How business culture affects IT development and operations

By Des Walker

How does business culture impact your ability to deliver new services, products, and innovations underpinned by IT? We’ve worked with the IT teams of some of the UK’s most respected businesses, and want to share what we’ve learned in a series of articles. That’s why we’re looking at the top 10 challenges organisations face when deciding whether to adopt DevOps, starting with the critical area of culture.

The importance of culture

Companies talk about having a culture of collaboration, but the reality we encounter on the ground is often quite different. A good analogy is that developers want to deliver IT change as fast as possible, whereas operations just want stability. The two groups have materially different aims and are measured by two mutually exclusive sets of KPIs.

This separation of aims gets in the way of collaboration. For example, one of our large clients had a gated change-approval board. At this board, work had to be justified before any change could be approved. This approval board became not the quality gate it should be, but became the ‘stand-off’ caused by the different aims of the groups. One group protects the user experience and system stability at all costs, and another prioritises innovation at all costs. How do we move away from a culture where developers only care about quantity, and operations only focus on up-time?

Our top 4 solutions for solving cultural blockages:

1. Collaboration

DevOps collaboration isn’t as simple as creating a new department or job title. That creates another silo - when instead you need to be breaking down barriers between teams.

To increase the end to end pace of delivery, you must get developers and operations to work together day-to-day. If the two groups only meet at formal gated stages, they won’t be able to cooperate effectively, and resentment quite easily builds up. Once operations understand what’s involved in development, and vice versa, it’s possible to break down friction and foster collaboration.

2. Measuring Success

If organisations want faster delivery, leadership should look to measure operations and developers on mutually beneficial criteria. Ask yourself, do your KPI’s incentivise change?

By having IT teams with different sets of KPIs, leaders might be getting in the way of effective delivery. Recognise that your operations team shouldn’t be measured simply on up-time and stability; measure them instead on the volume of reliable change deployed. If developers are measured on stability as well as the quantity of change, the two groups become interdependent.

3. No blame culture

We regularly see the age-old habit of kicking IT when things go wrong. Organisations must engender a greater awareness of how IT work, so there’s awareness of how hard and time-consuming it can be to fix problems. In many of our Clients, we see the creation of additional process and bureaucracy after each and every major incident. Instead, organisations should be seeking to change the culture to accept that mistakes happen and focus on how to minimise these via improved delivery practices. Creating this ‘no-blame’ culture between and within teams leads to faster and more effective innovation.

Culture is more than just a buzzword, it should be embedded into ways of working. It’s all very well to say that you work in agile ways, but the truth in organisations can often be far from that. We want to make teams less afraid of failure; when it’s OK to make mistakes things move faster.

4. Start small

Finally, a powerful way of changing culture is to start small and prove new ways of working from the ground up. If you start working in a new, collaborative, ‘no-blame’ way on a single project, it takes the pressure off enacting wholesale organisational change.

We recommend that you measure a teams effectiveness by how much they need external parties for decision making. Give the team self-sufficiency and then step back and see what happens. Often, you’ll find a new model for working emerges. Netflix and Facebook were built using this agile model. Of course, we appreciate that some organisations have legacy processes and procedures, so this isn’t always possible. But that’s where we come in, changing how Enterprises deliver.

Do you need DevOps support?

We take our customers from the initial idea to having a new system or functionality, by the quickest route possible. Where are you spending your development time? Whether it’s environment management, data provision or automation of testing, DevOps can help you if you struggle to get collaboration from IT and your development teams. If you want to chat directly you can contact me here.