5 ways CIOs can prepare teams for DevOps success

Moving to DevOps requites IT leaders and teams to make big changes, from adjusting talent strategies to celebrating small wins. Take these steps to ease the transition
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At one time, companies could get away with waterfall development – but that time has passed. Businesses can no longer afford to wait on application development that’s moving at a crawl: That's why many organizations are making the switch to DevOps.

DevOps focuses on creating more collaboration between development personnel and operations IT staff from as early as the concept stage of an application all the way through production. This sounds simple enough, but it’s easier said than done.

[ Want more advice? Read DevOps lessons learned: What I wish I knew sooner. ]

If you have only ever used traditional approaches to application development, making the change to DevOps can be rife with challenges. However, while you’re sure to experience ups and downs, you can take steps to make the transition easier. Here’s where to start.

1. Support from the top 

When you tell your employees you’re switching to DevOps, you may be met with resistance – starting at the top of your organizational pyramid. 

You won’t realize how attached you are to waterfall techniques until you turn away from them.

You won’t realize how attached you are to waterfall techniques until you turn away from them. Many organizations find themselves trying to manage DevOps the same way they managed waterfall, and that doesn’t work. 

Train your leadership team on the new tools and methodologies, and make sure they’re involved in the day-to-day processes. Earning executive buy-in is one thing, but seeing the leadership team engaged in the process will draw in everyone else. 

[ For more advice on winning over reluctant leaders, read DevOps: What’s in it for managers? ]

2. Shift your management style

Your project managers can no longer be task managers alone. They must become facilitators, focusing on motivating their team members and making sure everyone is committed to the journey ahead. 

Changing roles, expectations, tools, and processes is a big adjustment, and some team members may find the changes more difficult than others. While most employees will view the change as an opportunity to expand their skill set, some employees will decide it’s not for them and move on. To get employees on board, it’s important to clearly communicate why you are making the change to DevOps, the impact it will have on their roles, and why it will be better for them and the company in the long run.

By shifting your management style, you not only set yourself up for DevOps success but also ensure your team comes along for the ride. 

3. Retrain the team you have

Your first instinct might be to hire new employees who already possess the skills necessary for DevOps to quickly get up and running – but in a tough hiring market, that can be challenging. And the market for DevOps talent is incredibly competitive right now. For many companies, it can be tough to attract good practitioners, even if you have the budget. 

Your current team's base level business understanding is incredibly valuable.

While it might take a little longer, retraining the team you have can be a better option. Your current employees already have the background knowledge of your business that they can bring to the new DevOps approach. That base level business understanding is incredibly valuable.
If you want your employees to take the journey to DevOps with you, investing in retraining builds their skill set and shows your commitment to their professional development. 

4. Use agile as a stepping stone 

The waterfall methodology is easily one of the most rigid approaches to project management out there. It’s linear in fashion, preventing any real flexibility in the development process. You know exactly what you’re supposed to do at each particular stage, and you can’t move forward until each piece of the puzzle is finished.

To go from waterfall, where you do all the coding and then test everything, to DevOps, where you code, test, and deploy each individual aspect of the project, is a big leap. You can make the transition easier by moving from waterfall to agile first. The agile methodology, where you code and test individual parts and then deploy when everything is up to par, is a healthy medium between waterfall and DevOps. 

Start by using agile for a small project to give your employees a chance to adjust and learn new skills without throwing them completely into the deep end. After the small project, bring more teams into agile.

Once your employees gain more experience, make the switch from agile to DevOps. At this point, everyone will be more comfortable and you’ll be glad you didn’t rush the process. 

5. Celebrate every success

The journey to DevOps is not always easy. It’s important to keep your employees believing in the journey. Therefore, celebrate every success, no matter how small it is. This will keep everyone motivated during the transition. You’ll quickly find that success breeds success.

Change is never easy. But if you’re ready to make the move to DevOps and throw away the rigid waterfall methodology, you’ll gain flexibility, improve teamwork, speed up delivery timelines, and stabilize your operating environment. More importantly, you’ll have more time and opportunity to continually innovate and improve your user experience.

The real question is, what are you waiting for?

[ What do great agile leaders do differently? Read How to be a stronger DevOps leader: 9 tips. ]

Chris Fielding is the Chief Information Officer for Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS). She joined the company in 2008 and held several positions before taking on her current role in January of 2018. A seasoned IT leader with over 30 years of experience in the global arena, Chris previously held senior-level positions at TIBCO, Vodafone and Oracle.