The Foundation of Successful Enterprise Agility – Strong DevOps Teams


Whether you are actively building a more agile enterprise with DevOps, lean and Agile methodologies or are just purchasing and implementing DevOps-enabling tools, investing in the capabilities of your people is key to the success of any DevOps initiative. Your teams needs a combination of specific skills (certain acquired knowledge and competencies) and traits (distinctive features or qualities). In other words, you must think about the team along two dimensions: what they can do and how they behave.

Before you hand over the new set of DevOps tools and the accountability for product delivery, ensure the DevOps team itself is a “minimum viable product.” Just as you must do in product delivery, make sure the DevOps team has what it needs to perform its function either from within or via integrations outside the team. Of course, you can improve your DevOps team as you better understand what you need, but it must have essential core capability from the outset.

The most common reason DevOps implementations fail is lack of focus on culture and people, including:

  • Failure to look at the entire system with its distinct cultural dynamics and integrate (via change management, communication and process adaptation) the “old” with the “new.”
  • Failure to recognize that the behavior of existing developers, testers, operators and project managers will not evolve if they lack the essential skills and traits they need to achieve their objectives – even if they have a new toolset.

DevOps teams must be comprised of people who are versatile specialists – people who excel in one area and are competent in others. Team members also must possess a broad set of preferred traits that suggest they can be hyper-focused on product quality and user experience.

Each organization’s implementation of DevOps is unique, but the following is a comprehensive list of essential skills and traits:

DevOps Skills Traits

When you look at this list, you may react to its depth and breadth and worry about how you might cover all these skills and traits on a relatively small team. The answer is a two-pronged approach. You will need to plan for how you 1) build your DevOps teams, and 2) develop your DevOps teams. In both cases, you will need to define which skills and traits are essential.

  1. Build your DevOps teams: To build your DevOps teams, select people who have at least one specialty in a core skill that you need AND who possess the maximum number of essential traits. Team members who are the top-performing specialists may not be the best DevOps team members if they don’t have several of the essential traits. For example, you cannot simply send someone to training to become a strong collaborative team worker. This trait, and others, must already exist in team members or be acquired over time by applying organization change management (OCM) techniques, implementing mentorship programs and demonstrating desired behaviors.
  2. Develop your DevOps teams: To expand your DevOps teams’ skills, define a curriculum to develop your specialists (people who are highly skilled at one thing) into generalists (people who are proficient in other skill areas). Create a learning plan for each team member to ensure all needed skills will be learned by at least one person on the team. Reach back into the larger organization or your external partners and build integrations – including communication channels, cultural alignment and adapted processes – to acquire the skills needed to augment the DevOps team in critical areas.

To develop your DevOps teams’ traits, establish a culture change program that helps build these essential traits by acknowledging and reinforcing the appropriate behaviors. Make sure your teams know what good looks like. Use marketing and storytelling to inspire other teams to emulate the most successful teams. Share successes and examples of how your DevOps teams learned from failures and improved over time.

Ultimately, DevOps transformations that are viewed as if they are tools-and-techniques transformations are destined to fail. Shifting to DevOps is, first and foremost, a cultural transformation. If you plan accordingly and acquire or build capability in your people, you will have addressed one of the most common reasons for failure.

ISG helps enterprises define the needed skills and traits for enterprise agility and build effective DevOps teams. We also provide cultural change expertise to help clients realize the full potential of their digital initiatives. Contact us to discuss how we can help you.