DevOps: applied empathy

Posted in: Business Insights, DevOps

I enjoyed participating in a panel on DevOps culture by Electric Cloud last week. Our commendable hosts kept things light and productive despite the number of participants and breadth of topic.

It wouldn’t be a culture discussion if we had failed to review the motivations for that (DevOps) culture: namely the evolve-or-die progression of tech business in general and software systems of customer engagement in particular. So the logic goes, any non-trivial business is now (also) a software business – thus, being “good at software” (and rapidly deriving high quality, constantly improving, large-scale services from it) is a fundamental market success factor and must be(come) part of the corporate DNA.

I doubt the above is controversial, but the degree to which it feels true probably depends on the scale of opportunity in your sector(s) and the governing regulatory regime(s). Those factors have a big impact not only on the intensity of motivation, but the challenges and resistance to change that must be overcome in a successful program of transformation.

The discussion reminded me that empathy is important for more than just being nice. It’s also a great way to understand what motivates people and how to incorporate their success drivers into transformation efforts.

top of the world in a typical software engineering org

Consider Katniss, for example – she has to deliver to Rex (and consumers like you and me) the “and sandwich”, Velocity (new features) and Operational Excellence, or we (consumers) will find a service that does. She may prioritize Velocity at times over other initiatives, and the stress on Bill grows under this pressure. If, as agent of transformational change, you propose methods of increasing Velocity to Bill – you are likely to face rejection – Bill’s already drowning at the present pace.

If, on the other hand, one approaches Bill to explain that pervasive, intelligent automation strategies can give his team their weekends back, and make his team a proactive contributor and valued partner in growth of the business, one will likely find a different sort of audience.

All this means, to me, is that DevOps is a useful context for improving a complex sort of collaboration that’s called a software product lifecycle. Understanding the motivations and needs of the players in an organization  is a key enabler for planning and executing successful programs of change.


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