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Obstacles to the Success of DevOps

Politics and the existing culture are by far the greatest impediments to success.

· DevOps Zone

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To gather insights for DZone's Continuous Delivery Research Guide, scheduled for release on January 26, 2016, we spoke to 24 executives who are implementing continuous delivery in their own company or helping clients do so.

Specifically we spoke to:

Casey Kindiger, CEO, Avik Partners | Ez Natarajan, Vice President Cloud, Beyondsoft | Tom Cabanski, Director of Software Development, Blinds.com | Kurt Collins, Director of Technology Evangleism and Partnerships, Built.io | Chris Madsen, CEO, Circonus | Steven Anderson, CEO, Clutch | Yaniv Yehuda, Co-Founder and CTO, DBmaestro | Andreas Grabner, Technology Strategist, Dynatrace | Elaina Shekhter, CMO, EPAM Systems | Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect, Isomorphic Software| Baruch Sadogursky, Developer Advocate, JFrog | Topher Marie, CTO, JumpCloud | Edith Harbaugh, CEO and Co-Founder, Launch Darkly | Jessica Rusin, Senior Director of Development, MobileDay | Stevan Arychuk, Strategic Marketing, New Relic | Arvind Mehrotra, President and Global Business Head, NIIT Technologies | Zeev Avidan, Vice President Product Management, OpenLegacy | Richard Dominguez, DevOps Engineer, Prep Sportswear | Prashanth Chandrasekar, General Manager of DevOps and Head of Operations, Rackspace | Steven Hazel, CTO, Sauce Labs | Bob Brodie, CTO, Sumo Heavy | Dr. Chenxi Wang, Chief Strategy Officer, Twistlock | Scott Ferguson, Vice President of Engineering, Vokal Interactive | Adam Serediuk, Director of Operations, xMatters

We asked these executives, "What are the obstacles to the success of DevOps initiatives at a company?" Here's what they had to say:

  • We’re progressive. We have five teams of engineers, all with initiatives to keep evolving, pace can be an obstacle.

  • The biggest problem faced by DevOps is the political versus technological. Where do DevOps engineers sit in the enterprise. Between developers and IT they run into problems because IT is about compliance and security, not about speed — this results in people butting heads.

  • Old mindsets. Not willing to share and collaborate. 

  • Lack of understanding that it's not just technology. You cannot take your legacy system and put it on AWS. It’s a complete transformation of the software development system. People underestimate the nuance required to get their company into a DevOps ready state.

  • If a company is still stuck in the old mode of development.

  • Finding good DevOps people. Involves someone that has both developer and SysOp experience. Which one takes priority? Which one do I invest in?

  • Balance quality with speed and innovation. As products mature, companies get more conservative, silos form, and companies become risk averse. This creates friction in the culture of innovation that underpins DevOps.

  • Companies that look at DevOps as a new job title with specific duties rather than a culture change.

  • Compliance requirements for more sign-offs and paper documentation. Managers don’t understand efficiencies of not being efficient and don't focus on throughput over efficiency. Barriers are disappearing, what was expensive is becoming routine.

  • It’s difficult to measure. Changing culture is hard. It’s organic in new companies, but companies with a longer history need to go through a transformation of how groups work together. What’s the ROI on these new people, processes, and tools? If you can't make the business case you won’t be able to help the business.

  • People don’t buy into it — they want to release every month, the way they’ve always done it.

  • DevOps breaks departmental boundaries and establishes collaboration with product teams and users to enable continuous conversations and feedback to enable delivery as fast as possible. You need to embrace change and KPIs of stable software being released into production. Continuous delivery skills include some knowledge of automation. The ability to deploy a subset of features.

  • Culture. Just like humans learned to walk, IT is trying to do the same thing. Innovation makes you learn six to seven generations of a lifecycle. Developers need to get beyond what they create and see other dimensions of their personality. The pace of technology is accelerating. Apple is slow with one release per year. With cultural innovation of change, technology makes it worse. You must go to the learning board rather than the drawing board.

  • Companies aren’t 100% ready for DevOps. Large companies have many teams with specific mandates that run contrary to working together. Regulations can get in the way of people working together. Most DevOps fully support traditional IT which is focused on automation. Use infrastructure as a code and build systems with tightly coupled integration and other task-based work that’s automated.

  • People do not understand the culture shift that’s needed to successfully implement DevOps.

  • Misunderstand and miscalculate the importance of issues. For example, the Cloud — not sure people understand the importance of how you choose a solution so you don’t have vendor lock. If you don’t do it right now you’re going to be in a lot of pain to migrate from it. Hard to gauge what you will need in the future. Need to be aware of the repercussions and consequences of the decisions we make.

  • Mindset to get people to shift perspective to one where the whole team is successful. The Phoenix Project is a great book on this subject. What do we need to do to become faster as a company? How do we remove the bottlenecks that are slowing us down? It takes time to spread the concept. Then there are skill problems. 

  • Behavioral issues — leaving the comfort zone of development and operations. There's a lack of tools that will help us to adjust to the changes. If we embrace the right tools, the behavioral change is easier.

  • Start-ups require developers to have a lot of skillsets which can be overwhelming. Content switching can cause a loss of productivity. 

  • At a larger company, politics can get in the way, as various managers have fiefdoms to defend and DevOps places a shared responsibility across two or more groups. That can devolve into finger-pointing. A good approach is to add people who are dedicated to introducing DevOps principles and tools, so when things aren't working, you get an objective report of what's going wrong.

  • Humans are programmed to think change is scary, particularly if the status quo is deemed “safe” or “satisfactory.” Entrenched methodologies — even if they don’t demonstrate much success — are comfortable for both managers and employees. The ability to experiment — and yes, to sometimes fail — is crucial to success at implementing anything new, and embracing DevOps initiatives is no exception.

  • Many struggle with database and infrastructure.

What do you see as the greatest impediments to the success of DevOps initiatives at your company, or companies with which you've worked?

Download “The DevOps Journey - From Waterfall to Continuous Delivery” to learn learn about the importance of integrating automated testing into the DevOps workflow, brought to you in partnership with Sauce Labs.

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