7 DevOps lessons learned in 2018

Learn from your peers' DevOps mistakes – before you hit trouble. DevOps experts talk burnout, adoption strategy, talent, and more
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People in IT continue to debate the name "DevOps," but there’s no denying its significance in the enterprise today. As Flint Brenton, CEO of CollabNet VersionOne, recently noted, “Its relationship with supporting methodologies like agile and continuous delivery are well and painstakingly documented. As DevOps has adapted and changed over the years, it has become a fundamental building block for many enterprise-level development pipelines.”

[ Read our related story:  DevOps culture: 3 ways to strengthen yours in 2019 ]

As 2018 comes to a close, we asked experts to reflect on the lessons they learned this year as they’ve refined their DevOps strategy. Read on for wisdom you can use to illuminate the path to DevOps success in 2019.

1. Beware burnout while chasing DevOps' biggest opportunities 

Carmen DeArdo, senior value stream management strategist, Tasktop: One lesson learned came from a recent talk I gave at Southern Fried Agile. The gap between companies that are further on their DevOps journey and the ones that are not is growing. During the talk, I asked the audience of around 200 participants two questions:

  1. How many treat their delivery pipeline tooling as an integrated product with a product owner and an architect?
  2. How many have any measure of how long it takes for them to deliver a feature or defect?

In both cases, not one person raised their hand. Companies that are ahead of the curve would be raising their hands. These are opportunities for 2019.

Companies need to do a better job of measuring and managing work in progress and team happiness.

Another lesson for DevOps teams: Companies need to do a better job of measuring and managing work in progress and team happiness – because there is a correlation. Overloaded teams aren't happy and aren't productive, and the human cost can be severe. Teams need to have a sustainable pace of work that is managed and measured to ensure teams and individuals don't suffer from burnout.”

2. Rethink your management structure

Mike Bursell, chief security architect, Red Hat: “If your organization works on a model where managers are incentivized to build large teams, set specific short-term targets, micro-manage their resources, and just keep accruing larger and larger budgets, then the adoption of DevOps will be an overwhelmingly negative experience for them. They will fight against it, refuse to assign their team members to DevOps projects, and, when pushed into doing so, will attempt to stop them from participating fully in the DevOps process and generally find ways to be obstructive.

“Managers must be encouraged to move from a culture where they are rewarded for growing and maintaining a large set of reports to one where they are measured and remunerated when they develop their team into one where the members are expected to move, and mobility in and out of the team is seen as a positive…specifically, where people move in and out of various reporting structures, with their first loyalty not to the manager, but to the projects and the organization. This is a big change, but it is one which will eventually lead to a happier, more productive and more valued team, and one which will lead to better, more effective, and more valued managers.”

[ Trouble getting your managers on board? Read the full article by Mike Bursell: DevOps: What’s in it for managers? ]

3. Look for T-shaped talent

Jayne Groll, CEO, DevOps Institute: “The need for upskilled and cross-skilled talent is on the rise as the market recognizes the need for T-shaped professionals whose core competence (the stem) is supplemented by a broad scope of other knowledge, including soft skills (top of the T). Skilling is a human endeavor that supports both transformational and cultural goals. Since the lack of new skills is a recognized constraint, then the investment in people will continue to be as significant to transformation as is the investment in automation.”

4. Automation does not equal mission accomplished

In 2018 I have seen a new ‘failure’ pattern emerge: the techno-optimist.

Mirco Hering, APAC lead for DevOps & Agile, Accenture: “In 2018 I have seen a new ‘failure’ pattern emerge: the techno-optimist. We are past the days where we had to educate stakeholders that DevOps is a good thing, which is great. But now we see places where the focus is purely on what can be or is already automated. Those places have hired or built some excellent tech people, but the management of the overall process has sometimes been lost. You see live dashboards of all the instrumented processes, and yet business benefits are not materializing. When you look closer, you realize that the code itself is not built in meaningful increments or that the automated part of the process is managed, but all the ad-hoc or manual steps required for the automation to work are not.

In 2019, we need to focus on the incremental nature of DevOps. We need to manage the transition with the same rigor that we envision for the ideal ‘DevOps state.’ Increasing automation of an end-to-end process over time is more difficult than just building a new fully automated process. Let’s make sure we talk about how we can do this better.”

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.