At its core, DevOps is about bringing Development and Operations teams together to create greater efficiency, accuracy, and returns. But while many organizations create the necessary technical processes to promote DevOps, too little attention is paid to its culture.
The best tools and processes cannot produce true DevOps without a culture of collaboration and buy-in. Some organizations still fail to see the role of culture in DevOps, while others expect a mature DevOps culture to evolve overnight. Either way, this reveals a misunderstanding of what DevOps culture is and how teams can successfully create one. In what follows, we address the what and the how of DevOps culture by debunking six of the most common misconceptions.
1. Faster releases means we have DevOps culture
It's commonly thought that faster releases symbolize DevOps culture, because a rapid release cadence is the hallmark of Agile ways of working. But there are many flaws with this thinking. As the Agile Manifesto itself states, teams should value "individuals and interactions over processes and tools" — the heart of Agile is culture rather than process changes.
Further, pursuing faster releases without paying attention to a DevOps culture of collaboration often results in burnout or dissent between development teams and business users. By fostering cultural changes alongside release changes, teams can move towards a holistic and sustainable approach to DevOps.
2. Great culture looks the same in every team
Though you may be inspired by the examples of other organizations, it's critical to remember that great culture isn't defined by specific characteristics. One of the pillars of Agile, for example, is that "the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation." While this may ring true for some teams, it won't for others. In the world of hybrid work, we're constantly evolving and using technology to support us in creating great cultures. For example, some tools allow teams to collaborate asynchronously, with fully visible records of conversations and decisions made. Vastly different approaches can still promote a successful DevOps culture for different organizations.
3. Change comes from the top down
It's common in business to need an "executive sponsor" to ensure the success of a project, be it new software development, technology implementation, or process change. While this certainly can remove barriers for other initiatives, an executive sponsor isn't required to develop a DevOps culture. Rather, a DevOps Center of Excellence should include a variety of positions and levels of seniority, proving that cultural buy-in is necessary across the organization.
As others see a "champion" team that effectively communicates and collaborates, giving them "permission" to operate in the same way. This prosocial modeling reinforces the need for DevOps culture and motivates all to act in this way.
4. Culture can change overnight
Culture can't change overnight. It's not as simple as distributing a memo, email, or conveying changes in a meeting and expecting this new way of working to be instantaneously adopted. Culture doesn't just exist in theory, it has to be lived in practice. It only becomes ingrained when you put values into practice. The benefits of implementing more transparent feedback cycles, or more continual digital communication, will only be realized through repetition, embedding these values over time. Culture is what you do continually, not what you do one time or occasionally.
5. Culture change is frictionless
Even if you're steadily implementing cultural change, you'll still encounter friction. In the business of people, there's always some tension. Opinions ebb and flow while business requirements change. A shift in culture, or the way things are done to improve culture, is bound to discombobulate some folks. This is inevitable, especially in larger teams. Humans, by nature, are often resistant to change, and many find comfort in a "we've always done it this way!" mentality. Recognizing this challenge from the start will allow you to set realistic expectations for cultural change and address concerns about these changes head-on.
6. Positive culture can't be measured
The final misconception is that culture can't be measured, or the benefits of culture can't be tied to a metric. Technical teams are used to measuring DevOps performance with the DORA metrics. But culture underpins performance, and can be tied to those technical metrics. Moreover, if your company regularly measures employee sentiment, attitudes will improve. You'll also have more engaged employees, higher retention rates and greater well-being — all of which contributes to reduced operational costs.