DevOps culture: 5 questions to ask about yours

Is your team is creating a DevOps culture that can last – or one that is destined for failure? These questions can be illuminating
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At its core, DevOps is a marriage between culture and automation tools, helping teams release better software more quickly. While there are plenty of innovative tools fueling DevOps, those tools mean little if the culture doesn’t support the objectives of the team.

When evaluating your DevOps culture, it’s important to take an honest look at your team to gauge the health of your culture and identify areas where it can improve. Ask yourself these questions to see if your team is creating a culture that can last – or brewing one that is destined for failure.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

1. Do team members respect one another?

It’s nearly impossible to build a healthy culture when team members don’t respect one another. A lack of respect is easy to spot. Do team members hold back their opinions because they are fearful of being belittled by others or know their ideas won’t be taken seriously?

This suppression of ideas hurts the team and creates a toxic culture where people don’t feel their opinion is valued. A survey by TinyPulse found that 26 percent of employees said they were more likely to leave their job if they feel disrespected by their colleagues.

When the DevOps team learns to value each other’s input, buy-in and ownership grow.

Team members should be encouraged to speak freely. Everyone should have the opportunity to voice their opinion, and the team shouldn’t take a judgemental stance on anyone’s viewpoint. Ideas should be discussed on their merits. When the team learns to value each other’s input, the buy-in and ownership grow as each member sees their unique contribution to the whole. Any team member who can’t respect others may have to be given a new role outside of the team. No one person’s value is significant enough to justify serving as a roadblock to the team’s success.

2. Are you fostering a culture of trust?

The dynamic of trust in DevOps teams exists between employees and their managers as well as between co-workers. No one is an island on a DevOps team. Co-workers must rely on one another to do their jobs effectively. If a member sets unrealistic estimates or doesn’t pull their weight, it can weaken the efforts of the entire team. Employees must work to establish that trust with their team members.

Equally important is the team’s trust in management. In the same TinyPulse survey, 61 percent of employees reported trust in senior management as key to their job satisfaction. From the C-level down, management should actively take part in the DevOps journey, supporting their teams every step of the way. Management should help provide the vision that fuels the team’s goals and avoid the temptation of derailing them by shifting priorities mid-sprint.

Team members need to know the value they add to the organization is being seen by management.

3. Is everyone in the team involved in scrum?

From QA to operations, aim to have the whole DevOps team participate.

DevOps pulls in members from different departments throughout the organization in order to work towards a common goal of delivering a great product. Some teams constrain the conversation when it comes to daily scrum meetings. If the developers only meet with the project managers to map out their day, you lose the input of key stakeholders, and things will inevitably slip through the cracks.

From QA to operations, aim to have the whole DevOps team participate in the conversation. This allows everyone from the team to have input. Misunderstood requirements are clarified. Potential blockers are flagged so the team can work to remove impediments.

Regularly introducing this fresh perspective from other departments helps the team think about the project holistically instead of being isolated within their own silo.

[ What tools can help? Read also: Top 7 open source project management tools for agile teams. ]

4. Is the team co-located?

In an ideal world, the whole scrum team is occupying the same space. The same space doesn’t just mean they work in the same building or are spread across separate floors or departmental cubicle farms. The same space means the team is within arm’s reach of one another.

Being co-located allows the team to easily call an impromptu meeting to discuss a problem that has arisen. It allows select members of the team to quickly break off to whiteboard a solution for a feature that is failing to gel. In addition to removing blockers in real time, working in a dynamic environment like this builds bonds between employees that can be difficult to replicate when the team is working remotely or simply spread across different cities, buildings, or floors within the organization.

However, remote teams have become more common for a variety of reasons, and you can build culture on a dispersed team: Consider these 5 tips for strengthening culture on remote teams.

5. Does the team share in success?

Most managers assume their teams are working towards a common set of goals. But if you actually take the time to ask each individual on the team what that objective is, their answers might surprise you.

It’s essential that each team member is focusing their efforts on the same end goal. These are set DevOps goals that are measurable, and each should have a number attached.

Maybe you want to meet an 80 percent satisfaction rate by your user community.

Maybe you want to meet an 80 percent satisfaction rate by your user community. Perhaps you want to decrease the reported bug count in your releases by 10 percent. When you are working against hard numbers, it’s easy to judge success or failure. The team should have rewards tied to these goals, whether it's bonuses or an afternoon at the local go-kart track. The key is every member should be working in sync and trying to help the team achieve the common goal.

Culture is tough to get right. There isn’t a book you can read or a set of directions to follow that leads to the ideal culture. Each organization is different, and it takes time and experimentation to discover what fits your team best. Asking the right questions is always a great place to start. The answers can help you build a DevOps culture that employees love and that helps the organization achieve its goals.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free Ebook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Mark Runyon works as a director of consulting for Improving. For the past 20 years, he has designed and implemented innovative technology solutions for companies in the finance, logistics, and pharmaceutical space. He is a frequent speaker at technology conferences and is a contributing writer at InformationWeek.