How to build a strong DevOps organizational structure

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Transitioning to a DevOps environment? Don't make these four mistakes

Weak project management skills, missed timelines, thin-skinned staff -- any one of these could torpedo your fledgling DevOps environment.

DevOps blends tasks performed by a company's application development and systems operations teams. The straightforward definition belies the complexity of standing up a DevOps environment. Indeed, the list of potential problems CIOs face when moving to DevOps is long. These landmines range from the technical (i.e., failures in the infrastructure or test environments) to cultural (for example, overvaluing speed while undervaluing quality) to managerial (not getting executive support).

Here, our experts lay out four common mistakes when transitioning to a DevOps environment and steps on how to avoid them:

Mistake 1: Being dazzled by the DevOps title

When tech executives seek to build up their DevOps capabilities, they often start by hiring DevOps engineers. That's not necessarily the best place to start. DevOps engineers typically lean toward one side or the other in the DevOps skill set, that is, with a bent toward operations or a preference for development, said Shalom Berkowitz, a junior team lead for technical recruiting at tech staffing firm Mondo.

Shalom BerkowitzShalom Berkowitz

Start by assessing what skills are needed to round out your DevOps environment and refer specifically to them when seeking candidates. For instance, spell out the need for experience in Linux, or knowledge of Ruby, or a proven track record with Puppet rather than hiring for the broader DevOps title and assuming applicants will have the experience that matches your needs.

Mistake 2: Ignoring timelines

There's no denying that the traditional waterfall method, where work is more siloed, has an orderliness to it, said James Stanger, senior director of products at CompTIA, a nonprofit trade association.

James StangerJames Stanger

Contrast that with DevOps, which by its very nature has the potential to seem disorganized because "everybody is into everybody's work," he said.

"That can invite chaos versus rationalized development," Stanger said. It can also invite scope creep, as everyone has the potential to add their good ideas as they iterate.

"They will tend to think that it's not linear anymore, that there are no more timelines, we're just working together," he said.

It's the implementation of the timeline that changes, not the need for a timeline. ... You're doing things in a more circular way, but you're still moving toward that timeline.
James Stangersenior director of products, CompTIA

Managers need to adhere to strong project management principles in a DevOps environment, ensuring adherence to documentation and deadlines to avoid runaway projects.

"It's the implementation of the timeline that changes, not the need for a timeline," he added. "You're doing things in a more circular way, but you're still moving toward that timeline."

Mistake 3: Moving too much to DevOps too soon

Jay Lyman, a principal analyst in the development, DevOps & IT Ops channel at 451 Research, said he and his colleagues have seen organizations apply DevOps principles to too many projects and/or projects that are too complex straight out of the gate, before their DevOps teams have the experience and expertise needed to shepherd those projects through.

Jay LymanJay Lyman

Lyman said he advises organizations to start small and apply DevOps first to some low-hanging fruit -- usually new initiatives or new applications -- to build up the required skills and processes.

He adds that many organizations find early success by looking to and borrowing strategies from their web operations and mobile teams that, due to the nature of those areas, are already iterating fast and using DevOps principles.

Mistake 4: Forgetting the feedback loop

The feedback loop drives DevOps, but sometimes key stakeholders -- such as database administrators and security experts -- get left out, resulting in a flawed end product, Lyman said.

"Make sure there are not missing links in this feedback loop because getting those stakeholders involved is how you improve," he said.

Similarly, Stanger said organizations need to help their DevOps people understand the importance of feedback and ensure that they don't see it as unwarranted criticism.

"Feedback can't be seen as a negative thing. It has to be seen as an opportunity to address what needs to be improved," he said.

Read in-depth advice on how to field a DevOps team: "Build and buy: Key to forming DevOps environment."

About the Author: Mary K. Pratt, an award-winning freelance journalist based in Massachusetts, has covered various subject matters, from community news to fashion to health and fitness. She is the author of nine nonfiction books for middle and high school students. Pratt currently focuses her coverage on business management and information technology topics. She can be reached at [email protected].

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