Research: Cultural barriers hold enterprises back from building ‘high-performing’ DevOps teams

Cultural barriers are preventing a growing number of enterprises from building high-performing DevOps teams, with many firms admitting their progress on this front has plateaued.

That is one of the key findings of the tenth annual State of DevOps report by configuration management software provider Puppet, which polled 2,650 IT professions about how their firms’ efforts to embrace the principles of agile software development were progressing.

Of those who took part in the poll, 83% said their organisations are following the principles of DevOps to speed up the time it takes for them to rollout new software updates and patch systems, with the hope of building high-performing DevOps teams in-house.

A high-performing DevOps team is typically cross-functional and characterised as one that is able to respond quickly and productively to changing business conditions, while also deploying high-quality code changes on a regular basis.

It is a state of operation that many enterprises aspire to reach when embracing DevOps, but this year’s State of DevOps report suggests that many are struggling to do so due to, what it terms “cultural blockers”.

“The most common culture blockers at the mid-level [performance grade] include a culture that discourages risk (21%), unclear responsibilities (20%), de-prioritising fast flow optimisation (18%), and insufficient feedback loops (17%),” the report found.

Another characteristic that high-performing DevOps teams share, the report claims, is that every member has a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities. The majority of respondents (91%) who said they are part of a “highly evolved” DevOps team said that is true of their organisation, while just 32% of those who identified as being part of a low-performing DevOps team said they did.

The transformation of a team from low-to-high performing also hinges, the report continued, on how much senior-level support there is for taking a DevOps approach to software development. 

The report further states that nearly all of the survey respondents use cloud technologies in one form or another, but few of these organisations are using off-premise technologies to the fullest extent.

Some 65% of mid-evolution firms report using the cloud, yet only 20% use the cloud to its full potential. High-evolution teams use cloud better with 57% satisfying all five NIST cloud capability metrics compared to only 5% of low-evolution respondents,” the report continued.

Furthermore, it also claims the use of automation tools and technologies tends to be more prevalent and pervasive within organisations that are home to high-performing DevOps teams. On this point, the report states that 90% of high-performing and highly evolved DevOps teams have automated their own repetitive tasks compared to 25% of low-performing DevOps teams.

Anand Ahire, head of DevOps business and product management at cloud-based workflow management software provider ServiceNow, described the report’s finding that enterprises are struggling to foster high-performing DevOps teams as “not very surprising”.

“We find early success stories of DevOps adoption in a few individual teams, but progress tends to slow down at the ‘teams of teams’ and at the enterprise level,” said Ahire.

“Oftentimes that is because the need for speed at the team level is at odds with the need of risk and compliance management at the enterprise level, something that I believe can only be resolved through policy-based automation of change management processes.”