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Interview: How culture drives success in DevOps

18 Oct 2019

Organisations today are expected to innovate quickly and extensively, leading them to adopt frameworks like those used in software development (DevOps) to facilitate the process.

Like any other process, without the buy-in of employees and support and managers, it can easily become another layer of bureaucracy that hinders productivity.

Techday spoke to PagerDuty DevOps advocate Julie Gunderson about how culture is key in DevOps, common challenges, and best practices.  

How does an organisation’s culture affect the effectiveness of its DevOps?

There is an increasing importance of DevOps in organisations and why it matters to business.

DevOps enables business value growth and the protection of revenue and reputation loss. With this adoption from organisations and the C-suite, more focus is now placed on an organisation's culture.

Culture will define an organisation's effectiveness at adopting and benefiting from a DevOps approach.

Collaboration, communication, breaking down silos, and psychological safety are key elements of the DevOps journey.

If you take a look at Google's metrics on high-performing teams and the five elements: psychological safety, dependability, structure, clarity, meaning and impact, they all show elements of a strong organisational culture.

DevOps principles focus on increasing an organisation's ability to deliver at high-velocity digital services, to bring development/engineering and operations teams together to collaborate, and to continuously deliver; organisations need to have the cultural mindset to adopt these philosophies.

What are the common challenges organisations face in improving their DevOps processes?

Digital businesses today are always-on and innovating but with innovation, comes challenges and expectations.

Connected customers expect a seamless digital experience, all the time, every time.

A recent PagerDuty report showed that 51% of companies discover customer-impacting technology issues from their customers and 64% of tech employees will lose over 100 more hours of productivity due to unplanned work.

When improving their DevOps processes, first, organisations need to look at their current technology solutions.

Beyond the cultural aspect, some organisations may be in such a hurry to hop on the “DevOps" train, that they forget to understand where they are at today and identify the outcomes they hope to achieve. 

DevOps is not a magic wand; it requires thoughtful consideration. 

The DORA State of DevOps 2019 Report says it best, "Many organisations wanting to adopt DevOps look for a set of prescriptive steps or best practices to guide their journey.

“However, every organisation is different and which practices to adopt depends on the current state of the organisation—including the state of its technology, culture, and processes, and its short to long-term goals.”

What can they do to improve their effectiveness?

  1. Encourage people to speak up - by creating a safe environment for them to do so. Listen to feedback from individuals on what needs improvement in a blameless fashion. 
  2. Start small - if you are new to DevOps, don't try to go big too soon but rather start small and agile. Then prove out success and build internal champions. Bottom up approaches are often very successful when driving cultural and organisational change but it is important to have top down support.
  3. Learn from your peers - there are some great reads on organisational effectiveness are The Phoenix Project, The DevOps Handbook and DORA Accelerate State of DevOps Report.

What are some of the best practices you’ve seen in high-performing DevOps teams that others could emulate?

The best practice is investing in platform and people.

Taking a People, Process and Technology approach will help facilitate DevOps principles across teams including supporting Developers to be “on-call” and accountable for the digital services the code.

High-performing teams understand who the owner of systems is.

Systems are mapped to people, which significantly cuts down on time to resolve incidents, by understanding who is responsible.

They also demonstrate full-service ownership, where the responsibility of engineers extend beyond writing, testing and deploying code to managing their code in production.

Gunderson is presenting at DevOps Days Auckland on Tuesday, October 22, at 4.40pm.

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