Transitioning to a DevOps Model

by David Shackelford January 22, 2015 | 6 min read

We’re pleased to re-post this article by David Shackelford. The article was originally published on

As the pace of development and business continues to scale, teams need an agile and collaborative work environment to succeed. Moving to a DevOps model is a critical part of setting your engineering teams up to succeed, but making the transition can be challenging for many companies.

What’s the deal? – Why you need a DevOps model

DevOps is a movement in the software world  that focuses on collaboration between developers and operations, customer empathy and infrastructure automation. In traditional models, developers write code and then hand it to operations teams to deploy and and run in a production environment. This often leads to a lack of ownership between the two teams (“It worked on my local box!”) as well as a slower pace of development. In a DevOps model, by contrast, the two teams work closely with each other, and toward common, customer-facing goals – developers take ownership of their code even while it’s in production, and operations teams build tooling and processes that help developers write, test and ship code faster and more easily.

By breaking through traditional developer-operations walls, development happens faster and with more customer empathy, ultimately resulting in a better customer experience and a happier team. Rather than seeing the other team as a gate or obstacle, if done right, developers and operations see each other as teammates working to deliver value to the customer and business.

Unfortunately, introducing DevOps culture and practices to your company isn’t easy. Big changes to long-entrenched silos can generate resistance, and business leaders are often scared of the costs that come with change. To combat these concerns and hesitations, we’ve highlighted a few tips for transitioning to a DevOps model.

Start with Collaboration – what’s working and what’s not?

At the heart of DevOps is improved collaboration between your Operations and Development teams. You’re probably not starting from a vacuum, though – look at and talk about the best examples of how your operations and software development teams are collaborating today. Are there particular dev/ops groups that are already working tightly together, championing great communication or doing joint planning? Focusing on what is already working and how to make it work better, rather than what’s broken, keeps things positive and more likely to succeed.

You could set up a group brainstorming session to discuss, or have one-on-one conversations with individual team members, depending on the format that you think will help people open up more easily. This article highlights opportunities for collaboration across the application delivery lifecycle, and could provide a useful framework for asking questions and identifying opportunities.

In addition to the state of collaboration, you’ll also want to look for process successes and breakdowns in how you deploy and maintain applications, services and infrastructure. Identify the biggest opportunities for improvement – do your builds and test take hours? Are your 20 development teams all competing for the same three staging environments? Being able to quantify the impact of these pain points can help defend the transition to business stakeholders who may not have as much on-the-ground context about your teams’ pain points.

It’s also important to build an understanding of the different perspectives operations and development teams may have. If your organization has traditionally been very siloed, thinking about other teams’ goals when planning and prioritizing may be a new mindset. Sharing each team’s objectives and what success looks like for them can help build this understanding and empathy. Focus on transparency (a framework like OKRs can help) to avoid conflict from mismatched assumptions about priorities.

Create a plan

Once you’ve identified opportunities to improve the collaboration and workflow between developers and operations, it’s time to create a specific plan. Pick key opportunities and identify the first few steps to make a difference. Courtney Nash recommends starting with a group of people who are receptive to the vision and picking a small product or service as a test-bed. When implementing big changes, it helps to start small and scale from there after proving success.

Engineers are not always known for their people skills, but transitioning to DevOps is as much about people as it is about process and tools. Throughout this whole process, you’ll want to be investing key stakeholders in your team and company in the transition. Change management sounds awfully corporate, but at it’s heart, it’s about making sure you build support for your projects and goals by collecting input from key stakeholders: gathering their feedback and goals, sharing and re-shaping your plan based on their input, and communicating your progress with them. It’s always easier to work in silos with people that already agree with you, but for lasting change, you’ll need to invest in building support across teams and throughout your organization.

Finally, pick realistic timelines and objectives. It’s important to note that some effects of the change may take longer to realize as people ramp up on new tools and ways of working. Don’t discount or neglect the amount of time required for training, and try not to be fazed if the first project you pick doesn’t turn out to be a good one. As Courtney Nash mentions, realized their first project was not ultimately the right one to start with. Importantly, they didn’t give up, instead choosing a different, better-suited application.

Measure and reflect

While it’s rare for timelines in complex systems to happen exactly as planned, it’s important to timebox your work so that you can measure and reflect on how it went.

After the specific milestone you’ve chosen, bring stakeholders together and run a retrospective. There are a lot of great resources out there to help with good retrospectives, but regardless of approach, make sure you make an intentional space to look critically at your results, celebrate success, and think about how you’d like to change or iterate the process for the future.

When reflecting on progress, it’s important to be candid and honest while assuming the best intentions of your teammates. You are guaranteed to make mistakes – that’s inevitable with any new process – but remember (and help others remember) that you’re all working toward the same purpose and share a common set of values and goals.

Don’t give up

Adopting DevOps is a big change for an organization, and there will be bumps along the road. At the end of the day, though, the rewards of tighter collaboration among teams and a more empathy-driven engineering culture can be really powerful, and will show in product quality, velocity and team morale.