DevOps conflict - do you feel it?

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Applications development people can't stand the Luddites in the operations group, and ops people hate those prima donas in apps dev - at least that's what we are led to believe.

To explore the issue, two of my colleagues who write to the infrastructure and operations (I&O) role - Glenn O'Donnell and Evelyn (Hubbert) Oehrlich - invited me to participate in an experiment of sorts.

They arranged a joint session for the I&O Forrester Leadership Board (FLB) meeting, and I was the sole applications guy in the room - a conduit for I&O FLB members to vent their frustration at their apps dev peers.

For those who aren't aware, FLBs are communities of like-minded folks in the same role who meet several times a year to network, share their experiences, guide research, and address the issues that affect their role.

We infused the session with equal parts education, calls for joint strategic planning across all IT work, and a bit of stand-up comedy - Glenn noted that as representatives of our respective roles, he and I were actually twin sons of different mothers. I noted that in that context that our parents must have been really ugly.

Once we opened the session for discussion, the good folks in the room wasted no time in launching verbal stones my way. Now, I'm no IT neophyte: I've been in the industry since 1982, and I'm no stranger to conflict - I grew up with 3 older brothers, and we all exchanged our fair share of abuse as siblings will.

Still, I wasn't quite prepared for the venting that followed. To summarize a few of the main points, I&O sees apps folks as:

  • Reckless in their approach to building and maintaining new applications - not enough focus on testing, performance, and other post-production catalysts for problems.
  • Indifferent to the problems they "throw over the wall" to operations.
  • "Country-club" prima donas. In contrast, the ops folks see themselves as the "blue collar" set.

Now it's a fair point that conflict is pre-built into the DevOps relationship:

  • The mission of apps folks is to introduce change to applications - even when we aren't changing application functionality, we're introducing change to them to keep them running.
  • The mission of ops folks is to strive for 100% uptime in a reliable and scalable way - to mitigate the risk to ongoing operations. Every change to the operations environment opens the door - however slightly - to risk.
  • Even within apps, there is conflict between the roles:
    • New projects are highly visible events to the business; production implementation is a big deal, often with great fanfare.
    • Contrast that with the comparatively mundane activity of keeping those core applications running post-implementation - there is no singular notable event; it is more of a series of smaller, continuous activity that remains largely invisible to the business.

So mitigating the conflict where and when it exists is a responsibility we all need to take seriously. We will continue to address the issue, and as part of that, we plan to repeat the DevOps sessions in the future at various venues and expand the audience beyond I&O to include apps, EA, and CIO roles. We'd also like to hear from all of you on how real this problem is in your world:

  • DevOps conflict - do you feel it? Is it real or imagined?
  • What is the DevOps relationship like in your IT shop? Do you have conflict?
    • If so, what are you doing about it?
    • If not, why not? What makes your shop different? What techniques are you using to mitigate conflict? How would you advise your peers to mitigate conflict?
  • Is there anything in your corporate culture that you feel increases or mitigates conflict?

When you have your answers to the above questions - ask your peers in I&O and other roles to answer the same questions/to post their perceptions on DevOps conflict here. Maybe we'll open some more eyes.

As for me, I'm off to renew my country-club membership - I didn't know I had one, but I must because I've been an apps guy my whole career. Don't worry - I'll say "hi" to Biff and Muffy for you ... while sipping my 3-martini lunch at the country-club.