Demystifying The DevOps Role: Consider These Solutions Before Beginning The Transition

Call it the buzzword of the decade, but DevOps has perpetually shifted the way development teams and organizations approach their work. DevOps adoption rose from 66 percent in 2015 to 74 percent in 2016 and when something is popular, there’s always a tendency to ride the rapids and hastily jump on board.

Consequently, many larger companies are incorrectly rushing to adopt the practice for the wrong reasons. They’re searching for ‘experienced DevOps’ or ‘senior DevOps’ partners to join their software teams, and software companies are cashing in on the opportunity by offering tons of DevOps positions to these organizations.

But the thing is, implementing DevOps isn’t as simple as hiring one person or a team of experts. DevOps is a culture that needs to be embraced by the entire organization. It’s a comprehensive, collaborative, and cross-team approach to managing the software development processes that relies heavily on automation and sharing – something smaller startups typically do well at. Once implemented, the culture removes silos and focuses on delivering real value.

So how can you correctly help your team to embrace DevOps if you haven’t implemented it off the bat? Consider these things before beginning the transition:

DevOps is not a role, nor a set of technologies

We often receive calls from companies, looking to hire DevOps experts to join their teams. But to those of us who work within a DevOps environment, this doesn’t make sense. While companies probably do need their teams to produce within a DevOps culture, it’s clear they don’t understand how the process functions as part of an organization. Because simply put, DevOps is not a role.

It’s almost impossible to hire an outside DevOps team and expect them to magically implement a functioning DevOps environment. Rather, the transition requires a strong cultural shift – with each team member becoming aligned with DevOps collaborative practices and philosophies, and working together to integrate long-separated systems and activities within an organization. So while many seek to hire new DevOps experts, it isn’t actually necessary: companies need to implement the change from within.

There’s no diving into DevOps head first – rather we need to become acclimatized to it inch-by-inch. Just like hiring one expert and expecting the rest of the team to match their level of expertise isn’t realistic, deploying DevOps technologies – or DevOps related tasks – doesn’t mean you’ve implemented DevOps, either. Practices like Continuous Integration (CI), Continuous Delivery (CD), and configuring Docker won’t do your team any good if they don’t truly understand how they function and how they correlate to DevOps processes. You’ll end up with software full of bugs in production or with unstable software and infrastructure, resulting in broken builds. A team needs to first embody the culture before rolling out new technologies.

You can train DevOps champions to oversee adoption

While hiring an outside expert won’t wondrously make an organization value DevOps philosophies, you can train DevOps Champions within your team to help everyone embrace the shift.

Since DevOps advocates a care for software – from conception to production – DevOps Champions thus need to be motivated by customer and business objectives, to help promote a sense of ownership inside the team. They need to be a strong and respected leader – but most of all, be well versed in DevOps culture and understand how it benefits the organization.

So how can DevOps Champions approach the transition? They need to coach the team to understand and implement the core DevOps values: Culture, Automation, Measurement and Sharing (CAMS).

They must work to foster an environment that encourages people to ask questions, cooperate with and learn from each other, and innovate and try new things. They need to teach the team the importance of automation, in order to save time and build consistency, and then measure improvement through data that’s accessible to everyone on the team – that way, there’s a clear understanding of why certain processes need to be changed. And finally, they need to encourage sharing tools to increase efficiency and create a higher level of engagement amongst employees.

Overall, DevOps Champions should encourage developers, quality analysts, business analysts, system administrators, among many other roles, to share a collaborative, iterative and committed approach to their work.

And for added DevOps support, it’s also a great idea to turn to experts or partners in the industry who’ve already made the shift. This allows for transitioning teams to understand the best practices, but also learn from other organizations’ mistakes.

DevOps experts can provide guidance and more specialized skills for larger companies

While everyone needs to understand DevOps processes and value the collaborative approach, not everyone on the team needs to be an expert in DevOps technologies. With complex problems, it’s fine for DevOps Champions to configure the tasks and lead the way. While startups might require less specialized team members – everyone needs to help out with every part of the process as the team is usually more interconnected – bigger teams may require multiple DevOps Champions for complex technical execution and to keep the scope of each project clean.

And here’s the great thing: once the entire team understands the culture, practices and collaboration-based work, the DevOps Champions can move to help other areas of your organization, or they can turn their focus to implementing sophisticated techniques, including ones like autoscaling, complex monitoring and high availability.

While it’s tempting to hire a team of DevOps experts and quickly deploy the technologies, there’s really no cutting corners when it comes to transitioning to DevOps. Implementing cultural change at an organization is no easy feat. But in taking the time to correctly help your team embrace the DevOps culture, one day you’ll turn around and realize that everyone at your organization is in fact, a DevOps Champion.

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