While organizations are relying on their leaders to answer the call to DevOps and steer the ship through turbulent times, organizational culture ultimately ensures that ships safely reach shore.
As we discussed in part 1 of this blog, leadership plays the essential role in helping drive the setup of necessary tooling and processes for DevOps. By automating deployments, test and security, and enabling collaboration, employees are free to innovate or manage the workplace response to remote working.
The call for DevOps culture
However, these tools and processes are only as effective as the DevOps culture that supports them. 82% of companies considered Agile frontrunners cite culture and mindset change as significant obstacles in achieving agility. These companies realized that existing siloes become exacerbated in remote workplace environments. Without a culture rooted in collaboration and support that drives innovation, high performance, and customer-centricity, the organization risks sinking in its efforts before reaching its destination.
Culture in action
What does a misaligned culture look like? Let’s look at one of our clients.
Last year in New York, we found one of our clients, a highly regulated financial services trade, in an unusual state. They had launched a DevOps initiative two years ago, and despite having a large, capable IT department, they faced difficulty in executing the transformation. The organization excelled at optimizing its tools and processes within its own functional teams, but there was still friction between internal departments, leading to their inability to address customers’ problems.
Our team realized that even if we addressed technical issues, the ongoing tension between the silos and lack of communication were a result of underlying cultural issues. We needed to get to the root of the culture and change the organization from inside-out for their DevOps transition to become a true transformation, by turning their initiative from a top-down to a bottom-up approach.
We proactively created a culture transformation roadmap that revolved on accelerating the teams’ delivery time and increasing quality to ensure customer needs were met.
Our overall approach to DevOps culture change centered on two main principles:
- Continuous innovation
- High performance in execution
Building a continuous innovation stream from the customer perspective requires focusing on four topics:
- Customer centricity: We stopped developing products quarterly, based on collected requirements coming from leaders. Instead, the teams placed customers and data at the center of the product that customers are using, constantly sharing newfound insights about their customers and building up individual profiles to better tailor solutions.
- Experimentation: We fostered a blame-free environment for rapid testing, failing, experimentation, and innovation through activities such as failure nights and innovation slams. The teams continuously deployed and ensured a balanced workflow while trying out new ideas.
- Data-based decision making: We equipped the leadership with data analytics trainings that leveraged existing customer data to showcase the importance of data-driven decisions. The teams instrumented their work so they can immediately understand how their product is being used and make adjustments based on the data.
- Team collaboration: To sustainably change the culture, we had to change the entire operating model, including organizational structures. The operating model was guided by principles to mitigate current pain points. In the first step, we bridged diverse teams and modified the workplace setup to facilitate cross-functional team collaboration, which reduced siloes for cross-functional workstreams (configuration, build, environment, deploy and test, support and transform) and enabled the sharing of knowledge and data. Additionally, we ensured that the ethnical diversity was balanced which helped to jointly find solutions.
We also accelerated high performance in execution by focusing on three topics:
- Goal-driven actions: We eliminated individual goals that were tied to functional areas (development, test, system engineering). The teams optimized their KPIs to DORA focusing on customer value, setting up common team goals, and celebrated when they achieved a significant impact to the business results. DORA KPIs measure lead time for changes, deployment frequency, time to restore services, and change failure rate.
- Lean value stream: We ran trainings on (technical) value stream mapping where teams learned about their responsibilities in managing the stream, from ideation to production and optimization through finding and eliminating bottlenecks. IT needs to shift their thinking from fixing bugs to solving issues collaboratively by changing the source code with all parties involved. We helped co-design processes (change management, incident management, problem management, software development process) and created tracer bullet teams that tested the new process on one of the high-risk platforms. The bullet tracer teams cleared a way for other teams to execute processes and adopt a can-do mindset.
- Acceleration and optimization: We employed lean processes and fostered an automate-everything mindset to optimize the time from idea to deployment, enabling a more sustainable working culture. The teams started to understand the need for speed and rapid iterations, and that this speed comes from the right techniques and not forced labor.
Culture change is not done overnight. We continuously measure progress with our DevOps culture assessment that is based on the four focus topics around continuous innovation and three focus topics around high performance in execution. Our client asked all its members to place customer needs at the center of their operating model, product development, processes, and business model – rather than the other way around, as it had done for years. But despite the challenges, they recognized how truly crucial it was to change. And now, they are recognizing the benefits of shifting their cultural DNA, able to adapt to the uncertainty of business disruption more smoothly than they would have before.
Company culture matters, and this is true more than ever. Remote working can exacerbate siloes and difficulties in streamlining processes. DevOps empowers organizations to break down these silos, collaborate, and deliver to customers in an accelerated way, even when teams are all operating apart. By embedding the DevOps culture of continuous innovation and high performance into your organization, you too can navigate the unknown waters and cut through to the new destination.