The culture of an organisation plays a critical role in the success of its DevOps initiatives, especially in the context of SaaS. Adopting a DevOps culture can bring numerous benefits to SaaS companies. By adopting a continuous improvement and delivery mindset, SaaS companies can release new features and updates more quickly and stay ahead of the competition. DevOps done right will lead to improved speed, quality, efficiency, and unit economics. This results in better customer satisfaction and higher reliability, as well as enhanced security and better scalability. This leads to lower cost of goods sold (COGS) and better SaaS economics for the business.
By fostering a culture of continuous improvement via DevOps, SaaS companies can drive business success and meet changing customer demands by improving overall performance of the SaaS business. DevOps is designed to improve the following 3 areas.
- Software Delivery Performance: This refers to the stability and efficiency of the software delivery process. The faster and more frequently new features and updates can be released, the higher the throughput. At the same time, the more quickly issues can be resolved and the fewer failures occur, the greater the stability.
- Operational Performance: This is about ensuring the reliability of the software and meeting service level objectives (SLOs) to achieve service level agreements (SLAs).
- Organisation Performance: This encompasses both software delivery performance and operational performance, as well as the culture within the team. Teams that have a continuous improvement mindset tend to have higher overall performance compared to those that do not.
Importance of organisational culture
The most important and most overlooked aspect of DevOps is the organisation culture. Organisational culture is often overlooked in DevOps implementation for several reasons, and most importantly, it is the one thing that is harder to solve but most important to get right. Organisation culture is the leading predictor of DevOps success. Here are the reasons why culture takes a backseat in your DevOps transformation:
- Technical Focus: DevOps is primarily focused on improving the technical processes of software development and delivery. As a result, it is easier to focus on the technical aspects of DevOps and ignore the impact of culture on the success of the implementation.
- Lack of Awareness: Many organisations are not aware of the impact of culture on DevOps and do not understand how to address cultural barriers to implementation.
- Resistance to Change: Changing the culture of an organisation can be a significant challenge, and some organisations may be resistant to making changes.
- Short-term Focus on Results: Implementing DevOps can be a time-consuming and resource-intensive process. Easier to prioritise technical aspects of implementation over cultural ones to meet deadlines and keep within budget constraints.
- Misperception of Culture: Some organisations may perceive culture as a soft, intangible aspect of the organisation that is difficult to measure or impact. As a result, they may not see the value in addressing cultural issues in DevOps implementation.
Ignoring the cultural aspects of DevOps can lead to significant challenges in the implementation and reduce the potential benefits of DevOps. This is why DevOps transformations fail with subpar results.
In simpler terms, having a positive organisational culture is crucial for the success of DevOps initiatives. This is because a high-trust culture that allows for efficient communication and information flow directly impacts software delivery and overall organisational performance. Research has shown that this type of culture, referred to as a “Westrum Organisation Culture,” leads to better results in technology organisations. Investing in building a positive culture should therefore be a priority for any organisation looking to implement DevOps. “Westrum Organisation Culture” is based on research by sociologist Dr. Ron Westrum.
Adopting Westrum’s organisational culture for DevOps
A high-trust culture, as described by sociologist Dr. Ron Westrum, is an organisational culture that prioritises open communication and information flow. This type of culture is characterised by transparency, collaboration, and the free exchange of ideas and information between team members.
In a high-trust culture, leaders encourage their teams to share information and ideas, and team members feel comfortable speaking up and bringing forward their concerns. This creates an environment where problems can be quickly identified and resolved, leading to improved software delivery performance and overall organisational performance.
According to Dr. Westrum’s research, organisations with high-trust cultures tend to have better outcomes in technology environments. Building a high-trust culture is an ongoing effort, but the benefits it brings make it a worthwhile investment for any organisation looking to improve its software delivery performance and overall organisational performance.
We need to focus on shifting right on culture for DevOps initiatives to stand a chance of delivering on its promise. This is the most difficult part of DevOps transformation. DevOps can only thrive in a Generative culture that promotes high trust. Shifting right towards a generative culture is of utmost importance for your DevOps strategy.
Building a high-trust generative culture for DevOps
Building a high-trust generative culture, as described by Dr. Ron Westrum, is a crucial aspect of DevOps implementation.
Here are some steps to help your organisation build a high-trust culture that supports DevOps:
- Encourage open communication: Encourage team members to freely exchange information and ideas. This means creating an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, concerns, and questions.
- Foster transparency: Create a culture of transparency where team members are open and honest about their work and the challenges they face. This helps to identify problems early on, and allows teams to quickly resolve them.
- Promote collaboration: Encourage collaboration between team members and between teams. Collaboration helps to create a culture of shared ownership and shared responsibility, where everyone feels invested in the success of the project.
- Emphasise learning: Encourage continuous learning and improvement. Teams should regularly review their processes and make changes based on what they have learned.
- Empower teams: Empower teams to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Teams that feel empowered are more likely to take risks, be creative, and be committed to their work.
- Lead by example: Leaders must model the behaviour they want to see in their teams. Leaders who encourage open communication, promote transparency, and emphasise learning will help to create a high-trust culture.
- Celebrate success: Celebrate the successes of teams and individuals. This helps to reinforce the positive behaviours and practices that have contributed to success and encourages teams to continue to strive for improvement.
By following these steps, organisations can build a high-trust generative culture that supports DevOps and helps teams to continuously improve their software delivery performance and overall organisational performance.
Here are some practical steps you can take to implement a generative culture in the organisation:
- Cross-functional Teams: Form teams that include representatives from all areas of the software delivery process (business analysts, developers, quality engineers, SRE, security, etc.) to share the responsibility of building, deploying, and maintaining a product. Encourage cooperation within the team.
- Blameless Postmortems: Hold postmortems to identify problems and provide feedback without blame. This fosters an environment where it’s safe to surface problems and take smart risks.
Shared Risks and Responsibilities: Encourage everyone to share responsibilities for quality, availability, reliability, and security. Developers should share the responsibility for maintaining their code in production.
- Breaking Down Silos: Encourage collaboration by breaking down silos. This can be done by co-locating SRE with the dev teams, including SRE in the planning process, and implementing open communication and collaboration between Product, Dev and SRE.
- Failure Leads to Inquiry: Instead of blaming individuals for failures, use failures as an opportunity to ask questions and improve processes.
- Experimentation: Encourage experimentation and new ideas. Allow employees time for experimentation or host internal hack days. Encourage and reward new processes and ideas that foster collaboration.
In conclusion, Dr. Ron Westrum’s typology of organisational culture provides a roadmap for creating a high-trust and generative culture in DevOps. By focusing on cross-functional teams, blameless postmortems, shared risk and responsibility, bridging silos, inquiry-based failure, and encouraging novelty.
Organisations can avoid common pitfalls such as ignoring the importance of culture, only focusing on local team cultures, lack of support from leaders and managers, and suppressing bad news and experimentation.
The key to building a successful DevOps culture is to recognise the interplay between technology and culture, and to encourage continuous improvement through collaboration, experimentation, and learning from failures. By following the principles of Westrum’s typology, organisations can create a culture that supports their DevOps journey and drives success.