Unlocking the DevOps psychology

DevOpsGroup discussing a project

Unlocking the DevOps psychology: What does the digital mindset look like?

A big part of DevOps is challenging traditional, established software development approaches that have dominated the industry for decades. But convincing organisations and IT leaders that there are better alternatives out there is far from an easy task.

Regardless of industry, the world is used to an authoritative and linear way of working. Managers make all the key decisions, with little input from anyone else within the organisation. Meanwhile, employees are slammed with a never-ending stream of work to complete by harsh deadlines. Overall, there’s limited communication between teams, and silos appear.

In the technology sector, DevOps is looking to change things by breaking down the wall between development and operations teams – while connecting all the key stakeholders involved in the application lifecycle. Ultimately, the aim is to transform and accelerate the way companies create, roll out, and maintain software. Benefits include shorter development cycles, fast feedback loops, increased deployments, improved visibility, and collaboration.

Although frameworks, best practices, and automated tools play an important role in implementing and scaling a DevOps transition, thinking differently is perhaps more critical. Whether it’s at the leadership or employee level, psychology underpins DevOps. In this post, we’ll show how you can unlock the digital mindset and bring your organisation forward in today’s interconnected world.

The bigger picture

Raj Fowler, Principal DevOps Consultant, believes that organisations and leaders are struggling to respond to change due to societal perceptions of career and business success.

“Early on, we’re trained and conditioned by our education and training to follow a minimalistic, reductionist, and siloed view of the world. Everyone is designed to specialise at one particular thing,” he says.

To Fowler, this way of thinking leads to failure. By focusing on the finer details, you’re effectively missing the bigger picture. He continues: “If you’ve been trained to fix wheels on a car, that’s all you’re good at. But whether or not the whole car is in working order depends on the system.

“That idea originally came from Frederick Taylor, who advocated building local efficiency to get overall greatness. However, we need to bring a different psychology to bear, where it’s not just about the local efficiencies of the things they’re looking after, but the overall goal of the business.”

In the Phoenix Project, veteran business executive Erik gets the new appointed VP of IT Operations Bill to visualise the entire system of a factory and to incorporate this into his own organisation. This demonstrates the importance of viewing things from a high level.

Raj continues: “Erik told Bill to look at the whole and that local optimisation doesn’t mean that the overall becomes effective. That’s where Gene Kim talks about the three ways, the first of which builds on the arguments about Total Systems Thinking and Total Quality Management. The end result is that mindset is more focused on the whole.”

Looking ahead

Like the old saying goes, two heads are better than one. Everyone involved in the digital transformation journey should work collaboratively if they’re to accelerate innovation and create value for the organisation. “From a management perspective, having two people working on one particular thing may appear inefficient. But, actually, the overall effectiveness and quality of the product is better because multiple people have collaborated and jointly conducted quality control,” explains Raj.

Leadership, Raj admits, is increasing in complexity as the world continues to advance and become more connected. “To me, DevOps is about no longer about thinking in your local silos and local efficiencies, but instead, looking at the overall picture of the business. But the problem is that our world is always evolving.”

“A hundred years ago, the number of variables organisations and teams had to manage were very few and the rate of change was relatively slow. There wasn’t digital disruption, or small organisations taking on the establishment. Today, we have many more variables and things are constantly changing. Unfortunately, from experience, I’ve seen leaders try to control every single one of them – and their mindset becomes about working harder rather than smarter.”

Modern leaders

In the DevOps environment, leaders must to trust the people closer to the problems if they’re to be solved. “The high-performance mindset around digital transformation is concerned with integrations, not the details of the work. Giving smaller groups of people more accountability, having greater alignment with the goal and vision, and building a culture of trust are critical to succeeding,” recommends Raj.

“Whether it’s an engineer or a CEO, everyone needs psychological safety and to feel like failure isn’t a bad thing. Teams should trust each other, even if they may sometimes feel let down. Everyone must have time to be creative and experiment. In the past, leaders would try to control everything. Now, there needs to be more flexibility and willingness to try new things.”

Raj takes the view that modern leaders should create environments where teams can be candid and learn from each other. “Gardeners do not force plants to grow; they create the right environment for growth (Team of Teams, McChrystal). In my opinion, the new leadership and DevOps psychology is about creating the right environment for people and teams to grow themselves, and be the best they can be,” he says.

“Everybody should be encouraged to speak up and be challenged to debate. In the past, this would have been seen as challenging authority. But in reality, whether you’re the CEO of the company or an engineer, active debate stimulates understanding and helps the business to keep moving in the right direction.”

When it comes to embarking on a DevOps transformation journey, there’s no denying the important role that software and methodologies play. But it’s clear that you can only achieve success here if you’re in the right frame-of-mind. Leadership in the digital age is all about encouraging collaboration and innovation, rather than simply being a boss. And all members of the team should be involved in the process.

Want to learn more about DevOps transformation involves everyone? Check out our culture category.

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