Insight: Make culture a priority for an agile organisation

Ian Head
- Leadership - Jul 06, 2018

By Ian Head, research director at Gartner.

I&O leaders must inspire and create new cultural norms for DevOps to be a success.

Most infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders agree that an agile culture is essential for organisations looking to establish DevOps and Mode 2 capabilities. In fact, Gartner predicts that 90% of I&O organisations looking to leverage DevOps without specifically addressing the cultural foundations will fail.

Culture in this respect refers to the combination of team behaviours (what people do) and values (why they do what they do). Naturally, I&O leaders must take charge of defining the values and behaviours that their teams should practice if they wish to enable the necessary cultural transformation. 

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An agile culture is unlikely to arise unless leaders actively promote the specific values and behaviours they expect. Cultural inertia reinforces old habits, making transformation difficult. To realise the full benefits of DevOps and other agile practices, business heads must design their target cultures and then provide active and ongoing reinforcement from senior management to effect the change.

Many organisations want to implement change as quickly as possible. However, the elemental nature of culture could make sudden, widespread change too great for a business to absorb in a short time. Instead, I&O leaders need to take a considered, three-step approach to establishing a culture that makes their organisations more agile and primed for DevOps success.

Build a core team to lead the DevOps culture initiative
When using agile and DevOps practices, small teams are a critical element of success.

A small, focused and successful team can be used to demonstrate the value of new behaviours and attract others to follow suit. Assuming all the required parts of the organisation are represented, a team-by-team approach to culture change can avoid the difficulties associated with “big bang” projects that tend to lose momentum before delivering their objectives.

Prioritise specific values and behaviours
Once the team is in place, work can commence with a small group of practitioners to identify the initial set of essential behaviours and values that will successfully support the DevOps way of working.

To do this, teams should take each value — for example, ‘We value collaboration within and across teams’ — and decide how much of a priority it is. From there, work with key stakeholders to identify and prioritise those values and behaviours that are part of your target culture. Communicate the specific behaviours you expect of all those within the scope of the transformation and make sure to monitor so that you are aware of behaviours that might undermine culture change.

Engage stakeholders in cultural change before starting the program
Key stakeholders who will benefit from the implementation of Mode 2 and DevOps need to buy into the cultural transformation before it begins so they can get fully behind it and act as evangelists to the wider organisation. I&O leaders should help them to understand the new values and behaviours, alongside why change is needed to support business goals.

To ensure success, you may need to adjust the scope of the culture change program by, for example, targeting a subset of behaviours first, or changing the individuals selected to be a part of it. Tailoring the program in this way will ensure that all team members are 100% committed to its success.

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