How to build a DevOps team – 6 principles for success

How to build a DevOps team? This should be one question that innovative organisations already know the answer to. For those that don’t, however, this article will answer this question.

Even before assembling a first-class DevOps team, organisations must first decide how to start a successful DevOps transformation.

TechBeacon provides four essential steps that the enterprise must follow:

1. Start at the right place and right time — this is pretty self-explanatory, but this phase requires the business to ask three main questions:

  • Does it demand speed and velocity from IT?
  • Is management desperate to go faster?
  • Are they open to change?

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It is also crucial to get the IT team onboard and provide the right tools they’ll need to succeed in DevOps (effectively becoming the DevOps team). ‘Will they adopt changes and apply DevOps discipline to the way they work,’ writes John Jeremiah, evangelist at GitLab?

2. Observe and orient — identify any pain points and create a DevOps succession journey.

3. Decide and act — fix historical problems with DevOps.

4. Repeat — don’t run before you can walk, and allow time for this new way of working to set in. IT leaders should empower their teams to take advantage of the continuous improvement that DevOps offers in the enterprise.

How to build a DevOps team

1. Discipline and process

Utsav Sanghani, senior product manager at Synopsys, is convinced that an understanding of the discipline and the processes are the most important factors when building a successful DevOps team capable of driving DevOps transformation.

“The market perception focuses on hard skills when hiring people,” he says.

Skills in Jenkins, the gold standard for continuous integration or Artifactory, how to manage binary repository, have a far bigger place in this space than anybody else.

Focus on skills not on the tools these professionals will already know about when building a DevOps team

So when organisations look at hiring people, they often look at whether candidates possess these skills.

“The most important thing to understand here is that most of these skills are applicable across the space,” explains Sanghani. “If you move away from Jenkins today to a new platform, two years later, those skills are still valid.

“When you think about building out a team that manages DevOps, the focus should not be on the tools but instead on the understanding a) the discipline, and b) the processes.”

Tools play an important role, but the processes and how seamlessly it’s set up is more important when considering how to build a DevOps team.

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 2. Understanding the release velocity and release agility

When building a DevOps team, it’s also very important to understand the release velocity and agility of the organisation.

“Having DevOps people understand how fast the release velocity is, understand the business requirements around it and modulate their processes around it is another skill needed in any successful DevOps team,” according to Sanghani.

This is a challenge, because within an organisations there are development teams. Some will be purely traditional with waterfall, some will be pure agile, while there will be some that are part waterfall and part agile — everyone has a different velocity.

“Being able to create processes that are efficient and mouldable, in terms of the speed of development velocity, is another big skill to identify as part of your team,” he continues.

Most organisations are agile, "but nobody is ultra-agile" -- Sanghani
Most organisations are agile, “but nobody is ultra-agile” — Sanghani.

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3. Collaboration

A DevOps team. What is it? An amalgamation of current employees from development, operations and IT; and new hires.

From the top, encouraging collaboration between these departments is necessary when considering how to build a DevOps team — it is as much a culture change as it is a technology adoption one.

“Within any software development process, if you have product managers doing release planning sessions with the development manager, working with quality assurance to make sure that QA resources are lined up when development finishes their bits, and then ensuring that all of the other infrastructure elements are in place, that really helps drive success,” explains Sanghani.

“DevOps is around collaboration, and so getting the mindset right at the beginning should pay off in the longer term,” confirms James Campanini, general manager EMEA at Sumo Logic.

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4. Communication and culture

Development and operations are different departments that are trying to be stitched together by forward-looking enterprises. The common thread that stitches those two departments together is DevOps.

As part of this whole collaborative nature, DevOps — especially within the big Fortune 500 — will help define how the release agility needs to take place in their tier 1 products.

DevOps, increasingly, will define when these products should get their base, when they should be built, how they should be shipped, how often they should be integrated.

An innovative, people-first culture that champions communication and collaboration needs to be adopted by any DevOps team, and indeed the organisation in general.

“The best and most successful companies are those that push their IT teams to adapt, and to adopt new IT services and models such as DevOps to make that process work for the foreseeable future,” says Campanini.

Members of a good DevOps team will need to know what dev, ops and IT are using, because tool-related decisions across organisations are taken by IT; “should we use Jira or should we use Bugzilla, the tracking system or should we use Jenkins versus Team City,” asks Sanghani?

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5. Don’t forgot the data

The best DevOps teams will let the data guide their decisions.

As with many technologies and business decisions, data plays an essential part of DevOps.

“For developers, data from these new applications should tell them how well their modern services are performing and where improvements can be made,” explains Campanini. And, “for the operations team, it can flag potential issues or identify where additional infrastructure might be needed.”

Alongside monitoring applications, the various data sets can be used to analyse and provide recommendations on the next steps to be taken in the software development cycle, which “will reap the most benefits for the business, while also improving the overall customer experience,” he continues.

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“Data is also instrumental for flagging issues where third party services are not operating to meet the necessary service levels and delivering that quality experience for customers.”

According to Campanini, incident management is another area where DevOps practices can have a major impact.

“Most of the time, these modern applications are so complex and they have so many different components that when you identify an issue you want to get to the root cause quickly. Having a set of machine data that provides an accurate, real-time overview of what is going on at scale can help automate some of those incident management steps, making it easier for everyone involved to collaborate and to resolve issues faster.”

DevOps lead salary — according to Glassdoor, a lead DevOps engineer in New York can make between $137,000 and $180,000, based on April 2018 job data. The average salary of a lead DevOps engineer based in the Big Apple is $141,452. This figure ranges from £67,000 to £110,000 in the UK

6. Autonomy

In some organisations DevOps teams fold into the primary engineering organisation, which is usually led by the CTO. DevOps is sometimes even folded into operations.

Sanghani’s prefers that DevOps teams keep their autonomy, because “if you are folding these professionals into either of dev or ops, you are in some way influencing how things happen.

If it’s viable, organisations should ensure that DevOps teams have the autonomy to be successful and drive change for the business and its customers.

Building a DevOps team for success

Starting a DevOps team means that an organisation has decided to undergo a DevOps transformation.

As part of building this team, to be successful, organisations should focus on the people and their skills, rather than the common tools that technical individuals are already well-versed in. Are they good communicators? Do they understand our business targets? Will they utilise the data? Have we, as an organisation, created a collaborative culture where a DevOps team can thrive?

If leaders ask and answer these question correctly, then your DevOps team will be a success.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...