Top 4 frustrating problems with "doing DevOps"

Learn the biggest barriers to DevOps and what you can do to overcome them.
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"Doing DevOps" sounds so easy. You've read the books. You've gone to the conferences. You follow the right people on Twitter. But it's taking so long. What's going on?

You're not alone. DevOps transformation can be really hard. It can go the wrong way for quite a while before it goes right—if it ever does.

I talked to some of my friends and colleagues who have been there and done that, looking for some common threads. Here are some of their biggest frustrations, as well as some things you can do to stitch it all together.

What is DevOps?

"Getting a common understanding of what DevOps is, what success looks like, and how to measure it is a critical thing to get right before you start trying to drive lots of changes." —Lee Eason, director of DevOps, Ipreo

This is a frighteningly common problem. If everyone is using the word "DevOps," but everybody has a different understanding of what it means, you could spend years talking right past each other without ever really communicating. Depending on whom you ask, it might be "development and operations working together," it might be a role or a department, it might be "development-facing operations," it might be a synonym for Continuous Delivery, or it could be any number of other things.

What should I do about it? Leverage your subject matter experts to define what DevOps means for your organization and stick to it. Or even consider not using the word at all when communicating an idea. Most of the time, there are more specific, well-understood terms that can be used to convey your thoughts.

Guardians of the status quo

"Those that work in technology yet insist on doing things the way they've always done them. Pretty sure, as technologists, we should be the ones innovating at all levels of our organizations. The fact this isn't the case will always puzzle me. Simply saying humans resist change isn't enough. These humans, these knowers of sciences and comprehenders of code, should never fear change but should be embracing it and using it to our advantage." —Chris Short, SJ Technologies and DevOps'ish

I see this every day, and I've seen it in every organization where I've worked. The guardians of the status quo pervade from the lowest levels of the organization up to the C-suite.

What should I do about it? Fear is a natural outcome of ignorance of the undiscovered. Simply increasing the functional literacy of the people around you may go a long way. Host brown bag sessions, lunch & learns, book clubs, and lightning talks. Office hours for your transformation team are another popular option. Gradually, incrementally, and relentlessly displace misinformation, fear, uncertainty, and doubt with solid information, new capabilities and skills, hard data, and success stories from similar organizations. Reduction of risk is a big part of DevOps success, too. But nothing speaks quite like a steady cadence of positive experiences. Try to transition from just talking about it to getting it done quickly, if only in small steps.

Culture change

"Changing culture. It's one of those things that few appreciate until [they are] actually experiencing." —Matthew Grose, software development manager, Optum

Leaders who are new to DevOps often go right for the throat: automation and technology. But that's not where DevOps begins. Culture change is perhaps the earliest and most important thing that has to happen for DevOps transformation to take hold.

What should I do about it? Take personal accountability. What kind of organization do you want to work for? Do you want to work for an organization where you enjoy open, collaborative relationships with your peers in other departments? Start building those relationships today. Invite them to your planning events. Invite them to your demos. Invite them to help you solve something in the design phase so you're not throwing it over the wall after writing code. Then tear down the wall so there's nothing to throw over.

And if you're in a management role, you've got a lot to do, too! It will fall on you to create a safe working environment for DevOps culture to take hold. I'm not talking about physical safety here so much as cultural safety. How do you treat the bearer of bad news? Do you put the kibosh on unplanned ideas? How you lead could disincentivize your people, keeping them from taking the necessary risks to adopt DevOps.

Material support

"Lack of [organizational] support, like time and money, for teams to get trained on the skills needed to effectively fulfill DevOps responsibilities." —Jesse Aalberg, senior director, IT architecture, Optum

Tell me if you've heard this one before: Your engineering leadership from top to bottom is towing the line, everyone is ready to make DevOps successful… but your finance department is unimpressed and not joining in.

What should I do about it? This is a tough one. This may be the very toughest one for many of you. If you've had success here, please tell us about it in the comments. I know of many leaders that have had to be creative about spending to support DevOps activities. But that's not sustainable for the long term. Nor is it transparent or collaborative. Like everything else in DevOps, you'll need friends on the inside. But unlike bringing other engineering disciplines along for the ride, bringing finance onboard is frustrated by the vast differences in language and motivations between engineering and finance leaders.

What do I do next?

Get involved in the vibrant global DevOps community. Start going to conferences if you're not already. There are local meetup groups all over the globe, too. And if you can't get to either of those, there are online communities on social media and even right here on Listen to what others are talking about. Speak about your own journey. Find people who have been where you are now, learn what worked for them. Build your internal transformation virtual team from across the organization, and commit to working with them on a regular cadence to inspect and adapt along your journey. Ask yourself every morning: What will I do today to affect the change I want to see? And have the grit and integrity to live up to your answer.

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Magnus has been in the IT industry for over 20 years, and a technology enthusiast for most of his life. He's presently Founder and Head of Tentacles at Groktopus LLC.

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