Rethink IT — Part 3

Demystifying DevOps: What can a company do to manage a DevOps culture shift?

JAXenter Editorial Team
DevOps culture
3D Illustration image via Shutterstock

Gartner predicted last year that in 2016 DevOps will evolve from a niche to a mainstream strategy. The year is almost over so it’s safe to assume that DevOps has gone mainstream. But how familiar are companies with the elements that constitute the DevOps culture? And more importantly, how can they ease the DevOps culture transformation shock?

Rethink IT SurveyTo make the notion of culture more palpable, we started, in cooperation with JAX DevOps and DevOps Conference, our DevOps survey, where we dedicated a whole set of questions to the cultural aspect of DevOps. The survey is still running.

To complete the picture, we asked seven DevOps experts about their experiences with company cultures and cultural change.

The DevOps experts


Jeff Sussna is an internationally recognized IT consultant and systems/design thinking practitioner. Jeff is a highly respected teacher, writer, and speaker on topics such as DevOps and Design Thinking.


Uwe Friedrichsen travels the IT world for many years. As a fellow of codecentric AG he is always in search of innovative ideas and concepts.

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Helen Beal is passionate about DevOps and is the creator of the Ranger4 DevOps LiftOff Workshop and the Ranger4 DevOps Maturity Assessment – winner of the IBM Beacon Award 2015 for Outstanding DevOps Solution.

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Greg Bledsoe is a Managing Consultant at Accenture in the Devops Architecture Practice and regularly advises and leads the implementation of devops principles and practices at the fortune 100.


Markus Andrezak is the founder of ueberproduct and helps companies find and create great products.

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Emily Lannon is Director of Workplace at SoundCloud.


Matthew Skelton is co-founder and Principal Consultant at Skelton Thatcher Consulting.

In the first part of our series dedicated to the DevOps culture, we invited the experts to weigh in on the importance of culture in a DevOps context. Then we went into details and clarified what values should be part of the culture of a company on its way to DevOps. Now we’re asking our DevOps experts to pinpoint the measures companies can take to achieve this transformation towards a real DevOps culture.

7 answers: What can a company do to achieve a successful transformation towards a real DevOps culture?

Helen Beal: The steps we recommend to change culture are:

-Self-identify as a change leader.

-Find other change leaders.

-Gain some senior level support.

-Understand that this is an evolutionary, transformation journey that will take a minimum of 12 months for a company of practically any size.

-Run an informal event like a lunch and learn and cake afternoon to identify other change agents and appetite for DevOps.

-Engage to deliver a project to assess/baseline current state – with senior stakeholders and budgets. An output must be the investment plan.

-Identify a value stream/product line to use as a pilot project – perform a VSM exercise to underpin the direction of travel and tighten the financial case for change.

-Plan journey, launch — deliver as an Agile project with a backlog and sprints — use coaching to maintain momentum and energy.

Uwe Friedrichsen: There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all. Just like I said at the beginning of the interview, in case of emergency, organizations tend to use procedures that have been successful. More often than not, these are procedures which, in the best case scenario, do not affect anything in the sense of DevOps goals —on the contrary, in most cases have the opposite effect. This is the effect of culture as a collective memory of the organization.

Therefore, I can only suggest patience; one should not relapse at the sight of the first problem. If applicable, the concept of a “save room” can help. Often, an announcement like “Let us try this for a period X, and if we see that it doesn’t work, we can go back to the way it was” is sort of a save room.

Greg Bledsoe: Demonstrated, measurable success builds credibility and a touch of envy.  A successful pilot project can bring an entire organization in its wake as the results speak for themselves. Sending the new evangelists out into new teams to replicate success can help overcome many other intrinsic obstacles.  

We can’t separate tools from culture. 

Jeff Sussna: I don’t believe it’s actually true that technologies which implement new practices can be implemented quite fast. Simply tipping up a Jenkins server may be easy, but teaching your developers to fix the build every time it breaks is not.

We can’t separate tools from culture. DevOps is about achieving technical and business agility. Agility needs to be the path as well as the destination. Very few new practices work optimally right out of the gate. If we want to create learning organizations, we need to allow ourselves to learn along the way.

SEE ALSO: Demystifying DevOps: 7 reasons why culture is the key

Markus Andrezak: Patience and an implementation that takes upper management up to the CEO as an integral part of the implementation. The very short moment where upper management shows it does not understand the ways of delegation and servant leadership is the moment where it will all tumble. Management has to be the first institution that acts in this new way. It is really hard.

Expect an evolution of 18-36 months for medium-sized organizations or departments.

Emily Lannon: Collective participation and not top down. Representatives need to be involved and feedback into the general population of the company.

 Matthew Skelton: Cultural change is difficult. It needs real and long-term commitment from the management team (C-level) to be at all effective, and really needs to include everything from hiring to how new features are funded. However, we can demonstrate improvements in small, focused ‘pilot’ areas, and then evangelize from there. Expect an evolution of 18-36 months for medium-sized organizations or departments.


Please complete the following sentence:

It is important for a positive company culture to….

…genuinely value and incent experimentation even when it doesn’t lead in a straight line to perceived business success. Jeff Sussna

celebrate and showcase success — and failure too (as this shows the organization puts high value on experimentation)!  Helen Beal

embrace the possibilities of mistakes being made (without being proud of them!), the insight that not everything can be meticulously planned and random events will happen as well as a culture of ‘do he right thing now, ask for forgiveness later’ (adhocracy) and finally: the assumption that every human being basically is good and wants to contribute, if possible. Markus Andrezak

listen, respond and changeEmily Lannon

all kinds of things. This is different for every company and should be defined by the persons involved. Uwe Friedrichsen

be transparent, sharing (almost all) information, and empowering people to do a good job, supported with great tools. Matthew Skelton

The survey

How about DevOps in your company? In our “Rethink IT” survey we ask you to evaluate your situation regarding the five main pillars of DevOps: Continuous Delivery, Microservices, Containers, Cloud and an Agile company culture.

Thank you very much for your participation!

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