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Selling DevOps: Upwards,sideways and downwards

(Image credit: Image Credit: Profit_Image / Shutterstock)

In today’s complex business environment, the increasing rate of change has resulted in increased expectations for more value in less time. Today’s organisations are expected to delight customers, stay ahead of competitors, and react and adapt instantly when needed. To meet these demands, software must be capable of evolving and adapting continuously. As a result, regardless of industry, the thing on which companies now compete has become hyper-automation of the software development process. Enter DevOps. Business leaders from fledgling startups to enterprise heavyweights, are coming to the realisation that they need to embrace concepts like DevOps. As DevOps specialist and author Gene Kim states; “DevOps solves the most important business problem of our generation, [which is] how organisations make the transition from good to great.” 

Selling the concept of DevOps to your company is a lot easier than you might think. The trick is to get inside the heads of those you need to convince as success is reliant on whether you have understood their concerns and goals, and have conveyed the relevant benefits accordingly. Here’s expert Richard Slater’s best advice on why and how to sell DevOps into your business.

Why and how to sell DevOps into your business

Despite increasing recognition for the role that DevOps plays in today’s business environment, one of the biggest challenges you will face is how to ensure your pitch addresses the right reservations and concerns for your audience. Each layer of the organisation will be assessed on different metrics and KPIs meaning they need to be presented different facets of the same DevOps Transformation.  You can however broadly assume that you will be selling one of three ways: upwards, sideways or downwards.

In 1999 Gene Kim started studying high-performance Development and Operations organisations; Gene’s research propelled him into the DevOps movement and led him to write The Phoenix Project, recognised as a must read for IT professionals. As a resource for selling DevOps, the novel describes the problems that most IT organisations face, then shows the way to solve these problems, encouraging business best practice as well as improving the lives of those who work in IT. Ultimately Kim set out to show that a truly collaborative approach between business and IT is possible. 

However, for those after a simplified introduction to selling DevOps, there are three scenarios that you must consider in order to pitch the benefits successfully:

  • Upwards - selling to your boss and beyond, be that a team leader, the executive board or the CEO
  • Sideways - your colleagues in your discipline and other disciplines will need convincing of the need to change the way they work
  • Downwards - if you manage a team or represent the technology function of a business on a Board, you will know that without buy-in from boots on the ground, bringing a new strategy to bear will be next to impossible

Selling upwards

Business leadership relies on IT to keep up with the increasingly changeable demands of customers. If IT falls behind, it will manifest itself in long project durations and dissatisfaction with system performances. The C-Suite don’t necessarily understand the technical stuff, what they do understand and care about are bottom lines and business objectives. A business measures performance using high-level indicators, so selling DevOps upwards should be relatively easy if you can demonstrate how it will positively influence these indicators. 

For example:

  • Expense - how will DevOps impact the bottom line, will it cost more or will it save money? If it costs money what is the return on investment in quantifiable terms? (Though typically there is a short term uplift in headcount during the transition, in the long run headcount drops and throughput increases.)
  • Risk - will implementing DevOps introduce unmanageable risk?
  • Agility - how will DevOps improve the ability to change and pivot based upon customer demands?
  • Sustainability - will it be possible to recruit, remunerate and retain DevOps talent within the business?

Selling sideways

Every area of a business will have their measure for success and failure, therefore there is no quick win when it comes to selling sideways. DevOps will impact the whole business, so when devising a strategy consider not just your immediate colleagues. The time and effort put into understanding each team’s mind-set will be critical to the success of DevOps adoption. 

Best case scenario, everyone will see DevOps as having a positive impact and all will be happy. Worst case scenario you will be faced with scepticism that needs to be acknowledged and mitigated as far as is possible. It isn’t unusual for some people within the business to be resistant to change. However, by emphasising the many automated processes and features that DevOps champions, such as automated deployments and automated environment definitions – it shouldn’t be impossible to convince them to embrace it if you can show that DevOps will improve the quality of software delivery and make their lives easier.

Selling downwards

As a leader, you will need to convince those who report to you of the benefits of DevOps. Here we’ll use the example of a team who are struggling to deliver against a set of business goals, likely because they are experiencing burnout. 

DevOps is effective in reversing the organisational downward trend which manifests itself in people as burnout. DevOps achieves this because of the “systems perspective” that considers the organisation as a whole, not just a subset of the steps within a system.

If your team is showing signs of burnout, focus on how DevOps will improve their work-life balance. For instance, if they are working 80-hour weeks then show them how DevOps will reduce this by automating some of the work they are doing.

There may be some who feel that DevOps will put them out of a job. To counter this concern, show them where they will fit in the new organisation; either by continuing to do the work they currently do just in a slightly different way, or by transitioning to another role within the same team. It’s important to show how embracing DevOps will help people not just get their job done but achieve a healthy and sustainable work-life balance.

DevOps is inevitable

DevOps is changing the way we work and do business. As with the move to Agile development practices, DevOps is a pivot point for our industry. Indeed, many now believe it's no longer a question of if a business will adopt these approaches, but when. CIOs, CTOs and employees down the line are increasingly ready to embrace agility and DevOps. As Gene Kim states; “We know now there is a better way. The DevOps exemplars have shown us that we can have incredibly fast flow from dev to ops to deployment while preserving world-class quality and security.” Embracing DevOps is essential for companies to stay nimble and competitive.

Richard Slater, Senior Technical Consultant, Amido
Image Credit: Profit_Image / Shutterstock

Richard Slater
Richard Slater is a Senior Technical Consultant at Amido. His expertise and passion for DevOps ensures his work is innovative and disruptive within the technology industry.