Take it from IT leaders who have been there: Adopting a DevOps model will require strong leadership, exceptional people skills, a high tolerance for failure and financial savvy.
CTO Alexander Pluim described his company’s situation as typical: An enterprise technology system has issues, no one is sure what is going wrong, but each worker is positive it isn’t his fault.
Fortunately for Pluim, CTO at Amsterdam-based BVA Auctions, he realized the reason for his team’s predicament.
“When I looked at people behind their desks, trying to guess on their own without communicating with the other disciplines, I was amazed,” he said.
The different disciplines — developers, DBAs, IT operations folks — had no insight into what the others were doing.
To help remedy the problem, he physically relocated teams so they could work together on the issues.
It was the start of his move to DevOps.
“Being able to see what the other was doing and being able to get new insights motivated the IT team and they became more enthusiastic. Since we had such a good experience here we became convinced that a DevOps model would help us a lot on a day-to-day basis,” Pluim said.
Proponents tout the many benefits of DevOps, the practice of putting software developers and the IT operations together so that building, testing and releasing software can happen very quickly, frequently and more reliably. They say this approach (or culture or movement, as some call it) produces faster delivery of features, more stable operating environments and better quality products. They also say that the DevOps model means continuous software delivery and faster resolutions of problems, which lead to more satisfied users.
Results like that get attention, said Donnie Berkholz, research director for the development, DevOps, and IT ops channel at 451 Research. In fact, he points out that 40% of the 568 infrastructure professionals his firm recently surveyed are using DevOps somewhere in their organizations.
However, moving to a DevOps culture doesn’t happen easily. It is almost always highly disruptive. And it won’t happen at all if the CIO, CTO and other IT executives don’t champion the cause, said analysts, advisors and tech leaders already experienced in DevOps.
IT leaders must be able to articulate why and how a DevOps model of working will bring improvements, and they must be able to sell their vision to colleagues and staff alike.
CIOs also need to shepherd their teams through the changes — keeping workers on track and moving forward even though some will resist (as is typical anytime people are asked to do their jobs differently).
CIOs will likely need to juggle staff, too, hiring new talent, retraining others and developing new skills in some so that those employees who once worked in isolated buckets can actually understand each other’s work and how each role contributes to the final product.
Three pillars of DevOps model
Given all that, experts agree that bringing the DevOps approach into an organization takes a serious amount of attention and investment from the executive ranks right down to the rank-and-file IT staffers.
“It involves dedication, and you need to make sure everyone is involved. It will involve a lot of people management,” Pluim said.
Indeed, BVA Auctions didn’t move to DevOps overnight. Pluim said the process of moving from a traditional development process to the DevOps model took new resources.
“We got more ops capacity to make sure we could cover every team. We focused more on teamwork, taking responsibility and finishing work,” he said, adding that the company even hired a dedicated Agile coach.
Pluim noted that the process also took time: “Starting DevOps was a symbolic step. The real effort was the transformation from ‘sitting together’ to ‘working together.’ This took months, it’s not black and white; it has its ups and downs. It needs ongoing attention in aligning priorities, sharing information and open communication.”