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DevOps team structure and culture: Lessons from Vince Lombardi

Football is the ultimate team sport, which is why lessons and team insights from the greatest coaches resonate with IT leaders striving to build a winning DevOps team structure.

With football season in full swing, my thoughts go to Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time. He not only led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships and two Super Bowl wins, he also succeeded with the Washington Redskins, never had a losing season as a coach and the NFL Super Bowl trophy is named in his honor.

I know firsthand the value of a good coach. My modest sporting career began with football, and then in high school, I played varsity soccer and football. I had my fair share of exposure to leadership in sports, which proved useful when I joined the workforce.

Simply put, good leadership matters, whether it's in sports or DevOps, which in many ways is the corporate version of team sports. Lombardi provides several lessons applicable to the DevOps team structure and culture, best shown in some of his own words:

"Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work."

Lombardi knew how to motivate, teach and inspire his players. His coaching strategy centered on hard work, and part of his genius was bringing people together with a true team mentality.

The same is true for DevOps culture. From developers to quality assurance testers and operators, everyone has an important role to play in the team's success. As in football, success requires individual commitment from each player to do their personal best, and to work together and clearly communicate as a team.

"Leaders are made; they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile."

Lombardi points out that all of us -- even leaders -- can improve by putting in the extra effort. Indeed, the value of hard work to achieve success is a no-brainer. Good leaders aren't born; they are developed with experience and reflection. Building a productive DevOps team structure and culture is a process that takes time, practice and effort.

Both DevOps and football have a championship formula built on the solid foundation of teamwork.

"They call it coaching, but it is teaching. You do not just tell them, you show them the reasons."

Both in sports and in DevOps, team culture is built and nurtured, and always reflects upon the leader. The MVP leaders take care to inspire, teach and motivate each and every person on their team. These leaders do more than order people around; they continually teach and explain why projects and goals matter.

"Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

No doubt about it, high-quality leaders are necessary for high-performance teams. But the emphasis here is on quality, not perfection. DevOps teams and DevOps culture are never perfect, but by working toward perfection, they can attain excellence in a way that impacts the larger business in a positive manner.

"At many a moment on many a day, I am convinced that pro football must be a game for mad men, and I must be one of them."

The same can be said by anyone in DevOps, but it's this passion that drives success in this ever-changing software development practice. Tools, tasks, workflows and roles are always being redefined and introduced, and processes are always being modified and refined -- it's this dynamism which makes DevOps so exciting.

DevOps is defined as a group of concepts that, when orchestrated together, speed the delivery of quality software into production. It requires a tight DevOps team structure and culture. A winning football team is similar in theory, as it is the orchestration of 53 players doing their sole jobs, but in lock step with the players around them. Both DevOps and football have a championship formula built on the solid foundation of teamwork.

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This was last published in November 2017

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