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DevOps and the C-Suite – a future marriage made in heaven

(Image credit: Image Credit: Profit_Image / Shutterstock)

DevOps leaders have all been there. It’s not that you don’t think DevOps is delivering business value, it’s just that you’re struggling with how to make the case to your executive team. Your gut feeling – backed up with DevOps metrics – gives you the confidence that DevOps is the way forward. DevOps can be a force multiplier, helping all the people and teams it touches to optimize, refine, and speed up their processes, but is that enough to persuade senior management of further support, rollout, or funding? 

The benefits of DevOps thinking, tools, and infrastructures aren’t quantifiable like a product. Yes, they all contribute huge benefits to the software development lifecycle – team velocity, build/deploy frequency, number of rollbacks, and time to resolve issues – but these aren’t the same as business value. For this reason, DevOps is often seen as an operational cost driven up in increasingly large numbers by mysterious teams of techies, and not something that delivers value to customers or any kind of quantifiable advantage over the competition. 

How can VPs of Platform and DevOps team leaders bridge the gap between their teams’ efforts and the buy-in – financial, organizational, and mindset – from whoever holds the purse strings? Where is communication failing and, more importantly, why is it failing? Above all, how is it possible to prove the business value of DevOps and make the case to the c-suite that true business transformation is almost impossible without it?

What’s the problem? 

While it’s understandably more evident to specialists why it’s worth investing in DevOps – better team collaboration, a more stable operating environment, increased time to market, more time to innovate, early defect detection and much more - when you look at it from an executive team’s perspective, the situation isn’t always so clear.  

The problem, more often than not, is communication. 

DevOps teams, team leaders and VPs Platform are techies at heart and often not used to talking the same language as a CEO or board. The C-suite needs someone to guide them and draw a line between why a stable operating environment is important, and what that can deliver from a competitive advantage perspective. Without that, DevOps will continue to be seen by the C-suite as an operating cost with tenuous links to money in the bank. 

Executive teams like metrics and KPIs that measure the impact of DevOps on business goals, customer loyalty, market share and time to market. The metrics that resonate the most broadly fall into three categories: 1) People –metrics showing how culture, collaboration and sharing are improving, 2) Process – metrics showing how efficiency is growing, and finally 3) Tools – metrics that show how a combination of tools and process improvements lead to better quality speed, and, crucially, ROI.

Combine these categories, and the argument for the significant customer and business value brought by DevOps becomes significantly clearer to the C-suite. 

It’s about talking the talk & walking the walk…

Yes, it’s a cliché, but the best way to convince the c-suite of the value of DevOps once you’ve learned the lingo is to start – or in most cases, continue – to act like a team that is obviously and consistently adding value. 

There are two sides to this. Firstly, steps need to be taken to change or improve the way DevOps is viewed within an organization. Sometimes this means helping specific people, or entire DevOps teams, to be seen. Secondly, points of view need to be communicated to the C-suite in terms they will understand to ensure that the biggest silo in an organization isn’t between DevOps leaders and them. 

Let’s address the first area: being seen. Putting on a good show in the boardroom is one thing, but to truly prove business value over the long term, value needs to be demonstrated inside AND outside the meeting room. 

This means being active, and, to an extent, blowing your own trumpet. To better communicate with the C-suite, metrics will need to be modified and tweaked. Look for other ways to show of the same metrics – participate in demonstrations, share success stories in all-hands meetings and presentations. Be an active participant in meetings – product and business - where the presence of DevOps will show that it is a true business asset and not just a techy operational cost.

Secondly, how best to communicate with the C-suite? There will always be exceptions to the rule, but the different languages spoken by DevOps and the C-suite makes it a challenge to be explicit about the value of DevOps, while in turn, it can be hard for executives to explain what they need from DevOps. For a best practice DevOps culture to prevail across an organization, this needs to change. 

This means that DevOps leaders need to understand exactly how an organization makes a profit. Every single decision made by an executive team boils down to this, so it’s important that it forms at least part of the basis of what DevOps is trying to achieve. Understanding how to respond to questions like ‘what will help us grow?’, ‘how will the competition react?’, ‘what’s the cost of doing nothing?’ and ‘what customer value does this bring?’ will give DevOps leaders a better chance of understanding what makes the C-suite tick and enable better communication between the two functions.

Proving the value

When DevOps is being rolled out, especially in an environment where not everyone is convinced of the benefits, it can be tempting to think of the executive team as a closed group forever at odds with the tech team. Whether they don’t understand the tech, or they downright don’t trust it, it can seem like the two are forever destined to be pitted against one another. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

In basic terms, learning what makes the executive team tick and then developing the metrics to prove that the tech or DevOps team is the key to gaining the right answers. By keeping away from jargon and tailoring interactions with the executive team to best appeal to individuals, it’s possible to ensure that messages will resonate, and a new era of DevOps can be ushered in.

Rob Gillam, Sales Leader, Cycloid

Rob Gillam is the Sales Leader for Cycloid, a DevOps company that optimizes the use of technology and the cloud, helping teams work together, regardless of skillset.