You can’t automate relationships

Originally appearing on


As an organization sold on the idea of DevOps what’s your first step in the journey?

Despite a constant deluge of well-reasoned guides for implementing DevOps the most prevalent step most companies have made is simply contributing to a proliferation of DevOps job titles.

Most likely it’s in no small part because asking the HR department to add “DevOps” to the latest sysadmin job posting title and “Chef” or “Puppet” to the requirements is easy. This is a woefully low bar to set for DevOps implementation. Compounding this further, afterwards when the CIO gets a survey asking about DevOps adoption, they gleefully indicate the company is well on their way and join many others as they artificially inflate industry statistics of a very worthwhile but nonetheless major undertaking for large companies.

Surveys can contribute to confused starts. Any survey that does not include questions on specific practices and draws its conclusions from simply asking if a company is doing a practice that has positive buzz in the industry is worthless. A welcome contrast is the Puppet Labs 2014 State of DevOps report which is quite a beneficial collection of supporting information covering various practices, recommendations and nuances of organizational structures.

Even actually making progress on an individual automation project, whether with newly titled DevOps members or from a grass roots effort in an existing engineering or operations team, does not fulfill a complete implementation strategy nor is it the best way to start. Automation is certainly vital to reliably and repeatably managing environments, but groups shouldn’t rush to tackle automation first only because it’s comfortable to start hacking away at a problem they think they can deal with on their own.

These isolated and well-intentioned practitioners may find that without buy in and solid trust and relationships across groups they may not be given access to automate and orchestrate certain key areas.

You can’t automate relationships!

There needs to be a holistic understanding of the value streams driving engineering work and how best to make improvements. Instead of diving headfirst into automation work on identifying common goals, shared pain, and potential wins across organizational groups. Starting either with collaboration between group members directly or through management level alignment can work provided the other quickly follows. Buy in is required from both engineering and management or progress will stutter.

Taking people through a story can bring support more readily than just listing bullet points. People need to feel emotionally engaged and connected to the pains of the culture and process prior to DevOps and how they can be realistically mitigated. For a large company audience, seeing a story from another large company with timeframes and phases that shepherd the transformation in bold, yet manageable steps can be helpful. The story of SAP Global IT is a candid and useful case study.

Once the stage is set then tackle automation together in a cross-functional group with shared measures of success leading your focus. Depending on the complexity of your process it may be beneficial to collaborate on a smaller application or time boxed simple proof of concept to vet new ideas and working relationships.

Despite the potential for rocky or inefficient starts, the transformative power of a meaningful DevOps implementation contributes to incredible innovation speed and satisfaction. What has worked to keep your organization keeping the long view in mind regarding DevOps?

Many companies are misappropriating the term DevOps to get attention, headcount, or perceived leverage in internal turf wars instead of building a cross-team continuous improvement engine. Is this a sign of the early peak of inflated expectations in the hype cycle?

Are we heading for a serious backlash? Is the tireless promotion of proper practices from prolific thought leaders enough to make failures clearly misguided implementations and not fundamental flaws in the movement?

I’m eager to hear your thoughts in the comments.