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DevOps culture change key to surviving Digital Darwinism

No matter the business, smarter and more agile competition means companies adapt or face extinction. As CloudBees CEO Sacha Labourey sees it, it's the age of Digital Darwinism.

For organizations thinking about trying DevOps, it's adapt or die. In his opening Jenkins World keynote, CloudBees Inc. Founder and CEO Sacha Labourey detailed the rise of Digital Darwinism -- how maverick companies like Amazon deploy by the second, shepherding a new enterprise-eat-enterprise age.

These maverick companies with continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines and advanced automated testing will continue to climb up the food chain, if the old guard won't evolve. Laggards face the same fate as the wooly mammoth or dire wolf if they don't adapt to a new normal of software delivery. They'll have to take on new tools and cloud-based software to survive. But remember: DevOps culture changes come down to leadership as well as the high trust and collaborative culture great leaders foster.

Good leadership essential for transformation

Sacha LaboureySacha Labourey

The current consensus to becoming a high-performing DevOps organization is through DevOps-oriented, transformational leadership. The 2017 State of DevOps Report, from Puppet Inc. and DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA), found that the quality of your organization's leadership is highly correlative to your IT performance.

Though DevOps can often find footholds in an organization in the form of shadow IT and other pockets of suboptimization, DevOps can only take root through executive level buy-in and great top-down leadership.

"Leaders have the authority and budget to make the large-scale changes often needed; to provide visible support when a transformation is under way; and to change the incentives of entire groups of engineers, whether they are in development, quality assurance, operations or information security," the report said.

Leadership is the quality in a company that sets the agenda and empowers essential DevOps culture changes like loosely coupled architecture, CI/CD and automation.

Follow Westrum to crack DevOps culture change

DevOps is about culture and architecture, not process, tools and organizational structure.
Jez Humblefounder and CTO, DevOps Research and Assessment

What leadership is nominally responsible for is culture. And in his closing keynote, Jez Humble, DORA's founder and CTO, reminded the audience, "DevOps is about culture and architecture, not process, tools and organizational structure." So, what sort of culture brings about a DevOps transformation?

Citing Ron Westrum's "A Typology of Organisational Cultures," Humble argued DevOps is a chance for organizations to move from power-oriented pathological or rule-oriented bureaucratic cultures to a performance-oriented generative culture, where risks and failures are shared, while bridges and cooperation encouraged.

In pathological and bureaucratic cultures, messengers get shot or ignored and no one takes responsibility when things go wrong. In a high-trust, generative culture, things are expected to go wrong. Failure, experimentation and novelty are how organizations build better software and set themselves on a path to DevOps culture change.

Can QA and the business side work together?

Quality assurance (QA) exists to improve the customer experience, and that surely has business value. But this still often leaves the business side wondering -- especially, with more and more viable automated artificial intelligence testing -- if there are opportunities for QA to expand in the present software development model.

A generative culture where you share responsibility and work through collaboration will organically build the processes and adopt the tools to make DevOps a reality. The promise of DevOps is not just about "business value," but deployment-free weekends and weeknights as well. Mere survival isn't the end goal, even in an age of Digital Darwinism.

This was last published in September 2017

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