Unplanned Work: The Impact on DevOps Teams

by Ancy Dow September 12, 2019 | 4 min read

Going on call and being awakened at a moment’s notice to put out fires when reputation and revenue are on the line is incredibly stressful. And with DevOps teams under increasing pressure to simultaneously release new products faster while ensuring reliability and quality, burnout is a rapidly growing problem.

It’s why #HugOps and empathy are becoming so central to the culture of DevOps. When unplanned work like sudden application failures, slowdowns, or outages take place, they often have a very real impact on responder teams’ productivity, and also—more worryingly—on their health and well-being.

In recent years, the volume of unplanned work has also given cause for concern—it is growing across the industry, with significant implications for compounding DevOps burnout.

This is why PagerDuty recently commissioned research around the rise and impact of unplanned work, which we will be releasing at PagerDuty Summit, our annual global user conference, in a few weeks (September 23-25 in San Francisco). The research reveals how unplanned work is affecting hundreds of technology teams globally and what teams are doing to combat its effects.

Here’s a sneak preview into a few of the results:

  • Tech problems are now business problems. 71% of respondents indicate that technology issues result in unhappy customers.
  • Unplanned work puts stress on DevOps teams. 70% or more technology staff are negatively impacted by unplanned work in three or more different ways, including heightened stress and anxiety, reduced work-life balance, and less time to focus on important work.
  • Automation reduces stress and helps DevOps teams regain control. For teams that have less automation in their incident response processes, the main impact of unplanned work is increased stress (up to 83.9%). However, for teams that are mostly automated, the main impact of unplanned work is not stress, but rather delayed product development timelines (61.9%).

So what can teams do to address the impacts of unplanned work? At Summit, several DevOps practitioners from leading organizations will speak about how they deal with unplanned work and mitigate burnout by improving alerting, incident response, and on-call through automation and insights. Here are a few sample sessions:

Session: SRE Practices: Alerting and Incident Response
Track: Best Practices
Date and Time: Tuesday, September 24, 2 p.m.

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is a set of principles, practices, and organizational constructs that seek to balance the reliability of a service with the need to continually deliver new features. This talk will focus on the alerting and incident response considerations of SRE. Nathan Harvey, Developer Advocate from Google, will help us explore how incidents are initiated, roles that play a part in incident response, and what we can learn from incidents. Leave this talk with a deeper understanding of SRE principles and with some ideas about how to improve your team’s own SRE practices.

Session: Improving Customer Experience Without Burning Out
Track: Business Value
Date and Time: September 24, 2:45 p.m.

The high stakes of delivering reliable digital experiences grow exponentially by the day, creating significant burdens and stress for those who are on call. In this session, you will hear from IT practitioners and leaders such as Ovadia Harary from Flatiron Health, and Daniel Sultana and Cameron Edwards from TechnologyOne, on how their teams have reimagined on-call to reduce burden on individuals while also better servicing customers.

Track: Best Practices
Session: Recognizing and Recovering From Burnout
Date and Time: September 25, 1:30 p.m.

Teams work hard to build resilient systems and ensure high availability, but they don’t always see the impact this has on those supporting these services. Yes, we praise teams and individuals for going the extra mile or solving incidents while on vacation. We label these people rockstars when things go wrong. And we take time to conduct a postmortem. However, we don’t ask the problem-solver how they are doing and whether they need time to recover. You can only give 110% for so long before you burn out. Dawn Parzych, Developer Advocate at LaunchDarkly, will explore what we can do to avoid burnout in ourselves and others.


Want to get an exclusive preview into the full report findings or see what other session topics will be covered, including analytics, software deployment, integrations, and different use cases for PagerDuty?

Then make sure to check out the Summit website to see a full list of the keynotes and breakout sessions. This year’s event is jam-packed with many fun and educational activities, like our Breakathon (free!), a hands-on chaos engineering workshop taught by experts, and much more.

If you haven’t signed up already, be sure to reserve your spot by registering for Summit19 today!