Leading Through Change in the DevOps World
February 13, 2019

Michael Hackett
LogiGear

DevOps continues to gain significant momentum as teams look to master Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD). This is transforming how and what is being developed and released. As a result, software development teams and organizations continue to undergo rapid change. Not only that, but teams are also getting increasingly more diverse, in location (with home office workers, fully distributed teams and in-office staff), generation (with Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen Xers), gender and culture. This much change to both team structure and processes is a lot for leaders to handle.

So how do the technical and people managers in DevOps adjust? First, the era of traditional leadership is over, meaning you're now in the role of being a servant leader. Instead of controlling teams, you're now supporting them, protecting them, and enabling their success so they can thrive. Knowledge workers actually demand this. While this can be a positive approach, it can also be difficult to manage effectively with all the change happening around you.

In today's development world, successful leaders make teams an active part of process and vision shifts. The following are some key factors for successfully implementing change:

Get Team Buy-In

It's vital to enroll people in the new vision. That means sharing your plan and explaining how it will benefit customers, the staff, the product, and the company. Talk about the problem you need to solve, detail out the alternatives that were considered. Know and explain the why of this change. The reality is: disruption is essential to successful businesses today and it drives innovation. If you're able to detail the benefits of commencing change, the fear slowly diminishes. Also, ensure this information is shared face-to-face when possible.

Avoid the all-too-common situation of a CEO or Director of Development type standing up and preaching "the new approach." I still see bad Scrum practices as a result of team's not having culture change along with process change. Teams need to buy-in so you can eliminate responses like "They don't understand what we do" or "They're clueless."

Be Consistent

This applies to a variety of activities. When outlining and explaining change, be consistent across groups, individuals, etc. Expect excellence, not perfection. Be honest when things don't go as planned. For example, a core idea of DevOps is more collaboration and feedback. If you say you want more feedback, you need to be open to it! Increase your listening skills. Take feedback seriously.

Also, when the team agrees to a change, stick to it. Often, when the rubber hits the road, some people fall back into abandoned habits. Don't cave or else you'll lose credibility.

Embrace Diversity

The product development and corporate employee landscape has changed. The new variety of workers will force you to be a better leader, especially when it comes to new process and technology adoption, and the expertise and mindsets these different groups possess. Spend time to learn more about your team members and what drives them to succeed. Then tailor your approach (or style) to support them and the team accordingly.

For example, in the development world, Baby Boomers often first react to management and leadership in very sophisticated ways. For instance, they tend to want to be part of the decision-making process and have a desire for continuous learning. Whereas Millennials often first look for leaders that are authentic, fully communicative, challenging, and responsive to change.

(Note: The word diversity caries a lot of different meanings. I'm not trying to make blanket generalizations. However, do know the landscape of teams is more complicated today and it's the leadership that needs to adapt, not the developers. Individuals need to work together, communicate and collaborate, even when they differ greatly in both life experience and background.)

Teach Don't Preach

Issues, complaints, and problems always arise when implementing change. Instead of running from these moments, use them as an opportunity to teach team members. Productively talk about how the issue occurred and what can be done to rectify them, or how the process can be modified to eliminate the problem in the future. Fail fast is part of the new development culture; use problems that arise as an opportunity to address failure, and re-shift your focus back to the overall vision.

When change is done properly, it heavily supports the notion of continuous learning, which is an important characteristic for development teams to possess. While, it may be a CEO that stands up at an annual meeting and makes grand statements about their vision, it's the team leads, project managers, Scrum Masters, development leads, and test leads that have to execute on those plans to make them into reality. Leading through change is the most difficult part of being a leader. Enrolling your team in that change is the first step toward success.

Michael Hackett is Co-Founder and SVP at LogiGear
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