How to avoid the top 5 causes of DevOps failure

Interest in DevOps continues to spread, but enterprises must navigate these common pitfalls, according to Gartner.

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DevOps moved from tech buzzword to common practice in the last decade, with successful adopters of the collaborative workflow seeing benefits including more frequent product deployments and fewer security issues.

While interest in DevOps continues to grow, organizations tend to face some common obstacles when attempting to implement successful DevOps projects, according to a Gartner report.

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"Each year, we watch more and more groups getting their feet wet with DevOps," said George Spafford, research director at Gartner and co-author of the report. However, in large enterprises, you often see some teams implementing DevOps, while others have no idea what it is, Spafford said.

SEE: IT leader's guide to making DevOps work (Tech Pro Research)

"We're watching adoption increase by virtue of our surveys and our audience polling, but just because you hear that Company X is doing DevOps, it doesn't automatically mean that they're doing it on their entire portfolio. Odds are, they're just doing it in sections of it."

When properly implemented, "DevOps works," Spafford said. "It can deliver real value. It can help firms better deal with uncertainty, and it can help them deliver value faster."

Here are the top five causes of DevOps failure, and how to avoid them, according to Gartner.

1. Failure to ground DevOps initiatives in customer value

Many organizations across industries are being told by the business side that they need to move faster to pursue new opportunities and counter threats, Spafford said. "You have this very real need for speed, but we've got to make sure that we're grounding the need for speed in customer value," he added. "It's not just that we need to go faster. We need to deliver value faster."

In situations that involve uncertainty when trying to solve a business problem, DevOps can help companies experiment faster to get to the right solution, Spafford said.

Leaders who decide to do DevOps for DevOps' sake risk failure, because employees do not connect with the term DevOps, Spafford said. Instead, you need to connect to the value that these efforts with bring to both employees and the organization. This means identifying who the customers are, what they view as valuable, and how to address those needs.

2. Failure to manage organizational change

"One of the biggest problems is that people ignore people," Spafford said. "A very big problem that unfortunately I watch repeated over and over is overlooking organization change."

When you try and implement something big all at once without time to learn, it leads to low change success rates, Spafford said.

Leaders should initiate organizational change by understanding and communicating customer value. DevOps and the required changes that come with it are not optional, and staff must understand that, along with why the change is necessary, Spafford said.

"We really need to focus on customer value because people connect with value, not with the term DevOps," Spafford said. "We need to iterate to make sure we're having an opportunity to learn and to improve."

SEE: Job description: DevOps engineer (Tech Pro Research)

3. Failure to collaborate

Successful DevOps efforts require collaboration with all parties involved to address problems that arise, the report noted. However, many DevOps projects are limited to a single domain, which limits their efficacy.

Organizations also sometimes make the mistake of selecting personnel based only on their technical skills, rather than their ability to collaborate, Spafford said. "When we're putting together a DevOps team, we want a team of people who are going to work together, people who enjoy teamwork," he added. "They're smart, they're motivated, they're experienced, they hold themselves and others accountable, and especially, they enjoy learning, because DevOps is certainly not static."

Gartner has seen client DevOps efforts derailed by employees who did not like working on teams or sharing knowledge, he added.

"We can always train good people on technical skills," Spafford said. "It's really hard to get people with poor attitudes and poor behaviors, to change."

4. Failure to adopt an iterative approach

Launching DevOps in a single step—giving the training on Friday and launching the process on Monday—leads to a higher failure rate, particularly for large organizations, Gartner found. An incremental, iterative approach helps organizations focus on continual improvements, and avoids the risk of a more rapid approach by giving you the chance to learn, course-correct, and improve with each attempt and continue moving forward.

"We need to create an environment where learning is front and center," Spafford said. "Iterating can help do that."

Spafford recommends choosing a "first mover" as opposed to a pilot test. The first mover refers to a single value stream that companies can find success with through repetition and learning. First movers should be politically friendly (so stakeholders are willing to give DevOps a fair try, with the understanding that mistakes will happen and will be learned from), create acceptable value (to establish credibility and grow support), and present an acceptable level of risk for the business.

"Our goal is not to implement an entire tool chain and the end-all, be-all, automated solution from development all the way into production. Our goal is to improve the flow of work and just keep improving over time," Spafford said.

5. Failure to manage expectations about DevOps initiatives

It's common for stakeholders to enter DevOps efforts expecting the wrong things, Spafford said. For example, many expect the workflow to cut costs, when it's really meant to be a value play. Another false expectation is that DevOps is all about tools that can be implemented quickly, when it's actually a heavy lift in terms of organizational change, Spafford said.

"At the end of the day, it all comes down to making sure that what you can deliver is matching the expectations," Spafford said. "It's also one of the reasons why I will caution folks to be very careful with what they commit to. Whether they're using numbers from consulting groups, or using numbers from industry studies, et cetera, you just don't know how that's gonna stack up to you in particular. So just watch out for the expectations."

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By Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.