different groups involved in the process haven’t been aligned. Too often, developers are motivated solely to deliver new features. Their responsibility ends as soon as the software is handed to the operations team to deploy. Operations teams on the other hand have been told to keep infrastructure as stable as possible. Their responsibility for software delivery starts only once they’ve been handed the software to deploy. However, operations teams have plenty of other responsibilities in addition to deploying software, including managing costs, user accounts and overall capacity, while ensuring overall security.
The objectives for these two groups are fundamentally opposed and the situation cannot be fixed by technological practices alone. What is required is a fundamental cultural change to fix the rift between software development and IT operations. This is where management comes into the picture because such changes need to be supported from the top.
Management Has A Powerful Role To Play
The importance of management has been highlighted in the latest State of DevOps Report which shows that transformational leaders have a huge impact on business outcomes. With more than 27,000 technical professionals surveyed, the report is the largest, most comprehensive and longest-running study on the topics of DevOps, IT culture and leadership, and overall business performance. The 2017 report has a number of salient findings that can help enterprises to improve performance, leadership and culture within their own organisations.
- Automation boosts performance — The highest performing organisations have automated 72 per cent of all configuration management processes. They spend much less time (28 per cent) mired in manual configuration processes that stall innovation and deployments. By comparison, low performers spend almost half of their time (46 per cent) on manual configuration.
- Leadership matters in digital transformation — High-performing teams have leaders with the strongest behaviours across five characteristics: vision, inspirational communication, intellectual stimulation, supportive leadership and personal recognition. Teams that have transformational leaders fall into the high-performance category.
- Lean product management practices drive higher organisational performance — Lean product management practices help teams ship features that customers want more frequently. The faster delivery cycle lets teams experiment, creating a feedback loop with customers, benefiting the entire organisation.
Considerations For Middle Management When Adopting DevOps Practices
If the decision to adopt DevOps practices and improve the organisation’s overall performance by aligning development and operations has been made, there are three areas to consider for middle management.
- Systems thinking and flow — This involves considering the performance of the whole system, not just an individual component or department. Optimisation should not only work locally, but for global throughput and flow. It can be difficult inside a large enterprise environment to gather enough information to do this accurately, but if all the teams are automating processes, measuring them and sharing their status and results, it becomes more workable.
- Feedback cycles — Installing, shortening and amplifying feedback cycles is another key to resolving issues quickly and improving the whole system. As the environment is changing constantly, fast feedback cycles are necessary to keep the whole system continuously improving.
- Experimentation and learning — To learn continually in a changing environment requires experimentation and learning from the results. Experimentation is enabled by a number of factors, including automation to let it happen fast and measurement to understand the outcome. However, continual experimentation is much more than just tools and processes. Management must create and nurture a culture that supports, encourages and rewards experimentation. Otherwise, there is no learning and no progress for the organisation.
Middle management has a powerful role to play in creating and sustaining a learning-friendly culture and middle managers are critical in enabling (or resisting) the necessary cultural changes.
The Role Of Upper Management For DevOps
Upper management has a significant part to play in nurturing experimentation and learning. It needs to support the process of learning from experiments and to model acceptance of failures so the middle management layer follows suit. Experiments that fail are actually a success if they disprove a hypothesis, helping the organisation to make important strategy decisions.
When upper management accepts the importance of learning and its role in business growth, budget gets allocated to research, learning and staff development. The rewards system gets adjusted to encourage creativity and risk-taking. In this kind of environment, people feel safe to try things out, disagree, advance hypotheses and develop new ways of measuring and learning. In fact, people become empowered, more engaged and more deeply invested in the success of the entire organisation.
DevOps Is Key To Organisational Success
DevOps is rapidly becoming an important philosophy for forward-looking executives who acknowledge its link with high organisational performance. As DevOps is more about culture and processes than technology, it is imperative that management on all levels understand what it means to adopt DevOps practices. That can be a challenge but the results speaks volumes.