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Making the switch to DevOps: Why change isn’t easy (and what you can do about it)

Making the switch to DevOps: Why change isn’t easy (and what you can do about it)

This sponsored post is produced in association with New Relic. 

You’ve finally been swayed by the promise of DevOps and are ready to join the troops of believers. But implementing DevOps is a lot easier said than done. This is because DevOps represents a cultural shift as much as it does a process and technology one, and making the change requires enterprise-wide commitment.

To understand the challenges in implementing DevOps, it helps to consider how the movement began. DevOps sprung up over the need to get two teams — software developers and site operators — working together in a more harmonious, streamlined manner. Traditionally, these two disciplines pursued different and often opposing goals.

The job of the developer is to get new features out the door quickly while operations is all about keeping the deployment of that code stable and secure. From an operations standpoint, any change can potentially destabilize the system. Enter DevOps, an effort to bring the two traditionally-siloed disciplines together, working toward a common goal.

Representing a shift from the sequential Waterfall methods of the past, DevOps is based on Agile — a practice of rapid, iterative development in time box sprints. In a DevOps environment, by the time teams arrive at a shippable release, the code has been married to the production environment dozens of time. This carries several advantages, chief among them, speed of execution. It takes less time to solve problems, less time to debug software, and less time to get new features out the door, allowing the business to respond much faster to market changes.

The 1-2-3’s of implementing DevOps

So what path does one follow to make the DevOps transition? Raj Patel, head of cloud engineering at Pinterest breaks the transformation into three phases. You begin by aligning IT goals and redefining what ‘done’ means. Traditionally, developers define done as code complete, while operations sees it as deploying that code to production. But in a DevOps environment, the goal is to release a product the customer can use.

“We align the goals of individuals to when an actual user benefits from code and it is actually deployed globally. That is a big cultural shift,” Patel said. “You celebrate the outcomes to the end user and not so much intermediate goals.”

The second step is to acquire a technology tooling that enables continuous integration and deployment. At Pinterest, Patel says, “We deploy software for our site at least twice a day, if not more. And that happens almost seamlessly from development across cloud engineering.”

And finally, you implement a process. You embed site operators — or ‘site liability engineers’, as DevOps organizations call them — within application teams and cultivate a deep respect between the two groups, eliminating any borders between them.

According to Patel, one of the biggest mistakes companies make in implementing DevOps is thinking of it simply as a technology and a rebranding effort. In reality, DevOps requires new skills and talent.

“There is a fair bit of retraining that needs to occur both on the technology tool set and capabilities,” said Patel. DevOps is a mindset more than anything else, he says — a fundamental shift in in behaviors that often requires someone to champion the movement.

Enter the evangelist

To help with the cultural aspects of the DevOps transformation, many organizations enlist a DevOp evangelist. This is no job for the timid. Winning people over means breaking down difficult barriers. You may find yourself having to tell IT veterans that their long-established processes are now defunct. Here is a list of steps for approaching the job.

Become a convincing champion for change

You’ll be going up against stiff resistance and may encounter plenty of pushback. To counteract that, make sure you have a clear vision for the change. What does the future look like? How will this change benefit the business? How long will it take to implement? What are the stages of implementation? Both developers and operations will want to know how DevOps is going to impact them.

Speak the language of both teams

Your job will require you to take on the opinions and doubts of others. If you want to garner respect, demonstrate you have a thorough understanding of the jobs and responsibilities of both developers and operational teams. Empathize with their concerns. Anticipate arguments against change on both sides and plan your rebuttals in advance.

Build convincing arguments

If you want to sway opinions, do your homework in advance. A convincing argument is not based on hearsay, but facts, data and analysis. Go into meetings prepared with numbers, historical use cases and convincing evidence as to why a switch to DevOps is important and necessary for the organization.

Identify yayers and nayers ­

In order for DevOps to gather momentum, you will need to create a growing circle of supporters. You will also need to know who the resistors are. Rather than alienate them, use your negotiating skills to bring them into the light. With the right compromises and tradeoffs you can finagle your way into their hearts and convince them to give DevOps a try. This will require access to skills and resources to make good on promises.

Start small and scale up

If you push people to collaborate too quickly, they may put up walls. An incremental approach is more apt to smooth the road to DevOps. Examine system logs to identify services and tasks that are taking up the most time. Pick a tightly-defined problem, such as a bottleneck in getting code to production, and resolve it. This will allow you to build trust and create traction for solving wider problems.

DevOps isn’t something that will transform your IT organization overnight. Rather, it is a slow, gradual shift that requires patience, flexibility and long-term commitment. But with supportive leadership and an enthusiastic team, you can make DevOps successful in any organization.


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