Recently I participated on an informational panel at a local DevOps Meetup. The panel was put together from several disciplines to address issues with the successful adoption of DevOps and reaching optimized use of this current practice in software development. What is DevOps? Essentially, the term DevOps comes from combining the Development, Technology Operations (Systems Administration), and Quality Assurance functions in an organization to enable automated or continuous deployment of improvements to software releases (which can happen every three seconds in some environments—think Amazon and Netflix). Check out Colin Barker’s blog on zdnet, “What is DevOps and why does it matter?”

About the Panel

The panel was set up as an informal question-and-answer session, including questions from a live stream of the event. The introduction by one of the panel members laid out the complexity of issues required to optimize DevOps in an organization. It was clear from the audience questions as well as those from the live stream that there was discontent among representatives of all three groups who have been combined into a DevOps function. The issues related to implementation and ongoing results. Not being familiar with DevOps, I had done some pre-reading and came upon a Gartner Group article that had an extremely interesting quote in it. “The DevOps trend goes way beyond implementation and technology management and instead necessitates a deeper focus on how to effect positive organizational change. The DevOps philosophy therefore centers on people, process, technology and information. With respect to culture, DevOps seeks to change the dynamics in which operations and development teams interact.”

“If DevOps Is So Great, Why Is Everyone So Unhappy?”

One of the questions from the stream was: “If DevOps is so great, why is everyone so unhappy?” Another question from the panel moderator very clearly and succinctly asked about the kinds of cultural change happening in organizations, separate from new tools and new practices. The commentary from some technology-oriented panel members precipitated the rapid devolution of audience discussion into a heated debate about tools and technology. Observing that rapid switch away from very “soft” questions about culture to what tools will and will not support aspects of DevOps was enlightening and frightening at the same time. It was very apparent to me that this major shift in how information systems organizations were structured and managed was a throwaway in terms of organizational change. The Nike phrase, “Just Do It” comes to mind.

The issues were obvious to me. In no way had most organizations viewed the combination of three separate, virtually autonomous departments (one of which is adjacent to its customers) each with a different culture, as an organizational change. And, by the way, accomplish this change while maintaining a 24-hour idea-to-delivery cycle, with each new idea coming within seconds of the last. The departments in question were not filled to the brim with Sales and Marketing extroverts. Rather they were groups and individuals who were used to looking at the problem in front of them and solving it without having to resort to communicating with others. Like its close relative Agile, DevOps relies heavily on communication and conversation in order to be successful.

A Wake-Up Call for Change Practitioners

The DevOps situation is a wake-up call for change leaders, change managers, and change agents, especially those practitioners in internal change management groups. If you are working with, or in, an organization that has embraced DevOps with the goal of providing on-line customers with what they want almost immediately, check in with your IS or IT group. They may be floundering in what they did not perceive as an organizational change and, more critically, a culture change. You can be an effective resource in helping them start the conversations that need to happen to have optimized DevOps and be facilitated through what is a major organizational shift requiring clear vision, strong leadership, organizational alignment, pervasive collaboration, and clearly-defined processes in order to be successful.