As more organizations adopt DevOps, it's important for team leaders to understand what it takes to be a strong manager in this new workflow. Here's what you need to know.
Many organizations are seeing the value of DevOps, a cultural movement that integrates software developers and IT professionals who manage production operations for a smoother workflow. As the movement gains traction, it's important for managers across different IT divisions to adapt their leadership style to maximize the benefits of this workplace change.
DevOps adoption is currently all over the map, according to Jeff Sussna, founder and principal of Ingineering.IT. "There are some companies that are all in and making really comprehensive progress," he said. "In general though, I would say a majority of companies I see are sort of grappling with it bit by bit, trying to understand what it is and how to do it."
However, there is more acceptance that it is something that people should pay attention to, Sussna said. As a manager, you need to help the workflow changes happen, he added, "so you are coaching, mentoring, guiding, incenting people—and being willing to experiment."
Here are five tips to help you become a strong DevOps manager.
1. Start where you are.
Ideally, enterprises should not have a designated DevOps team, according to Jennifer Davis, co-author of Effective DevOps and senior software engineer at Chef Software. Instead, every manager should embrace DevOps. First, managers should examine the current process of working and identify bottlenecks that DevOps can help solve. Then, they should talk to talk to his or her team, and to potential collaborative partners on other teams, Davis said. "Empower the team to be part of the change transformation," she added.
To become a DevOps manager, start where you are—this does not require a new or different management position, Sussna said.
"I have been in places where you're not actually allowed to say the word DevOps, because operations managers think it's code for getting fired," Sussna said. "I think it's important to emphasize that at its heart, DevOps is not about org chart changes—it doesn't mean everyone's title changes or you report to one manager. It means that the nature of your relationships with all of the other managers are parts of the organization changes."
2. Change your attitude on failure.
When managers first explore DevOps, there can be a misconception that the benefits will occur immediately, Sussna said. "We think if we rearrange our work in this way, the following good things will happen," he said, so if a company tries the approach for a couple of weeks and it doesn't work, it assumes that it failed. But that's not the best approach, Sussna said. "You now have information, so it shouldn't be treated as a failed project," he added.
Becoming a DevOps manager means shifting your approach to leadership toward thinking about how you connect with your peers, as opposed to how you separate from them, Sussna said.
"A DevOps transformation is about helping your employees learn to change how they think, work, and relate to other people in the company," Sussna said. "Those are challenging things that have to happen over time. It's not like 'We bought new software and will send you to a training class.' It's on a much deeper, human level than that. Management becomes helping people learn to work differently. As a manager, you have to think about your team, or organization, as a service provider—not just a doer of things."
3. Hone your collaboration skills.
DevOps is all about cross-team collaboration, according to Bridget Kromhout, principal technologist at Cloud Foundry and lead organizer of the DevOpsDays conference. Therefore, managers must lead development, infrastructure, operations, security, testing, product, and any other related teams, she said.
"Being a great manager means respecting the perspective of other teams while channeling your direct reports' efforts towards the agreed-upon goals of the wider organization," Kromhout said. Strong managers also employ active listening, and hold postmortems that don't place blame on anyone, to keep the enterprise moving quickly, she said.
Affinity—building connections across the organization and the community—is also key, Davis said. "The connections that we build allow us to shorten the time that it takes for us to get work done, reduce communication barriers, and build trust based on regard," she added.
4. Become a mentor.
Becoming a mentor and sponsor, and giving senior individuals on the team the time and opportunity to mentor junior staff, is important, Davis said.
"Often, senior folks are discouraged from this, and implicitly encouraged to become the single point of failures on the team, as they can get the work done quicker than the new folks," Davis said. When an individual is seen as a blocker—someone who you can't do a particular task without—they are effectively the single point of failure of the service, she added.
5. Focus on continuous learning.
Spending time building the knowledge and skills of individuals on a team adds value to the organization, Davis said. "One of the five indicators of overall employee happiness is the opportunity to learn," she added. "Happy employees build better products leading to better quality and happier customers."
A good DevOps manager encourages a human-centered approach that values the experiences of the team, while continuing to challenge them to learn and develop, Kromhout said.
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