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How to sell DevOps to management and release teams

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Andrew Phillips VP of DevOps Strategy, XebiaLabs

Selling the concept of DevOps to senior management and release teams is a lot easier than you might think. The trick is to convince both groups that the benefits of DevOps—tighter cohesion between Dev and Ops people, continuous delivery of high-quality software to production, and faster, more cost-effective provisioning of services to end users—greatly outweigh the cost and impact of change and in fact mitigate the risk of release failures and production downtime.

C-level people don’t understand all the techie stuff and generally don’t care about it, but they do understand and care about bottom lines and business objectives. If they can be convinced that DevOps makes business sense, they will sign off on it. Meanwhile, operations people live and breathe the day-to-day techie stuff, and couldn't care less about management concerns. If they can be convinced that DevOps will improve the quality of software delivery and make their lives easier, they will embrace it.

How to sell DevOps to management

You have to sell DevOps to the management people first, since they make the big decisions and hold the purse strings. To move your DevOps plan from one app or a small pilot to a second app or the next level, you will need to get C-level approval to make it happen quickly and smoothly, and with the appropriate funding. You will need C-level support because the cost will rise relative to the changes you want to make.

Moving to DevOps is an organizational challenge that can be solved only with the participation of senior management.

To sell DevOps to senior management, IT people need to focus on the business benefits first and the technology ones second. The business benefits to highlight are improved processes, lower costs, faster time to market, and better software for end users. Those benefits can only be achieved by leveraging best-of-breed DevOps practices and using software that facilitates the continuous delivery of releases—while giving instant, transparent visibility and control to all involved.

One of the best and most counterintuitive lessons of moving to DevOps is that if you manage to do it correctly, the quality of software improves while the risks associated with doing releases goes down.

The easier job: Selling DevOps to release teams

Selling the DevOps concept—and related ideas such as agile, automation, and standardization—to release teams is easier than selling it to C-level management. However, don’t expect it to be a walk in the park.

First, you have to change their mind-set about doing releases. In many organizations, a "release" in IT’s collective unconscious equates to the "big thing" that takes weeks and weeks of effort and stress around the clock, involving endless conference calls and cups of coffee.

And it’s usually not the Operations side that is stuck on this so-called big thing or "big bang" release thinking. Rather, it's typically traditional release and product people. Doing the big thing is often all they know. Of course, they also know that one of the main reasons for big production failures is that too many features are changed at the same time, making it hard, if not impossible, to oversee all the potential interactions. 

By focusing on the failures and headaches inherent in the big-release scenario, you can convince them that moving to DevOps will help them reduce the risks of software failure by doing smaller releases frequently.

Those small releases can be as simple as moving an icon from the left to the right of a screen or changing the color of a page. By reducing the size and complexity of releases, an organization can massively reduce the risk of unexpected interactions, failures, and associated headaches. 

The key idea to bear in mind: Change is imperative. Old-school ways of doing software releases are grossly inefficient, as they do not allow teams to make small, measured, and rigorously tested changes to code quickly, almost in real time.

In addition, emphasize that DevOps will involve many automated processes and features, such as automated testing, automated deployments, and automated environment definitions—all of which help to define and drive software consistency and stability.

Get inside their heads

Selling DevOps requires getting inside the heads of management and release teams. To succeed, it helps to understand their concerns and goals, and to convey the many benefits of DevOps, including greater cohesion between Dev and Ops teams, high-quality software, continuous delivery, and lower-cost provisioning.

What tactics and strategies have helped you to sell DevOps to your management team? Please add your comments below.

Image credit: Flickr

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