How to Build a DevOps Culture and Methodology That Works

May 26, 2020

The benefits of DevOps are plenty: improvements in product quality, minimal cost production, faster deployment times and a greater sense of ownership and work satisfaction from engineers.

But while the benefits of shifting to a DevOps model may be clear, understanding how to do it can be a lot less straightforward. For companies ready to start implementing a DevOps culture, the first step is to throw out the rulebook. 

“I think one of the common mistakes leaders make who want to adopt DevOps is that they think they can read it in a book and implement it,” Damien Jones, CEO of Blue Pisces Consulting Inc., said.

The foundation for DevOps culture is communication, a shared vision and the right tools. However, it’s a culture that’s meant to evolve. Not all DevOps methodology works the same for every team or project. Adjusting communication techniques and tools is part of the strategy. 

Successful directors know when to step back from their DevOps team and let them ideate. Giving them the room to learn from failures will also give them the freedom to collaborate and succeed. 

 

Jones implements three C’s in DevOps culture at Blue Pisces: communication, collaboration and coordination. There is no rulebook; executing DevOps requires adjusting its methodology for each project. From there, openness to adaptation and change helps evolve DevOps into the best fit for the company. 

 

How did you go about implementing a DevOps methodology within your tech organization? 

Implementing DevOps in an organization takes the threes C’s: communication, collaboration and coordination. You must gain buy-in from your peers that may lead other segments and work with them to ensure a smooth transition. It is imperative to remember that DevOps hinges on partnership, a common goal and that everyone is part of something bigger than themselves. Being a servant leader in this time of implementation will serve you and your team well. Once you have the methodology in place, don’t be afraid to adapt and evolve it to fit your organization. Iterating and refining the process over time will ensure a much stronger, flexible and scalable solution for your technology organization.

 

From your experiences, what are the key characteristics of a strong DevOps culture? 

When it comes to DevOps, I like to say it’s about “working in the gray, not the black and white.” In other words, given the nature of DevOps and the need to be collaborative and partner with your business leaders, it’s important to avoid drawing hard lines and rather be comfortable with working in the gray area. That’s not to say you should have to overextend your team all the time, but be a willing partner in the true sense of the word. It’s OK to take a little more, or a little less, if the greater good is being served. 

A good example is that as a very notable client began implementing DevOps, it was really being led by infrastructure-oriented teams rather than application developers. Where you might expect developers or release engineers to build pipelines to meet their deployment strategy, it was the infrastructure team building pipelines to match the code deployment methodologies and educating the development teams on various tools and integration strategies to surround CI/CD. That was OK. It worked and the teams all evolved. Over time this could be handed back to development teams who were in a much better position to own this than had it just been thrown in their laps.

One of the common mistakes leaders make who want to adopt DevOps is  they think they can read it in a book.”

 

What advice do you have for other leaders who want to adopt a DevOps model in their organization?

I think one of the common mistakes leaders make who want to adopt DevOps is that they think they can read it in a book and implement it. Oftentimes, they understand the general concept and think “that makes sense, I get it,” and then struggle to implement it successfully. DevOps is not a textbook or playbook that you can just take and follow. It is a culture. It’s something you have to build, nourish and continuously evolve. To do this right takes experience paired with a strong understanding of your enterprise capabilities, talent and appetite for change. In other words, don’t be afraid to ask for help. But be careful when searching for that help as companies like to throw the word DevOps around without having practical experience.

 

Daniel Lloyd
Vice President of Engineering Operations

Pluto TV, like most companies, didn’t begin with a DevOps team. Lloyd said that in order to execute a DevOps culture without causing disruption to the business, it’s important to set boundaries and have clear definitions of roles. DevOps leaders need to be experts in the infrastructure and automation, but also communicative in how their team should implement those processes.

 

How did you go about implementing a DevOps methodology within your tech organization? 

We needed to make a fundamental shift in thinking. We focused on automated processes and tools as opposed to a rapid “results-first” methodology. It’s required a balancing act of providing for the operational needs as an organization and thinking how to best solve potential issues further down the line. A DevOps culture can’t be built in a silo. 

A DevOps culture can’t be built in a silo.”

 

What are the key characteristics of a strong DevOps culture? 

An interactive process, communication and transparency of goals. It also requires a bit of evangelism to act as a representative for DevOps as a focus. We work to provide a working proof of concept early, transitioning to MVP and then a fully baked pipeline for the organization.

 

What advice do you have for other leaders who want to adopt a DevOps model in their organization? 

Set boundaries and clear definitions of roles. Most organizations don’t start with a DevOps process, so DevOps resources often have to become experts not only in providing new infrastructure and automation but must do so in a way least disruptive to normal business.  

 

Danny Patel
Senior Director of Technology Operations 

Patel said DevOps culture is a collective effort of people, processes and technology. To start, defining clear business goals is essential. Once the DevOps team has a shared vision, they then can have ownership over projects. For example, when Appetize was changing their infrastructure to Kubernetes, the DevOps teams had the freedom to research, build, iterate and create the platform. 

 

How did you go about implementing a DevOps methodology within your tech organization? 

DevOps is more than a methodology. It is a collective effort of our people, processes and the technologies we choose to use and leverage to enable our internal customers (our employees) to deliver Appetize’s products and services in the most efficient and sustainably scalable model to Appetize’s customers. 

In order to have a successful DevOps culture and methodology at Appetize, we first had to understand our business goals and needs, as well as the existing processes and methodologies in use to deliver the business goals and fulfill business needs. We then started with the mindset of “we’re here to help you succeed in whatever you need to do to help Appetize deliver its products and services.” This approach enabled us to work collaboratively with everyone to create automation and compute platforms that increased overall velocity yet maintained standards and a sense of joint ownership of everything we build and run. The key is to have a team with the right mindset to help create a DevOps culture that permeates across all other organizations to work collaboratively.

Start with simple core principles, and build on top as you mature your DevOps culture and methodologies.”

 

What are the key characteristics of a strong DevOps culture? 

Some of the most essential ingredients for a strong DevOps culture are a high degree of collaboration, continuous information sharing, iterating and learning from failures and empowering people to succeed. Recognizing efforts that exhibit and embrace core DevOps beliefs has gone a long way in nurturing and strengthening the team culture. Giving team members the freedom to explore, ideate and collaborate on projects has yielded a strong sense of ownership and accomplishment, all the while continually growing our platform and services. 

One example that clearly comes to mind is our effort to transition our infrastructure to Kubernetes. We started with a simple goal to move everything to Kubernetes but gave the DevOps team members the freedom to research, build, iterate and create the platform. Though it was challenging and demanding, the team delivered and takes great pride in what has been created and achieved. 

 

What advice do you have for other leaders who want to adopt a DevOps model in their organization?

Start with introspecting your understanding of DevOps. Ask how it aligns with your team and your company’s needs. Are you fully cognizant of the various dimensions that encompass DevOps? Start with simple core principles, and build on top as you mature your DevOps culture and methodologies. It is an ongoing effort that requires constant nurturing and iteration. 

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