DevOps and Teamwork: No Room for Heroes?


“There is no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM.’”

Coaches like to use that cliché to fire up the lads before a big game. While a noble sentiment, cynics might note that, while there is no ‘I,’ there is an ‘M’ and an ‘E.’ The reality is that people can be selfish. When it comes to sports, star athletes can be reluctant to sacrifice their individual stature in the interests of the team’s success.

Similar dynamics can characterize technology teams. Consider the DevOps methodology. A key stated benefit of integrating development and operations functions is teamwork and shared responsibility. According to one user, adopting DevOps principles has facilitated communication and shared responsibility, enabling a more proactive and effective approach to managing problems. Prior to DevOps, the user notes, “Individuals would often have to perform ‘heroic’ fixes and late hours on client environments.”

That’s a good thing, right? Who wants to pull an all-nighter to resolve an unexpected crisis? From another perspective, however, having to work late can mean you’re indispensable. A recent article in CIO magazine that examines potential pitfalls of DevOps cites the risk of eliminating opportunities for individual heroics. According to a software development firm CEO cited in the piece, being the “only one that can fix this” is a source of great job satisfaction for many technology professionals.

And it’s not just about ego. Because DevOps redefines and realigns roles and required skill sets, employees who were essential in the old environment may have diminished or less visible roles in the new order. And those who are unwilling or unable to acquire new skills can find their jobs at risk.

Ultimately, experts seem to agree that culture represents the biggest challenge to successfully deploying Agile and DevOps methodologies. At the organizational level, cultural obstacles can include functional silos and inefficient processes that stifle innovation. In such cases, introducing cultural change has to be a gradual process that starts small and then extends to other areas.

From the standpoint of how DevOps impacts individuals, the cultural challenges are equally formidable. In addition to convincing heroes to take on a team-oriented role, there’s the basic problem of getting people to accept change – whether that means acquiring new skills, doing things differently or being accountable for a wider range of outcomes. With DevOps specifically, there’s the risk that integrating previously separate functions will be perceived as diluting hard-earned specialized expertise. Under the circumstances, “We get to learn new skills!” can become, “Why can’t we just do what we’re really good at?”

Breaking down the barriers between development and operations can yield important business benefits. But to make the idea of DevOps and teamwork a reality, experts say that management involvement is essential to communicate the roles and responsibilities of team members in the new environment. Ideally, everyone will be on board. But if not, leadership has to make it clear that the changes are not optional. The team comes first, even for the star players.