The world of tech is not for the faint of heart. It can be high-stakes and the margin between wild success and yesterday’s news is razor thin at times.

In order to stay one step ahead of the competition in the war for market share, many tech companies have begun to fundamentally shift how they work in order to increase the velocity with which they build, test and release software. What originally started from the agile movement is now evolving into a new philosophical way of working: DevOps.

DevOps is not a replacement of agile or lean methodologies so much as a supplement to them. It fills in the gaps to help tech companies break down functional stovepipes, automate as much as possible in the spirit of speed and quality, and refine operational process to allow for velocity that was unheard of ten years ago.

The thought of a tech company deploying ten updates to an app in a day was preposterous just a few years ago. Now, those who have made the shift to a DevOps environment are doing this on a regular basis.

It’s a culture thing.

devops culture change

As an organizational psychologist who specializes in workplace culture, I find the topic of DevOps a fascinating case study. Tech companies are now challenging their long-standing beliefs and assumptions and shifting deeply held ways of working to allow for significantly better collaboration and velocity.

As I continue to consider DevOps, at its core, as a culture shift, I can’t help but begin to frame my own personal beliefs about what DevOps is and isn’t. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

DevOps is less about what we do and more about how we do it. Technology infrastructure and evolving processes are critical in successfully transforming an organization to DevOps principles. But, at the end of the day, DevOps is about how work gets done, and how people interact with each other and with technology to drive performance.

DevOps is not an off-the-shelf solution that can just be implemented. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for how DevOps should be implemented. Again, since DevOps is fundamentally a cultural shift in the way work gets done, it will take slightly different forms based on the organization. That’s okay. Chef’s CTO, Adam Jacob, does an exceptional job articulating this nuance in his 2015 article in ReadWrite.

The people side is critical to the equation. While most of the DevOps articles I have come across do make passing mention of the people side of the DevOps equation, very few go beyond a brief affirmation that it’s essential before moving on to the process and technology/infrastructure components of the transformation. If we truly want to change the way people work to drive velocity in the tech world, then we must take a deeper look at this human side of DevOps, and the ways it can support or derail a sustainable DevOps transformation.

DevOps is not a job, it’s everyone’s job. A quick job search on contained only to the Seattle, WA area found over 500 job openings with the term DevOps in the title. Klint Finley’s Wired article illustrates this trend of tech companies changing job titles to include DevOps. But, according to Finley, DevOps is not a job. It’s a critical way of working together to drive performance. If this is true (which I happen to wholeheartedly agree with), then I will go a step further to suggest that DevOps isn’t one person’s job, it’s everyone’s job.

The people component of the model seems to be the part that is least defined. I’ve found several DevOps models in my research, but none have quite hit home with me. Most make mention of the people or culture aspect of a DevOps transformation, but they tend to do so in name only, focusing more heavily on the infrastructure components. It’s important to realize that more “stuff” is not the solution to a successful DevOps transition, or any cultural transition for that matter. I dive deeper into this idea in another recent article.

A DevOps transition can be likened to any organizational change in the way work gets done, whether that be organizations moving toward a client-focused culture, those desiring a culture that excels at quality and consistency, or those that are working toward operating at higher velocity. If this is true, then focusing on the fundamental aspects of organizational culture that drive the behaviors one needs to execute on their business strategy becomes the coatrack from which all of the other systems, process and people changes hang.

There is clear evidence to suggest that a DevOps approach to tech development can have significant impact on the velocity of an IT organization. This is supported in the State of DevOps Report produced by PuppetLabs on an annual basis.

That said, there is also data that suggests that most DevOps transformation efforts fail to deliver on expectations. The existing culture of the IT organization does not allow for people to behave in the ways necessary to make the leap to DevOps. Based on this, I submit that it’s time that we reexamine our approach to sustainable DevOps transformation. We must begin to design a more comprehensive methodology that takes into account the various people and cultural factors that help reinforce new ways of working.

The brass ring of velocity is within reach for these forward thinking tech companies. The question is, can they embrace the organizational change necessary to grab it?