Professional sports demonstrate that management buy-in is critical for elevating DevOps within your organization.
How important is good management buy-in to DevOps? To answer that question, look no further than Old Trafford, home of Manchester United Football Club. Between 1986 to 2013, the club was managed by Alex Ferguson, and in that time, he won 38 trophies including 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, and two UEFA Champions League titles.
Since his retirement, the trophy cabinet gathered dust – just one trophy (the FA Cup last season) in three seasons. Three different managers have taken the mantle since Ferguson, and United currently lies in sixth position in the Premier League table, which is appalling by the high standards he set.
Make no mistake; good management matters in sport. For further proof, think of Ivan Lendl’s management of Andy Murray, Phil Jackson at the LA Lakers, Nick Saban at the University of Alabama, or Dave Brailsford running the Great Britain Cycling Team.
DevOps is no different. Just as great teams assume the personality of their coach, employees follow the demands of management. Being that an essentially part, if not the core, of DevOps is culture, it stands to reason that without management buy-in, DevOps will struggle to become a pervasive culture, but be relegated to a subculture. To create a successful DevOps culture you need both grass roots support and management support. Management is where personnel, tools, policy, and operational decisions are made. Managers understand the complexities of the business. They can create an environment where people and process are placed in the best possible position to be successful. They understand why certain business processes and requirements are performed in a particular way, and why others are conducted differently. Developers and operations staff are often heads-down focused on the tasks at hand.
In DevOps, managers can bridge the gaps between the Dev and Ops silos getting buy-in from other department leads because they typically have access to their peers. Great managers define the realities for their team and communicate that back up to leadership. With DevOps as in sport, players follow the dictates of the coach. If the coach wants to pull in one direction, and the players in another, the team will lose games. Management support is needed in order for DevOps to win in your organization.
So the big question is how do I get my manager and upper management to buy into a DevOps culture? First, the classic cliché, that the key to your success is to help your boss succeed. You need to explain the benefits of DevOps in terms of making your manager successful. You need to understand the measurements your manager and management are held accountable for in measuring their success.
The language of business is finance. Help lead management to support DevOps by tieing it to the financial success of your business unit. Every business unit has a bottom-line, budget, or revenue target. Find the financial metric of success for a BU that can be impacted by DevOps and you will be singing management’s song. Obviously, you will need to deliver against this metric, but success will beget success.
Lastly, adapt DevOps principles to your current practices, tools, and people. Management is often reluctant to make wholesale changes, so start by working with what you have and where you are. I can argue that you can still practice DevOps with waterfall practices (though not ideal) or where developers are not allowed to touch production. It may be painful to move more slowly than you like at adopting a DevOps culture, but if you find yourself in an organization stuck in its ways, your persistence and consistency will be rewarded.
Finally, management can influence executive direction, make money and resources available, and shield Dev and Ops from political in-fighting. Management buy-in to DevOps is a key to successfully changing the culture in your organization.
Like I said, teams ultimately take on the identity of their coach. DevOps success is no different. Never underestimate the power and influence of management buy-in. Without it, your DevOps strategy will undoubtedly flounder (rather like Manchester United right now).