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How to be a DevOps engineering leader in your workplace

It can be hard to get senior management's attention when it comes to making a big shift like a move to DevOps. Here's expert Christopher Ward's best advice on getting started.

Companies with an engineering leader who wants to champion a DevOps process at your organization should consider...

themselves fortunate. Without question, it is in any technology company's best interests to embrace strategic, holistic approaches to web product development.

That said, if you have been leading the DevOps charge for a while, you may have found it challenging to garner enough broad enthusiasm and buy-in for strategic investment in DevOps from your executive team and department stakeholders. However frustrating, leadership support is essential to build a significant, lasting DevOps process and really change the way your company operates.

The trouble 'selling' DevOps

While DevOps aims to improve the key processes of web development and operations, the value to the company's immediate bottom line may be hard to quantify. For this reason, it is often hard for a DevOps engineering leader to convince executives of the technique's value amidst their other pressing priorities.

Indeed, the chief concerns of executives at top digital technology companies stretch far beyond improving the coordination of development and operations teams. Tech leaders are under tremendous pressure to streamline the entire company process: to simultaneously increase product quality, deliver continuous customer value, grow revenue, increase profits and reduce operating costs.

If you wish to participate in the strategic digital transformation of your company, and to build strategic investment in your initiatives, you must learn to align the benefits of DevOps with the goals of the executive team. Executive focus today is on digital transformation of the entire company process -- marketing, sales, product management, engineering, operations, customer service and human resources -- and leaders are seeking better ways to streamline across silos and improve business goals.

While your job on paper isn't sales, as a DevOps engineering leader, selling ideas and garnering executive support has de facto become your job description. Here are a few key ways to add a business lens to the value of DevOps and showcase the value of DevOps to your company.

Aim for measurable business success

At the heart of any significant DevOps practice is a focus on improving delivery speed, product quality and overall customer experience. That said, to address strategic business value, we must ensure DevOps processes (execution) track to what the company wants to achieve (strategy). To do this, DevOps must align itself with short- and long-term targets for profit, market penetration and delivery of its product roadmap, and be able to show measurable improvements through clear, business-oriented metrics.

Some of these metrics are similar to engineering metrics, such as reductions in error -- system availability, reduction of crashes, bugs fixed, launch issues and more -- as well as delivery metrics, such as frequency, change, engagement and customer value. In addition, the business is likely looking for a broader impact to user growth -- new users acquired, new feature usage and adoption, increased revenue and conversion per user, and decreased cost per user -- as well as those related to user retention, such as subscription renewals, increased usage per user, and customer ticket volume and severity.

If, as a DevOps engineering leader, you aren't doing this already, consider proactively benchmarking and communicating some of these metrics to your leadership team. Such information provides your management with essential transparency and insight into the business process and creates a compelling case for the value of DevOps.

Break down silos

If you want DevOps to be essential to an organization's strategic goals, you must expand involvement beyond just engineering teams to also involve business teams. Certainly, the best DevOps processes embrace a strong partnership between engineering and business in order to streamline the entire business process across team and silos. In such a BizDevOps, or business operations, frame, teams are better able to coordinate, to course correct in the middle of initiatives and to set the right metrics for success.

In this case, your actions will speak louder than my words. Demonstrating how your DevOps engineering leader ambitions can align closely with business objectives is the best way to garner better understanding and enthusiasm of DevOps' value to the company. The best way to get started is by choosing one specific process improvement that would benefit the business strategy. To do this, sit down with product management and operations in order to find out what they feel matters to the business. Brainstorm one specific way that a DevOps process -- e.g., better automation or, perhaps, scalability of a specific tool or process -- could address one or more of the top concerns throughout the product lifecycle.

Unite around a strategic goal, and identify the key success metrics. Including business teams in your planning gives DevOps more visibility throughout the company, and aligning on metrics helps ensures the outcomes of your engineering leader role are aligned to the company's business strategy.

Next Steps

Where is DevOps 2.0 going to take you?

Take the first steps toward BizDevOps

Where digital performance management and DevOps meet

This was last published in January 2017

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