Unfortunately, the DevOps movement is marked by the vast majority of organizations failing in their attempts at DevOps. Gartner points out that 90% of organizations who fail to first deal with their cultural issues fail in their DevOps attempts. The way this is worded is a little misleading, because it gives the sense that there is some small portion of organizations who are failing to deal with culture and the majority have successfully dealt with their cultural issues. It’s actually the opposite, the vast majority of organizations fit into the category of failing to deal with their cultural issues and will most likely fall into the 90% failure category.
So, the question is, why is it so difficult for organizations to deal with their cultural issues? The reason for this is actually due to the lack of education inside organizations and many of the tool vendors and consultants leading the DevOps movement. You can go to a number of web sites and read about how the vendors/consultants can help you with your DevOps Change or Transition. But guess what, Organizational Change and Organizational Transition are not the same thing. This lack of understanding is the main culprit in organizations not making the necessary cultural changes in order to allow themselves any chance at adopting DevOps.
You are probably asking yourself what the heck is the difference between Change and Transition that could possibly cause all these failures. Let’s explore Organizational Change first. Change simply happens when something starts or stops, or when something that previously used to happen in one way starts happening in another way. It can happen at a particular time, or in several stages at different times. Organizational Change is structural, economic, technological or demographic, and it can be planned or managed generally using some type of rational model. Simply put, we are talking about change such as starting automated testing, implementing a CI tool set, doing Value Stream Mapping, implementing Scrum or hiring more resources.
Organizational Transition on the other hand is broken into a three part psychological process that extends over a long term period and cannot be planned or managed by the same rational models used with Change. We will briefly cover the three phases at a high level, covering the three phases in detail can’t be covered in a blog.
Phase One – “Individuals have to let go of the old situation and of the old identity that went with it”. No one can begin a new role or have a new purpose if that person has not let go of the old role or purpose first. A great deal of what we call resistance to change is really difficulty with the first phase. So, what are we exactly talking about here? Some examples would be the shifting role or lack of role that Quality Assurance finds themselves in with the move to automated testing or developers now being asked to start handling automated testing as part of their role and the integration of dev and ops.
Phase Two – Individuals have to go through what’s termed the “neutral zone” between the old reality and new reality that is most likely still not very clear. In the neutral zone individuals tend to feel a loss or sense of confusion, where new ideas alternate with a sense of meaningless and a time when many simply go through the motions. But, this is also the time when the real transition is taking place. One way in which organizations can help individual’s in the neutral zone is with the use of Dojo’s. But remember, a Dojo will only be successful if you create the needed Social Environment with all its elements.
Phase Three – Individuals have to make a new beginning that is much more than the relatively new start required in a change. This new beginning may involve learning new competencies or skills, establishing new relationships (After the breakdown of silos), becoming comfortable and familiar with new processes and procedures and learning to think in new ways (Andon culture). It is this three phase reorientation from old to a new way that DevOps leaders, management and the organization overlook when they plan a change such as DevOps (this applies to Agile as well).
Borrowing from a line from Harry Levinson the industrial psychologist, executives have been wise about the mechanics of change and stupid about the dynamics of transition. That stupidity is dooming many of their change efforts to failure.