At Nebbia, I have seen many different companies, corporate structures, and cultures, and have learned from each one I’ve encountered. Every company has had some great qualities and some that could be improved. No company is ever perfect, and perfection is a goal rather than a destination anyway. It’s just the nature of the beast.
Of course, some teams are just higher performing than other. And that’s what every leader wants, right, a “high performing team?” When I hear a term enough, it starts to lose meaning for me, so I want to break that down and pull at the edges. What does a “high performing team” look like? How do you get there?
At Nebbia, we believe that a DevOps mindset is a key component to a team’s success, and a key component of DevOps is the people. It’s the most important piece, because everything that follows, the processes and products that can be used to deliver value faster and more reliably hinges on the buy-in and capabilities of the team. It all starts with a mindset. The willingness for teams and the individuals within them to change has been in my experience the biggest indicator of whether the theory of DevOps will actually be applied. The culture is also hands-down the most difficult piece to change if the prerequisites aren’t there.
Your Technical Challenge Might Not Be Technical
Clients often call us when they’ve run into a technological hurdle and are looking for some technical help. We’re happy to take those calls, and often we’ve found we can help our clients even more by digging deeper. Adding a continuous integration pipeline and then leaving will help in the short term, no doubt about it. Without changing the culture, however, that is an investment that will eventually erode. Without everyone involved understanding the mindset behind continuous integration, automated tests, and analytics, these artifacts of DevOps are hollow shells. Without a DevOps mindset, they become the goal rather than the means.
When we do a DevOps assessment, our goal is to supercharge your team’s understanding of the mindset of DevOps as well as the tools and processes to put that mindset into action. It’s up to the companies and the teams we work with to adopt them. Those that have wholeheartedly understood the theory behind DevOps have reaped the rewards, and frankly some teams we have worked with were not quite ready. The perceived pain of change was greater than the perceived pain of same, as Chelsea our Director of Business Development would say.
It’s our role to be the guide, and your role to be the hero on the journey. We can help show you the way, and if you take on the challenge, you will find the treasure.
The Qualities For Success
So what sorts of qualities in people and teams and organizations have I seen succeed? Almost none of the qualities have anything to do with the technology used. We at Nebbia have a deep knowledge in tools like Visual Studio Team Services and Azure, and we leverage those to help our clients succeed. We use those tools in particular (among many others) because we believe that these are first rate, best in the business, and able to stand toe to toe with their competition. I’ll let you in on a little secret though: if the people in a team don’t understand the mindset behind the tools, all the first-rate, top shelf tools in the world won’t save them.
There are many qualities I’ve seen that lead to a successful adoption of DevOps, and none have anything to do with tools. First, that there is a clear organizational “why” of being there. If no one is quite sure why they get up in the morning, the organization is always herding cats. If there is a clear why, individuals can ask themselves “does what I’m about to do fit help fulfill why I’m here?” and usually come up with the an answer for the immediate question in front of them without a lot of red tape. And DevOps hates red tape, so that works out well.
The next part is communication. When teams can talk to each other open and honestly about issues, knowing their co-workers and leaders will support them as they try to support the organization’s goals, that is the firmament in which DevOps can grow. Additionally, an eagerness to learn, humility, a solid work ethic, and genuine empathy for co-workers and customers are key. I understand that most of this is kindergarten-level stuff. I promise that you’ll see DevOps be adopted to it’s full effect when these qualities are there within every person on your team.
It’s easy to ignore the people and point to the artifacts of DevOps as evidence of a team’s success. For example, unit tests: “We have 100% test coverage” looks really great in a meeting with the CEO. What can’t be conveyed as easily is what that means, really, in reality. This is what I’d like to call “vanity DevOps.” Where it seems as if the team is succeeding on the surface, but as you dig down, it means very little. What are those tests doing for you? Another team in an alternative universe could have 60% test coverage and is releasing features that mean something to their customers because they are truly empathetic to them.
All the serverless functions in every single one of Azure’s 54 data center regions won’t save you from a team that has no empathy for each other or your customers.
These things can be grown and cultured, not forced. And that makes them scary. A development team’s ability to burn down a chart is one thing, but it means nothing if the context is that everyone was stressed out about it and is planning to quit in the next few months. The terroir in which the code is produced and deployed is the difference between a team that works and one that doesn’t.
What Success Looks Like
When a team is succeeding, they are genuinely helping your customers live better lives and reaping the rewards. Often we focus on the code part, or the pipeline part, or the infrastructure part. That’s all used to make people’s lives better. When a team is successful, it’s doing that as effectively as possible. At Nebbia, we have a meta goal. Our goal is to come help you and your team do what you do better. We have the knowledge, we have the tools, we have been there and done that with dozens of clients. We can’t do it alone because, in fact, you and your team are your keys to success. We just help unlock the door.