It’s Time for Leadership to Own DevOps

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It’s Time for Leadership to Own DevOps

Leadership determines the success or failure of DevOps. Learn how to strategize your transformation to ensure success in your organization.

· DevOps Zone ·
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DevOps has become more than a trend—it’s a survival imperative for the enterprise. In today’s digital economy, software innovation drives business innovation.  The faster developers can deliver on the next wave of software innovation, the faster the business can deliver customer value, bring new revenue streams online, and respond to market events. DevOps practices across the enterprise can deliver business results at the speed and quality customers expect.  

Many IT organizations start their DevOps journey implementing automation and tools only to quickly face hurdles when trying to scale DevOps practices across the organization.  Their journey starts to take a detour as they struggle with organizational boundaries, unwieldy system-wide processes, and cultural resistance to change. It’s common to blame the people and teams that are not getting on board, but to quote Edward Deming, “People work in the system, management creates the system.”

Implementing DevOps requires transforming the system and only management can drive this change.  Leadership commitment and ownership are essential. If management is not on board you either have to help them understand why they should be or ask yourself, “Am I working at the right company?” 

There are many reasons leadership can be reluctant to change. Executives are faced with two very different sorts of risk: “sinking the ship” happens when leadership makes a bold move that fails, and “missing the boat” is when leadership fails to make a bold move that likely would have succeeded.  Even in the best of times, enterprise executives are more concerned with sinking the ship than they are with missing the boat. This resistance to change is difficult to overcome. However, in the 21st century, organizational agility and the ability to adapt to changes in the marketplace is a core competency rather than an option. In the digital era, if you miss the boat with DevOps, you will sink the ship.  

To lead in this DevOps transformation, leaders must develop a transformational leadership style. The concept of transformational leadership was initially introduced by James V. Downton and further developed by presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns. To become a transformational leader, one must:

1. Create a vision of the future

2. Manage delivery of the vision

3. Build trust-based relationships with people

4. Motivate people to deliver on the vision

Let’s dive further into the four pillars of transformational leadership and see how they align to DevOps transformation.

Create a Vision of the Future

Leaders need to inspire followers and align them to a common mission. “Inspirational motivation” is created by setting a clear vision and direction for the organization.  The DevOps transformation should be aligned with the overall objectives of the business. For example, if the plan is to drive success through new business innovation, then the direction for IT is to create more capacity for innovation and build that into the organization’s DevOps practices.

Manage Delivery of the Vision

Turning vision into reality can only be accomplished as a result of hard work.  Leaders often make the mistake of developing a vision and then failing to put in the hard work required to deliver on it. As the role model for the organization, transformation leaders must understand 1) how work is getting done today, 2) any impediments to getting work done, and 3) how DevOps practices can solve these problems. 

Build Trust-Based Relationships With People

Transformational leaders need to demonstrate genuine concern and care for individuals to build respect and trust in the future of the company. How many times a week are they walking the hallways of your IT department? Without engaging on a personal level, it’s hard to have a full understanding of the business. DevOps is about creating high-performance teams. Leaders need to understand the personal goals and aspirations of these teams and provide personal recognition and feedback for further growth and learning.  

Motivate People to Deliver on the Vision

After defining the hill to climb and building trust within the organization for how to get to the top, a leader must challenge others to perform at a higher level.  By empowering teams to challenge the status quo and encourage innovative thinking, leaders can decentralize decision making so that teams can operate as independently as possible and explore new ways of working. This will create an engine for continuous improvement and learning within the organization, which is vital for DevOps to thrive.

Transformational leadership behaviors have a direct and positive influence on the DevOps journey. As the latest State of DevOps Report states, “Transformational leadership enables the necessary practices that correlate with high performance, and it also supports effective communication and collaboration between team members in pursuit of organizational goals.” Transformational leadership also aligns well with agile and lean practices. It increases employee engagement and leads to positive employee attitudes—especially when in an environment of high organizational change.

Ultimately, leadership determines the success or failure of a company’s DevOps journey. Are your leaders on board?

devops, digital transformation, enterprise devops, leadership, software delivery

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