The Unintended Consequences of Putting a DevOps Team Together!

It is difficult to get teams to collaborate under normal Management situations, let alone having to collaborate effectively in a multifaceted and time pressurized DevOps situation. I have personally found in DevOps problem-solving situations it is really effective to ask the question “What makes sense?”

“What makes sense?”

I am sure you would be surprised how many times a team verified their status just by asking this question. However, due to the pressure on both the time and resources we need to have a much more “official” toolbox for problem-solving on the fly. I am a PM “rescue engineer” getting teams to re-engineer their way out of trouble with basic but highly effective innovative actions.

It is surprising to note how many difficulties teams encounter that could be resolved through the use of mutually accepted common tools and techniques. On the basis that we are talking about DevOps, we need to translate this into a toolbox of techniques and templates for typical DevOps Teams problem-solving situations.

Here are a few typical situations we experience in DevOps Teams and how common problem-solving
techniques (only the 4 main ones) have helped DevOps teams in the past

  1. Having conflicting views about the next step or decision – being specific with keywords in statements. This may seem very basic but in the majority of cases I simply got them to ask each other “What do they mean by…”. Very simple examples are;
    1. We have a vendor issue –
      “What do you mean by a vendor issue?”
      “The vendor is not providing correct delivery notes!”
      Much easier to resolve than a ‘vendor issue’.
    2. We have a communication issue with the client –
      “Can you be more specific?”
      In this type of high-level issue, you might have to ask these two questions more than once to get to the actual concern. I can tell you that it is worth the time and effort.
    3. We get poor support from the Ops team –
      This situation, if not handled sensitively can create more problems than it is worth.
      It is not worth creating a long-running conflict situation within the team if it can be avoided!
      I would suggest having a mutually agreed ‘clarification’ question that could be offered at any moment someone is not following or understanding what is happening.
      I personally found that the question “Please tell me more?” normally works well as a key phrase to use on colleagues.
  2. “Execution Creep” due to misaligned expectations about ill-defined requirements
    In more than 95% of ‘rescue’ cases, I’ve personally been involved in the execution of ‘next steps’ had been hampered by different interpretations of what was expected. I’ve found two major factors to be the underlying reason for this;
    1. Lack of specificity, the “devil lies in the detail” and so it is –
      It is fairly simple to have an exercise in looking at all the expectations and the understanding of the ‘generic’ words. On most occasions, the members of the team will have the same interpretation on the terms, but in at least 25% of cases I’ve found terminology or words with several interpretations and that is normally what leads to misunderstandings within the team
    2. Lack of alignment –
      The word ‘align’ should be taken in an ‘action’ connotation. How many times can you remember a project manager or anybody in the team actually conducting an alignment meeting between stakeholders? I do not mean a meeting after the problem occurred but rather being proactive – before it occurs.
  3. Lack of responsibility
    It only takes me two minutes while a team is having a discussion to determine whether they have a responsibility issue. Too often this is obvious when Team members start by ‘blaming’ other parties or even their own team members. This needs to be halted immediately if the team is going to succeed. Role Clarity is sometimes highly overrated, you might be alarmed at how many DevOps team complications this had caused over the years.
  4. Hitting unexpected and unplanned issues which cause downtime and time erosion

    What galvanizes a team’s efforts when they hit a problem? They can delegate the issue to be resolved by the most experienced team member in that field. I’ve seen this causing more friction than harmony.
    No, the best way is for the team to have a consensus decision on how to resolve an issue on the fly. For this, they need common proven problem-solving templates and skills to arrive at a mutually agreed action for all problems being experienced.

It is not easy to form a cohesive fully functional team within days when it normally takes months to achieve this objective. There are many things you can do to speed up the “esprit de corps” but the above few points will go a long way to achieving this objective.

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This is a blog by Mat-Thys. He is also the author of the series “Managing Projects: The Forgotten Art Of Influencing People To Get Results”

Mat-Thys Fourie
"I believe that Management would like to see their staff as skilled problem solvers, solving and restoring service issues/incidents 'first time every time', reducing company Mean Time to Restore and Mean Time To Repair cycles. This is done by providing staff with repeatable tools/templates and worked situational questions to stay on the path through organizational difficulties and barriers towards restoration and successful recovery." Dr. Matthys Fourie is a Professional Problem Solver as accredited by the Institute of Professional Problem Solvers (IPPS). He is an author of several books on Root Cause Analysis, Project Management, Problem Solving and is the co-author of the KEPNERandFOURIE® Thinking methodologies. He has over 31 years of Problem Solving and Decision Making experience helping organizations across the world solve some of their most vexing and seemingly unsolvable problems. He has worked across a wide spectrum of industries from Automotive, Financial, Manufacturing, Medical Devices, Pharmaceutical, Nuclear, Insurance, Airline, Technology, and Telecommunications. He has work in companies such as Macquarie Group, SASOL, Unisys, SITA, Barclays, RBS, NCS, Singapore Stock Exchange, BMW, VW, Cadbury Schweppes, Westpac, National Australia Bank, Department of Education NSW Australia, Kimberly-Clark, Hollister, Stihl Inc. and the U.S. Navy.