In 2019, Gartner predicted that by 2023, 90% of DevOps initiatives will fail to fully meet the expectations of their implementing organization.
Does this number surprise — or even shock — you?
There are many reasons why your organization’s DevOps dreams fall short, and Rachel Brozinick, HIKE2 Solution Architect, has made it a priority to find out why initiatives fail and what organizations can do about it.
In this post, adapted from Rachel’s presentation at the 2023 DevOps Dreamin’ conference in Chicago, she breaks down likely failure points and gives you a roadmap for beating the odds.
Common DevOps Challenges
“My mom has a cookbook called Fix-it and Forget-it. The idea is that you can take a bunch of ingredients, put them in a crockpot, and six hours later you’ll magically have a warm, gooey, delicious, cheesy dish. Everyone’s happy because they get to eat cheese and live happily ever after,” Rachel says.
“Unfortunately, there’s not a recipe that lets you throw people and processes together and expect to get a great DevOps process.”
DevOps, Rachel explains, is really more like a game of Tetris. The goal of the game is to line up the block pieces, called tetrominoes, as they fall. When you create a solid horizontal line, it’s a win.
The game is relatively easy in the beginning. But as it progresses, the pieces fall faster and you’ll never get the exact pieces that you want.
Think about your DevOps, solutions architect, or BA journey over the last couple of months:
- Have you had unfinished priorities pile up that prevented you from getting over the finish line?
- Have you been handed last-minute curveballs that you had to shoehorn in with your other priorities?
- Have you felt like you weren’t given the right pieces of information to complete a priority?
You’re not alone. When Rachel asked the same questions at DevOPs conferences, everyone in the room raised their hands at least some of the time. These challenges are common.
Why Do DevOps Projects Fail?
Cultural resistance and low levels of process discipline are often behind significant failure rates for your DevOps initiatives.
Let’s look at the primary reasons in detail.
1. Not grounding in customer value
Failing to connect with business outcomes and the value they bring to internal customers leaves your projects at risk. For example, a salesperson may initially feel skeptical of change — but if you tell her that the site will be up 20% more (translating to more sales) she’ll be on board.
2. Not managing culture change
Tools are never a solution to a cultural problem. As Bill Gates said, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Think about how often you’ve seen how these rules work in your experience.
Gene Kim, the author of The Phoenix Project and The DevOps Handbook says the biggest and most difficult obstacles tend to be cultural. Even if you get everything else right, if you get the culture wrong, you’re headed for frustration, extra cost, and likely failure.
3. Lack of collaboration
Most DevOps efforts are focused in operations groups, but you can’t improve your time to value without buy-in from the whole organization. Include all your stakeholders in collaboration. Make the effort to ensure that operations and Dev teams are working together and speaking the same language — your efforts will pay off.
4. Trying to do too much too quickly
Trying to deliver DevOps projects in one fell swoop, a.k.a., in a Big Bang, leads to a high risk of failure. According to Richard Owen, Product Manager at Gearset and DevOps Dreamin’ speaker, only 9% of companies that adopt a Big Bang approach are likely to succeed — especially if you’re a large IT organization. Don’t be like TLC. Don’t go chasing waterfalls, or you’ll set yourself up for failure.
5. Unrealistic expectations
Last but not least, there’s often a disconnect between the organization’s expectations for DevOps and what it can actually deliver. Be sure to set clear expectations and goals and have something to measure against. For example, if you decide to do one deploy per month, stick to your rules. If you don’t, you’ll never know whether you’re improving.
5 Traits of Dysfunctional Teams
So how do we manage team culture?
With guidance from a business fable known as Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. When you know the most common pitfalls teams tend to fall into, you can take steps to avoid them.
1. Inattention to team results
Prioritizing personal success places individual status and ego before your team’s success. If team members are focused on achieving personal goals, they’ll be less likely to pitch in to help the group.
2. Avoiding accountability
Ducking the responsibility to call out peers and superiors on counterproductive behavior sets low standards. For example, if the team agrees to work on a deployment at a certain time and someone shows up an hour late, team members need to hold each other accountable, even if it’s uncomfortable. Otherwise, you risk creating resentment and animosity.
3. Lack of commitment
It’s tough to get buy-in from the organization when project outcomes are ambiguous and there’s no clarity around goals. If a colleague asks you to help build a Salesforce case management system, for example, you’ll need to answer many questions first: how big is the organization? What systems are already in place? What challenges are they facing? What specific results do they want? It’s impossible to commit until you get clarity.
4. Fear of conflict
Seeking artificial harmony over constructive, passionate debate may feel more comfortable, but ultimately it undermines team success. Everyone wants to be happy in their work group, especially when they spend so much time together. But if more aggressive team members can steamroll over quieter ones with different opinions, it will stifle innovation. Keeping your mouth shut and going with the flow can ultimately be detrimental to a successful outcome.
5. The absence of trust
Lack of trust rears its head when team members are unwilling to be vulnerable within the group. This can be especially tough for younger coworkers or new team members who are still adjusting to an unfamiliar environment and different personalities.
So how do you counteract these dysfunctions?
Empowering Your DevOps Team
The single most untapped competitive advantage is teamwork.
Whenever teams work together, they’ll be more innovative and competitive. They’ll also be more likely to reach their goals.
So let’s walk through the different ways to form a team.
When you look at the pyramid, you’ll see that trust is the foundation. You need trust in order to reach the summit of the pyramid.
1. Set the stage for trust
Build an environment where everyone feels safe bringing their authentic selves to discussions. Your whole team should feel confident in being able to talk freely without being ignored, shot down, or ridiculed.
2. Engage in conflict around ideas
Once team members feel like they can be themselves, you can start to have debates about ideas. We all have different experiences. We come from different places and backgrounds. You never know what ideas might come up, and this is where innovation happens.
3. Commit to decisions
Once everyone feels they can be open and actively debate topics, teams can really commit to decisions because everyone feels like their voices are being heard. Coworkers feel like they have skin in the game so they’re more likely to agree to decisions.
4. Hold each other accountable
When team members can be open and authentic with each other and commit to decisions then they can hold each other accountable. Going back to the example of someone showing up late, if coworkers can agree that they’ll be on time in the future or take on an extra hour to lessen the burden on someone else, it allows for collaboration and improves morale.
5. Focus on achieving collective results
Once the four bottom levels are in place, that’s when teams can really succeed. If you’re looking to improve your deployments, say for example, moving from one to three deploys per month and you have that team foundation in place, you’ll greatly improve your chances of success. It might take some trial and error but you will get there in time.
So how do you encourage a strong team culture?
Building a Culture on Continuous Collaboration
Simple steps can go a long way to building a strong team culture. Here are 5 common aspects of building a continuous collaboration culture:
1. Encourage conversation
Teams that work together tend to play together and talk to each other, so encourage developers and operations teams to spend time together and do things that aren’t directly work related, like having lunch together and scheduling regular walks. It all helps build empathy and trust.
2. Go for swift wins
Success breeds success, so focus on small, quick wins. Maybe after you buy the tool, start thinking about your release schedule and then implement agile if your organization isn’t doing that yet. Small wins make your team more confident, and confidence snowballs. Set reasonable success goals and metrics and execute against them.
3. Standardize toolsets and processes
If Dev and Operations have different tool sets, it’s going to be really hard for them to work with each other. The same tool sets and processes mean there’s a single source of truth. Systems can speak the same language and teams can talk to each other, which fosters more collaboration.
4. Build empathy
Work on seeing your colleagues’ perspectives as well as your customers’. Empathy helps you innovate and succeed.
5. Be patient
Don’t push culture change simply for its own sake. Remember it takes practice. You’ll have some failures but keep going.
Invest in the Right Training for your DevOps Team
Gearset publishes an annual State of DevOps report. This year they included the areas your team should train in to succeed in 2023. At the top of the list are collaboration and teamwork.
We don’t know what’s going to be happening within the next 6 to 12 months in the business world, but if your organization is going to be competitive, you’ll need to make the most of continuous, collaborative teamwork.