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DevOps – The Need for New Skills and Competencies
What is DevOps?
There is a huge amount of contradictory information around what DevOps is and is not. But for the sake of this article, let’s agree to use this definition:
The latest Webopedia definition of DevOps states that DevOps (development and operations) is an enterprise software development phrase used to mean a type of agile relationship between development and IT operations. The true goal of DevOps is to change and improve the relationship by advocating better communication and collaboration between these two business units. Whilst this is fundamentally true, I believe that in addition DevOps provides a vehicle for organisational transformation from siloed, traditionally adversarial groups to collaborative, co-creation/shared ownership teams with a common goal and collective responsibility that will give an organisation the edge to win in its market sector. See my previous blog "DevOps – It’s an IT thing, isn’t it?"
Journey to Effective Continuous DevOps Competencies
In order to take advantage of this transformational wave, organisations must look at their transformation journey and how their existing skills and competencies align to their future goals and objectives. In particular, this is essential with respect to new delivery processes such as Agile, Lean, Continuous Improvement and obviously, DevOps. These areas will require an updated set of abilities, attitudes and critical thinking. It is not just a skill that can be learnt but an evolved competence. While skills are an important part of learning and career paths, they are not rich or nuanced enough to guide people towards true mastery and success.
Skills focus on the “what” in terms of the abilities a person needs to perform a specific task or activity. They identify the goal to accomplish. Competencies, however, take this to the next level by translating skills into behaviours that demonstrate what has been learned and mastered.. They include a dynamic combination of abilities, attitudes, and behaviours, as well as knowledge, that is fundamental to the use of a skill aligned to an outcome.
Success in DevOps will fundamentally rely on much more than skills. I would therefore suggest that it is time to shift the focus and energy on developing and accessing core and innovative DevOps competencies that will serve all organisations now and in the future.
Similarly, I would suggest that like being a competent wine taster as a opposed to just a wine drinker, you are either a competent DevOps Champion or not. Clearly, a person can become an excellent DevOps Software Engineer through practice, learning from others and skills absorption but in order to be a strong DevOps Champion one must rely on a combination of skills PLUS behaviours and knowledge. A person can learn how to be a good DevOps Software Engineer but only a strong DevOps Champion has advanced communications skills, the knowledge of diverse cultures, diversity and behaves collaboratively when working in teams.
Based on this premise how do you know whether your organisation has the right competency framework to take full advantage of transformation and DevOps?
Transformation & Continuous DevOps Competency Framework
I would suggest that in addition to having the right skills and knowledge associated with the technical tools and practices of DevOps, there are some key competency areas that an organisation needs to look at when evolving themselves to the use of DevOps. These include Culture, Leadership, Resource-Management, Continuous Delivery and Business Value.
The table below describes briefly how each is aligned to the deployment of DevOps in an organisation
|Competency Area||Requirement||Why it is important in a DevOps Environment.|
|Culture & Organisation||
An organisation needs to move its behavioural emphasis from inattention to culture to a recognition that its culture and behaviours are a central role within its digital strategy and effective delivery of their products and services.
Culture can be defined as a form of shared organisational assumptions that are learned in time by teams as it resolves problems and becomes integrated into its day-to-day norms and is then considered to be the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to future problems.
Within DevOps this evolves further with the energy of continuous improvement, the building of collective intelligence, an obsession to monitor and the continuous reaction to feedback, all based on trust. This facilitates four key benefits, namely teambuilding, courage, and leadership & continuous improvement.
|Leadership & Courage||
All transformational change requires the identification of strong leaders at all levels with core competencies in visioning, strategic management, flexibility, ability to innovate and inspire others to perform.
The evolution of DevOps is predicated by effective leadership in terms of how an organisation routes its change journey. However, in DevOps, like in any other environment leaders are not made with a bit of strategy, some SMART objectives, a touch of management, a dash of result-driven targets and a sprinkle of fairy dust.
DevOps leadership is not something you learn and just do. For DevOps Champions, leadership is a journey of discovery that inspires, persuades and fascinates their followers by its own passion, integrity, authenticity and courage.
In my opinion learning a set of skills does not make you a leader – how do you learn passion, integrity, authenticity and courage?
All change programmes (and DevOps is no different) requires the effective management of available resources. It must look at moving from existing processes resulting in overburden, multitasking and poor delivery to being concerned about value, continuous delivery and quality outcomes.
Continous collaboration across multi-functional teams is at the heart of DevOps delivering an accountable business outcome. Organisations need to ensure collaborative working behaviours are the norm, silos are broken down and trust is built-into the delivery process.
The DevOps principle is to evolve from “code complete” to “full life-cycle”; from batch to handoffs to ongoing digital value proposition.
Continuous Delivery is a set of processes and practices that radically removes waste from your software production process, enables faster delivery of high-quality functionality and sets up a rapid and effective feedback loop between your business and your users.
Essentially it is about putting the release schedule in the hands of the business, not in the hands of IT. Implementing Continuous Delivery means making sure your software is always production ready throughout its entire lifecycle
In DevOps, business value is an informal term that determines the “value” assigned to an outcome"
It is the ability to deliver a user-centric products that generates business value throughout the production development cycle by using continuous feedback from the end customer. The product features do not get “stuck” in the development cycle and are shipped straight away – as opposed to the traditional way of delivery where the product is only shipped when it is “complete”.
This is a fundamental need in DevOps in terms of ensuring that the right business outcome is achieved. The key principles include ensuring that DevOps outcomes :
a. Are a true understanding of business processes, values and needs in order to be able to identify those improvements that add most value to the business practice?
b. Identified the potential improvements, with the DevOps Champion having the ability to carry out a detail analysis of the business such that the solution implemented is effective in terms of cost, desired outcome, functionality and lead time.
Bringing it all together
Sure, it is a challenge to ensure that your teams have the right mix and amount of each competency and skill. But the real difficulty is how to go from a current skills & certificate-based specialist job functions to a broad-based expertise and awareness, supported by the right skills?
There is no right or wrong answer here; my point of view is that management must stimulate teams to continuously develop/evolve themselves towards the inevitable new collaborative model for Technology Services. It is about elevating everyone’s views and understanding so that they see and understand the bigger picture. Normally, people have a narrow focus, delivering to their best ability with their existing skills in terms of what they perceive is required. By helping people to understand the bigger picture and interconnecting the organisation’s ecosystem, it will help with furthering people's overall competency.
Will it be easy – definitely not!
A possible route for your DevOps initiative is adapting a continuous competency based approach to your learning and development process that is focused on the necessary aptitudes required by transformation and change (ie DevOps) whilst letting your teams learn at their own pace. This is not a dramatic and disruptive process but an evolution. It recognizes and adjust to meet the needs of individual team DevOps members by:
- Continuously providing different learning materials and assessments to team members based on what they've already mastered;
- Individual team members receive different materials based on the needs of the team and themselves;
- The content is designed with learning alternatives and is linked closely tied to individual team-members specific interactions with the content;
- The team members select from among different learning resources and training-channels based on their own choices and preferences;
- The team members receive personalised messages and notifications that is relevant, timely and tailored to their individual activities and needs;
- There is continuous feedback and appropriate intervention designed to help them progress along their individual learning path.
Benefits to continuous competency-based learning in DevOps but also within existing workflows include:
- Leverage existing investments and valuable resources
- Avoid costly retrofitting of deeply embedded processes
- Achieve organisational buy-in and engagement by focusing on learning outcomes rather than on disruption
- Meet existing organisation, team and staff expectations because learning outcomes are well understood
- Add new paths to employment rather than disrupting existing paths
Skills, competency and experience is the most sought-after mix of abilities any organisation would wish to have in their teams. I therefore contend that this never-ending journey will probably be the most exciting journey of growth your team would ever dared to take. It will provide significant gains in productivity and quality, business success and ultimately employee happiness.
“.. by stretching yourself beyond your perceived level of confidence you accelerate your development of competence”, Michael Gelb
WW Strategic Transformation
Hewlett Packard Enterprise
CIO Advisor, World Wide Strategic Transformation, Governance & Operations CoE -- Mario is sixty+ year-old Spaniard with English undertones – living in Preston, North West England. He has worked in the Information Technology field for over 35 years, most recently in the Public Sector as IT Director for a Northern UK Metropolitan Council and as CIO for the second largest Police Force in the UK. As a Senior Executive he majors on advising organisations on Corporate IS Strategy, Enterprise Agile, DevOps, Collaborative Shared IS services and building and leading high-performing IS teams.
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