Scaling Might Be the Biggest Challenge of DevOps IT

IT drives business value at every level of your company, which means that the effect of DevOps will be negligible if it’s contained just to your IT department. Learn how to set your DevOps initiative up for success across the entire organization.

“Start small.”

It’s advice that’s been given to many an IT employee working to implement DevOps in his or her workplace. As the conversation typically goes, if IT can demonstrate the numerous benefits of DevOps on a small scale through easily-readable metrics, the company as a whole will be more likely to adapt. While such an approach is preferable to simply asking for the widespread adoption of DevOps, this advice often disguises the most challenging aspect of DevOps implementation: scaling.

IT drives business value at every level of a company, so DevOps’ effects will be negligible if it’s contained to just the IT department. Even if IT can convert the CIO and other top management, everyone else in the company — from HR to security — needs to adapt to the new processes and relationships inherent to DevOps. As Barclays Bank’s head of development services Jonathan Smart puts it, “Senior management get it, the troops get it, but it’s the people in the middle who have to deliver, come hell or high water, that we need to get on board.”

So how should a business scale DevOps across their entire operation? Through a top-down strategy that prioritizes leadership training and all employees to embrace adoption.

The Importance of Strong Leadership at Every Level

One common challenge associated with implementing DevOps at scale is an organizational structure that typically favors decentralization and small, self-reliant teams. While a decentralized approach to DevOps may work for smaller businesses, larger operations necessitate that common goals and processes are distilled at every level.

For this reason, we recommend organizing a central group to standardize DevOps practices and establish clear goals. This group should be available as a resource for any employee or group that’s having a difficult time adapting to new customs and procedures. It should be comprised of a diverse array of employees — not just top management or IT. That way, knowledge and responsibility will be dispersed throughout all levels and departments.

To further this dispersion, businesses should invest in training for a large number of high-performing employees who demonstrate real excitement about DevOps. These employees should also be picked from every corner of the operation so that their increased energy and know-how will boost morale and efficiency in each of their respective departments.

Barclays serves as a model example of this strategy. To better implement DevOps at scale, they created 35 “communities of practice” attended by 10,000 volunteers — these volunteers were charged with spreading an informative, positive message about DevOps throughout the organization. The effort has been an undeniable success, and Barclays is now a leader in DevOps implementation.

Employee Encouragement

To get the most out of DevOps, all employees — no matter their function, background, or career goals — need to put in time and effort to develop new skills and habits. While we may hope that everyone will gladly jump aboard, some employees may see DevOps as more trouble than it’s worth. As Lebara CTO Finbarr Joy tells it, “I have had experiences where people believed broadening [their skillset] was career-threatening because it no longer sits within the narrow guidelines of the next-level certification that some arbitrary IT authority had laid down.”

To avoid issues like these, businesses need to take proactive measures. One simple way to stay ahead of the issue is by demonstrating to every employee that DevOps works — here, the aforementioned DevOps leaders can help out by encouraging a culture of excitement around the potential for faster, more efficient processes.  

In addition, company-wide education should focus on the rapid expansion of DevOps through a range of businesses and industries. Employees shouldn’t feel that DevOps limits their potential for career growth — instead, they should know that they are gaining skills that will carry them into the future.

As large businesses adopt DevOps processes, they should take this advice: start small, but think comprehensively. Strong leadership and employee encouragement won’t make DevOps implementation an altogether simple affair, but they will make the process much more manageable for everyone involved.

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