Interview with Ian Buchanan, Developer Advocate, Integration Specialist for Atlassian’s DevOps Ecosystem

Atlassian: “DevOps is the new normal”

Gabriela Motroc
Ian Buchanan 

“DevOps isn’t any single person’s job — it’s everyone’s job.” What does DevOps mean for Atlassian and what shapes the company culture? How do departments support DevOps and what are the usual DevOps aspects that aren’t part of the company values? We invited Ian Buchanan, Developer Advocate, Integration Specialist for Atlassian’s DevOps Ecosystem to weigh in on Atlassian’s road to DevOps and to debunk some of the myths surrounding this movement.

JAXenter: How is the collaboration between Devs and Ops organized at Atlassian?

Ian Buchanan: The most important thing to understand is teams at Atlassian are typically organized by value streams, rather than by function. Generally, teams include dev, ops, and any other specializations they will need. As such, there is a high degree of variation in how each team collaborates between dev and ops specializations. In some small teams, everyone does both. In larger teams, there may be some subteams with more dev or ops focus, but even that structure is fluid. For example, one of Atlassian’s Site Reliability Engineers describes how devs are pulled into ops work if they blow their reliability budget.

With all these small teams, departments, products, microservices etc, something needs to hold it all together. Something needs to function as a center of gravity to enable collaboration between Dev and Ops/IT. JIRA is that center of gravity for Atlassian (and a lot of customers). Even though we build and sell JIRA, DevOps is not a tool as much as it is cross-team collaboration. Because of that, JIRA ends up being at the center of DevOps. It helps Dev and Ops to communicate, let’s them organize work.

At Atlasssian, Dev and Ops work together on the same platform. There is no IT silo, no ops silo and no dev silo, they organize their work together on JIRA, communicate and handle incident management/monitoring on HipChat and Status page, write up product requirements, documentation and post incident reports on Confluence, automate testing with Bitbucket Pipelines etc.

JAXenter: What is the typical team structure of your IT department? 

Ian Buchanan: Diverse and inclusive teams drive innovation and greater individual and team performance. We know that intuitively and the research backs it up. That’s why we decided to focus our diversity report on what matters most: teams. (This will answer questions about the age, experience, gender etc)

DevOps is not a tool as much as it is cross-team collaboration.

Going beyond Dev teams:

We started out with software developers. As the cloud and virtualization emerged, those developers started to get closer to Ops, where they could actually start shipping and deploying code independent of IT and Ops. That is what drove the need for DevOps practices. More code, shipping more often meant much more collaboration. When this happened and Dev and Ops came together, their need to collaborate frequently increased. Atlassian helped them to fill that need and put Devs and IT on the same platform with JIRA.

So many products that were once physical goods are becoming software or services. This will increase the speed and frequency of collaboration between all functions of a business. When your product was made of atoms, cross-team collaboration was time-based, often calendared. In a sense, a great company in the past was predicated on predictability. Predictability was respectability. It was the age of synchronized collaboration, almost like synchronized swimming. That has changed; the agile company has become king . In the old world, if your product needed to change, you had to change the mold and the assembly line, and then ship it to the distributors, who shipped it to the wholesalers, and then the retailers who gave someone a sticker to put on the box. This took time and massive collaboration but it was spread out over time because it took time to implement.

SEE ALSO: Atlassian — “DevOps is not a goal in and of itself”

Today, if you want to change a product that is made of bits, you can change it almost instantly. From ideation to production in a day — or less!  As a result, business teams, finance teams, and marketing teams have to collaborate with the Dev team to build and ship that thing, fast. Dev and Ops have taught us that virtually all teams in the company need to collaborate on this faster cycle. This is the new normal. Dev & Ops happened to be the first two teams in the company to have to sort it out.

Allow me to give you an example: Just recently, we’ve added customer support teams to the  DevOps cycle. A bug is just a customer support ticket by another name. We believe connecting support tickets of high priority to the dev backlog will help teams deliver better quality software faster without the collaborative overhead of passing information across three teams and three different platforms. If your product is software, the closer you can connect customer support to Dev, the faster you can solve that problem.

JAXenter: To what degree can these teams work autonomously?

Ian Buchanan: Because most teams are organized to serve a value stream, there is a high degree of autonomy. While executive management sets a vision and instruments the organization to track progress toward large goals, most decisions about how to achieve the big objectives are delegated to the team-level. Individual teams decide what processes to follow, what tools to use, and how to communicate upward and with other teams. While that might seem like a sure path to chaos, the Atlassian values, the fabric of our collaboration tools (JIRA, Confluence, HipChat, and Bitbucket), and a strong preference for objective data mean that we typically have high levels of consensus and coherence, without a lot of management overhead.

If you want a deep dive into the way we run the company and organize teams this is a great presentation to view.

JAXenter: DevOps also deals a lot with company culture. For sure, this is not an easy topic. But would you say there is something like a  coherent culture at Atlassian – or even multiple cultures? 

Ian Buchanan: The company has a strong set of values that shape Atlassian’s culture.

Here’s how each supports DevOps:

Open company, no bullshit. Information is open internally by default and sharing is the first principle. This aligns with the value of Sharing from CALMS. It helps to foster trust and collaboration, both within and across teams, as well as with external parties like customers and integrators. External examples of this open company can be found in the reports made available through our products’ StatusPage sites (for example, Bitbucket Cloud status) and in our Team Playbook that explains how we benchmark and coach our teams to be better.

Build with heart and balance. Passion and urgency infuse everything we do, alongside the wisdom to consider options fully and with care. This aligns with the value of Measurement from CALMS and the value of Empathy from ICE. It means that teams are considering their colleagues in operations, support, and on other development teams, who have to deal with the consequences of their choices. Atlassian teams think about how to validate their assumptions with measurement and experimentation. This means Atlassian teams can make decisions quickly without missing out on calculation and consideration.

Don’t #@!% the customer. Considering the customer perspective — collectively, not just a handful — comes first. This aligns with the value of Lean from CALMS and the value of Empathy from ICE. It means that Atlassian teams are looking at their impact on customers, not just on how many stories completed, how many 9s of uptime, or how many support tickets resolved. While each of those things is good, sometimes customer value comes from somewhere else, like avoiding unnecessary stories, responding quickly to unplanned downtime, or enabling customers to answer their own questions.

There are aspects of DevOps like “automation” that aren’t part of our company values.

Play as a team. We strive to put what’s right for the team first – whether in a meeting room or on a football pitch. We believe that teamwork should be both fun and productive. This means we don’t blame individuals for failure, nor do we expect heroics of individuals. This more than any value is what makes Atlassian a learning organization.

Be the change you seek. At Atlassian, continuous improvement is a shared responsibility. This aligns with the value of Lean from CALMS. Individuals don’t need to seek endless permissions and approvals from management before taking action. They are expected to demonstrate the merit of their arguments by taking action and showing results. This value encourages our “third way of seeing” in that everyone is encouraged to think and act experimentally.

These values weren’t chosen to fit DevOps; hence, there are aspects of DevOps like “automation” that aren’t part of our company values. Nevertheless, we find these business-level values to be highly supportive of both Agile and DevOps culture.

We don’t blame individuals for failure.

JAXenter: Somehow DevOps is more about things like the spirit of collaboration, an experimental culture, business agility, employees satisfaction. What can a company do to foster those aspects?

Ian Buchanan: “Fake it till you make it”. The State of DevOps Report indicates a strong correlation between DevOps practices and both high financial performance and employee satisfaction. While DevOps is characterized as a cultural movement, I don’t think that’s the part that makes for practical advice. An organization must be willing to change its culture to embrace DevOps, but the path is to adopt the practices, do them until they become true competencies, then allow the cultural change to happen. It doesn’t come from management writing a set of aspirational values, then commanding employees to do more collaboration, innovation, and experimentation.

Please complete the following sentences:

In my experience, Devs and Ops work best together if….

they are both oriented to customer value, they automate as a team, they measure business value, and they optimize for the whole.

The biggest obstacle for DevOps is….

the idea that DevOps is an inherent talent limited to a small set of individuals and organizations.

What promotes employee satisfaction the most is….

being given the environment and opportunity to do the best work of their lives.

The biggest advantage of autonomously-working teams is….

the ability and mandate of teams to move quickly with team decisions increase that team’s agility, speed, and cohesion.

It is important for a positive company culture to….

encourage an atmosphere where everyone can produce the best work of their careers, together.

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Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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