Getting DevOps right : It is not just about technology, leadership and management matters


It is a truism that to realise the benefits of a technology driven change initiative the focus has to be on deliberate leadership and management of the initiative, rather than an exclusive focus on technology and tools. However, that obvious truth gets lost, in the euphoria and excitement about the latest technology, especially in technologically driven movements such as DevOps. We now have a timely reminder that succeeding with DevOps is more than a technology or tool set implementation exercise. DASA’s ( DevOps Agile Skills Association) – an independent and open, members driven association supporting the development of DevOps training and certification to the global market – recent dialog with CIOs’ has confirmed the self-evident truth: leadership and management matters in delivering a successful DevOps initiative and sustaining the DevOps way of working.

The excerpt from the dialog with CIO is below. Building upon it, is an analysis of the 10 lessons learned from a leadership and management perspective.

“IT Leaders play an important part in realizing the transformational journey for their organization. As part of this process they foster their successes, deal with resistance to change, try to create a cultural and behavioural change and try to demonstrate value to business stakeholders. One of the most critical elements to success typically is not the technology stack chosen, or the amount of legacy systems in place, but it’s the ability of the leader to take the people along in the transformation.”

Source: 10 lessons learned by CIOs in creating a sustainable cultural change in a DevOps Transformation – DevOps Agile Skills Association (DASA)

  • Lesson 1 : Management by walking around
    • Go to where the value add work is happening ( or in Lean lingo, Go to the Gemba)
  • Lesson 2 : Find champions and give them a podium
    • Leadership isn’t confined to the formal leaders. Any body, at any level who is an advocate for the new direction is a leader. Leadership – the advocacy for the new direction – should be pervasive, to be effective.
  • Lesson 3 : Take away fear, uncertainty, and doubt by explaining what is in it for the team
    • This is the role of the formal manager : to anticipate these reactions and address them. Ignoring or minimizing their importance will impact the organizational benefits DevOps can potentially deliver.
  • Lesson 4 : Some people don’t want change – and that is fine
    • If parting ways is the best management decision given the circumstances, then make it. It may be the best thing for all affected parties.
  • Lesson 5 : Authentic leaders are genuine leaders
    • In the age of rapid and disruptive change, the formal leader doesn’t have all the answers. It isn’t an inadequacy, it is the nature of the times. And, one more reason to move away from the thinking that there is one know it all central leader, who has all the answers. Things are way too complex, and as consequence leadership and management is getting distributed to individuals and teams. Agile and DevOps are management frameworks for facilitating team based leadership and management.
  • Lesson 6 :  Recruit for attitude, skills can be taught
    • Mindset matters. DevOps devolves responsibility and accountability to the individual and team, so individuals should be willing to take on the responsibility to deliver business value not just technical output.
  • Lesson 7 : Be patient, it takes time
    • But use incremental milestones to track progress, a classic project management technique
  • Lesson 8 : Find success stories
    • With success stories, everybody can see what success looks like. Learn lessons – a sadly underutilized management practice – from the success story, and apply them across the initiative
  • Lesson 9 : Engage with your suppliers to create success
    • Leverage project management’s contract management practices to create the right contractual framework for the DevOps way of working.
  • Lesson 10 : Train team on “working together”
    • Team based leadership and management wont just happen, so training and coaching of teams should be part of the DevOps program management plan.

The findings from the dialog with CIOs point to the need for a formal program management framework to deliver a DevOps initiative, where a structured  yet adaptive management method is used to take the organization from its current state IT work to the future state of high performing IT work. The alternate approach of throwing money or tool set at the problem, will merely result in DevOps not delivering the business value it can potentially deliver.

PS: Do check out DASA’s competence model, to get a flavor of what a distributed team based leadership and management looks like and use it as a basis for building the leadership, management and technical skills of your DevOps teams.

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