Culture Hacks

On DevOpsDays in Gothenburg in mid October I attended a open session on the topic “Cultural Hacks”. It was one of the most interesting open sessions and I just want to share the ideas that came up.

Why culture needs to be hacked

By definition culture is something that can not be replaced like a tool or even people in an organization and therefore in order to change culture it needs to be “hacked”. So what hacks can you do to start a cultural change in a company? Well I guess it depends on what you want to change but in this discussion it is the old devs vs. ops culture and what we want is a devops culture where developers and operations talk to each other, collaborate and strive for the same goal which is getting good software out the door and into production in a controlled way as often as possible (in one very simplified sentence)

Proposed hacks

  • Metrics that provides transparency though out the company. Measure everything and make it available to everyone. Not only technical metrics like server load, disk io or whatever but also useful business metrics and combine them in every possible way to find the real useful and interesting correlations.
  • Hackathons would hopefully get people who does not normally interact with each other to talk (maybe about something completely out of work-scope) and collaborate and share ideas and thereby learn from each other.
  • Ops engineers in dev-teams with shorter feedback loops and tighter collaboration devs will learn more about ops and infrastructure, how their code behaves in production and what they can do to help in that area. And at the same time making the ops involved in the development process early on and can contribute with deployment scripts, server provisioning scripts, tuning etc and enforce dev requirements that makes deployment and operation tasks better and easier.
  • Daily standsups well this obvious as I see it but nevertheless very important and if you do it right it can defiantly make way for cultural change in a team.
  • Transparent backlog exposing your teams backlog will hopefully create a bigger understanding of what you are doing and why. I guess the main purpose is to enforce better prioritizing and communication between those who requests your time and services.
  • Fail cake funny little harmless hack which means that the one responsible for production failure has to buy cake for the team. Punishment enough for that person and since ever body likes cake no one can be that angry with him/her either. The purpose of this is of course to strive for better quality, embrace failure in the sense that it will happen just learn how handle it and prevent it the next time and of course to learn from others mistakes.
  • Exchange with other non competitor companies This hack proposed a people exchange between two companies that has a lot to learn from each other but does not compete on the same market. I like this one, a day, week month or what you think is appropriate will for sure make people learn new stuff, bring home new good things and also learn to avoid the bad things. I’m sure knowledge exchange happens all the time at conferences and tech talks but to actually exchange people and work at other companies I guess is not very common.
  • Tech talks with external speakers this, hack proposed to lift the tech talks that many companies have but consider very internal, by bringing in external speakers. That would hopefully spice up the discussions and make more people come and learn new stuff. Keep an eye open for when interesting people are in town for some event. Many times a 20 min tech talk over lunch is no big deal to squeeze in and does not have to cost you a lot either since they are already in town.
  • Give root access to developers This hack, proposed by a ops guy of course, I think sound a lot like a “chaos monkey” experiment. However, I think there is a nig psychological point in giving devs root access, saying you have the power to do stuff but also the responsibility to make sure you do not mess up. It will hopefully erase some of the invisible boundaries between development and operations.
  • Draw a picture Simple but also an important thing you can do to spread knowledge, get people to talk and build up truly cross-functional teams. This was also mentioned in Mitchell Hashimotos talk at DevOpsDays in Gothenburg as key part of bringing devs closer to ops.
  • Framing problems To be honest I can’t really remember what this hack was about. Suggestions are welcome…
  • Make people feel safe, give all the credit and take all the blame Good way of getting people that are reluctant to change to take the first step and try something new.
  • Take advantage of compelling events I can’t remember exactly how the discussion around this was but I guess it is about keeping your eye open for things that you can use as an “excuse” to impose a change that normally would just be rejected.
  • Subjective metrics Funny little pretty harmless hack that I’ve seen around. E.g. letting each individual in the team present a smiley of their mood. Purpose is to create an more open environment and encourage communication. You can track the level of satisfaction in a team and maybe do some correlation to how they are actually performing. However, you have to be careful not to pressure peoples personal integrity.
  • Force to set “confident level” on every checkin I guess this is somewhat related to the subjective metrics above. I like the idea, and I think the cultural change it will hopefully create is to get people to think more about what quality of code they are checking in. If someone checks in with low confident level you can ask them why, are you checking in crappy code? If they check in with high confident level you can also ask them if they are so sure this will work and not break anything? I guess it will be like when you first start off with scrum , the first times the team will be over-optimistic but in time they till learn where their level is. I’ve also seen related subjective metrics e.g. “commit karma” where everybody starts at 100% and is decreased if their commit breaks something. Someone with low karma has a harder time getting their code out in production than someone with high karma.
 
 

Andreas Rehn
@andreasrehn