Make Culture a Priority for an Agile Organization

April 16, 2018

Contributor: Christy Pettey

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 organizations looking to establish DevOps and Mode 2 capabilities. In fact, Gartner predicts that 90% of I&O organizations looking to leverage DevOps without specifically addressing the cultural foundations will fail.

Culture can be best described as the combination of team behaviors (what people do) and values (why they do what they do). So it makes sense that to enable the necessary cultural transformation, I&O leaders must take charge of defining the values and behaviors that their teams should practice.

“ Leaders must design their target cultures and then provide active and ongoing reinforcement from senior management ”

Ian Head, research director at Gartner, maintains that an agile culture is unlikely to arise unless leaders actively promote the specific values and behaviors they expect. “Cultural inertia reinforces old habits, making transformation difficult,” says Head. “To realize the full benefits of DevOps and other agile practices, leaders must design their target cultures and then provide active and ongoing reinforcement from senior management to effect the change.”

Many organizations want to implement change as quickly as possible; however, the elemental nature of culture could make sudden, widespread change too great for the organization 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 organizations 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 an essential element of success.

A small, focused and successful team can be used to demonstrate the value of new behaviors and attract others to join in those behaviors. Provided that all the required parts of the organization 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.

“ To ensure success, you may need to adjust the scope of the culture change program by, for example, targeting a subset of behaviors first, or changing the individuals selected to be a part of it ”

Prioritize specific values and behaviors

Once the team is in place, work can commence with a small group of practitioners to identify the initial set of essential behaviors 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,” explains Head. “From there, work with key stakeholders to identify and prioritize those values and behaviors that are part of your target culture. Communicate the specific behaviors you expect of all those within the scope of the transformation and make sure to monitor so that you are aware of behaviors 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 organization. I&O leaders should help them to understand the new values and behaviors and why change is needed to support the goals of the business.

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

Read more: How to Create a Powerful Organizational Change Management Storyline

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