Federal agencies are dealing with a lot of change right now. Digital transformation is forcing a rethinking of business process simplification, data science is taking on a new importance with a push for data-driven insights, and federal CIOs are learning how to wield new authorities effectively to meet the accompanying new levels of accountability.

All of this, and more, demands the ability to deliver value faster―and DevOps is an effective method to make that happen. A few months ago, I took part in a DevOps Collaboration Symposium hosted by the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center (ATARC) which led to a MITRE-ATARC white paper that summarized various presentations from the event.

The more I think back on what our team presented regarding creating and sustaining a DevOps culture, the more I think our advice remains timely and useful for federal agencies. Perhaps the most important insight, identified by the audience during our working group, is that people who fill different roles within an organization have different goals, different priorities and different mindsets. They can be paired in ways that spotlight the source of these differences: development vs. operations, enterprise vs. component goals, task workers vs. knowledge workers and so on.

However, we concluded that a powerful tactic to align across these invisible fences is to find other commonalities, encouraging parties to collaborate in pursuit of a common goal despite these different perspectives. Creating and empowering cross-functional teams, then, is an important early step in creating a DevOps culture.

Here are a few additional key takeaways: 

  • Align to common goals across the enterprise in order to get buy-in
  • Trust all levels of the organization and ensure open communication so that everyone is heard
  • Showcase case studies, especially local or homegrown examples, sharing successes and failures alike
  • Employ situational leadership―do not expect people to know what to do in a new culture without appropriate training and practice
  • Create a shared lexicon so that everyone understands each other and terminology is consistent across all levels of the organization
  • Create team agreements so that employees understand expectations

Once the new environment is established and out of its infancy, agency leaders should turn their attention to sustaining and nurturing it. We found that it is good practice to establish a steady cadence of activities to increase empathy, avoid constant restructuring and promote continuing education.

Finding positive ways to reward desired behaviors is important. Gone are the days of the “build-break gnome” or “last defect badge,” tokens that would be displayed on the desk of the developer who made the most recent mistake. Now it is recognized that badges should be awarded only for positive action and success.

Additionally, a Community of Practice construct is an excellent way to amplify good behaviors through knowledge sharing, mentorship and establishing common bonds as members work through change together.

Consider creating a collaboration bullpen, too. The ability for people to work in the same space is a great enabler of collaboration; but when that is not possible, tools such as video, chat or web-based collaboration are essential to create and maintain the sense that everyone is on the same team, working toward the same goals.

This is a really brief overview of what our team presented, and we were only one of five teams that took part. I recommend you download the white paper for more of the good insights on DevOps and culture from this event.

About this author

Picture of Lisa Zellers

Lisa Zellers

Director, Federal Management Consulting Practice

Lisa Zellers supports market-leading, design-led consulting services to help federal government clients improve performance. She leads a matrixed horizontal organization spanning a wide variety of high-end business consulting services, including but not limited to: technical advisory and transformation, financial management s ervices (technology business ...

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