The DevOps culture, and how to change it in your team

By / January 22, 2016 /

The world of DevOps thrives on process enhancement, improvement of the Application Lifecycle Management and above all – the culture change. During the last couple of years, we’ve seen enormous amounts of information about potential benefits of changing the culture during a project. Yet the actual way of going about it remains a mystery.

What is it, that makes people change their demeanor personally, as well as professionally? For most DevOps teams, this question represents a big challenge. Below, you can read about my attempt at an answer.

Develop coherence within the team

One thing that you have to know while implementing DevOps (or cooperating with DevOps consultants) is that fun and engagement are the prerequisites for high performance. There are many ways to achieve this – from group meetings, to team parties, to goal setting exercises – anything that will make people feel they’re a part of something bigger.

Each time you introduce a new member to a team, gather up, engage with him and try to create some basis for productive communication. You don’t have to make them wrestle in mud or do bungee jumping, but it’s good to identify at least one sport or activity that all of team members could perform (such as bowling, soccer or badminton) and get get it rolling. Keep in mind that it’s not a competition and the participation in the game is not mandatory. In this game, everyone’s a winner and it’s more about the team spirit than anything else.

Another thing that you might use to relieve tension and make people know each other are the ‘ol good team outings. Explore some new restaurants and pubs, go to the cinema and discuss things in an informal way. The main thing is to get to know each other and learn about other people’s interests away from the workplace. By all means, you should avoid excess alcohol and try to stay away from topics such as religion or politics

When you’re back to the office, try to get your Scrum on ASAP. While some people criticize it, I feel that it makes people more open and gets them to contribute more – especially the shy ones. What’s more, Scrum involves all the peeps from the corporate ladder so that’s another cohesion building block right there. The crucial thing about Scrum are the daily stand up meetings. Don’t skip them no matter what, and if you’re not there, delegate them to a trusted co-worker. The classic management rule “inspect what you expect” comes to mind here.

Develop motivators for your team

Human beings are fallible, but you can easily minimize the amount of mistakes that they make. Calling each other names, taking your toys away and going to home is clearly not a good solution. Rather, you should make them pay for the misconduct! Imagine a situation where each of you has to pay a small sum of money for every mistake you make (Say, new bugs, missing the deadlines etc.) You will see dramatic changes in the behavior, because it’s not about the cash, it’s about accountability. By all means, you shouldn’t consider it an ethical robbery and give the money to charity or buy candies at the end of the month.

However, if candies are not your food of choice, you might consider giving the time tested “employee of the month” award to the person who caused the least amount of problems and please them further with cinema tickets, visit to the spa or a nice dinner for two. While some of these ideas might seem expensive, it’s good to consider them as they provide higher levels of motivation and stress relief for the tensed-up team members.

Let your colleagues evolve

Your people are not just as a bunch of expendable resources. If you let them shine, they can become extraordinary assets for your company – and it’s your job to make that happen. Encourage them to talk, to present their own ideas, give feedback, and above all, keep up the constant communication (this is where the most managers drop the ball). A person who’s left to their own devices will quickly become disheartened and unmotivated.

Again, implementing Scrum can be really helpful here. If someone is not performing as well as you expect, try to team them up with others for peer-programming or peer testing sessions. In this way, you’ll let people get out of their comfort zones and ensure higher productivity.

Represent values

Never forget where you came from. You might be a high ranking manager now, but still, it took you a long time to learn all the values you want your employees to represent. In other words – you must lead by example.

As we all know, DevOps is not an easy job. It might get pretty stressful, especially at the beginning when there’s a lot of tension and uncertainty. Keep up the positive attitude, and take responsibility for the results you’re achieving. If it means staying later and working harder – pay the price. The culture of the company always comes from the top. If the team doesn’t see dedication on your side, the results will be sporadic. Be what Jim Collins calls “the level 5 leader” – not the bossy person who shouts “you’re fired” every five minutes, but rather a helper, a developer of human potential, a friend.

Going about changing the culture while working on the project is hard work, but it’s definitely possible if you spend a lot of time on helping and developing others. In social psychology, there is a concept called “the ripple effect.” It basically means that emotions are quickly transferred throughout the group of people. Be the person who spreads the positive vibes in the office, use the above tips and you’ll tie up the Dev with the Ops like magic.

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