DevOps transformations and hard-skills

One of the interesting things I run into during my work as an CI/CD/DevOps/Engineering coach is that a transformation sometime has the tendency to be approached as a process change. For example teams that are doing their work in a waterfall fashion and now they have adopted a Kanban or Scrum way of working. This is fine when the same skills are required and teams additionally will benefit from agile principles like inspect and adopt, but when new (hard)-skills are required the transformation becomes a challenge.

However transforming an organisation is initiated to gain certain strategic capabilities like business agility. This means not only a new process but also a set of new hard skill that are required for the new way of working. These skills are rarely skills around process and introspection, but often real hard-skills like automation and data-science. When hard-skills are not taken care the only thing that a team finds out sooner is that they are lacking hard-skills to do their job.

Capabilities required before a DevOps transformation

There are multiple paths an organisation can take to close or narrow this (hard)-skill gap. First the organisation needs to determine which skills are required for teams to do their work. The first step is set the goals that should be achieved with the DevOps transformation and which metrics should be used to proof the effectiveness of the transformation. (The book Accelerate offers great basis for metrics to use) Based on the set goals a skill model should be created that is focused on capabilities where teams have the freedom to fill in these capabilities with their own implementation. However the organisation should investigate whether teams are able to bridge the skill-gap themselves.

A great way tool to see if there is a skill-gap, is doing a survey over the teams using prickling statements like:

  • Is the generation of business value influenced by the technical state?
  • The team can do a deployment at any moment?
  • It is clear how a user-story will benefit the business goal(s)?

This example set of questions will cover capabilities like resilience, automation, monitoring and metrics. I suggest that limiting the answers to an even number (preferable four), this will force teams to choose a positive or negative level. Based on the collected responses determine which teams are most likely to bridge the skill-gap, additionally focus on teams who can become ambassadors for the transformation. (Teams that can help other teams)

New skills/capabilities required to make DevOps transformation successful

After determining the skill-gap of teams, the organisation should decide whether to coach the teams to bridge the skill-gap, simplifying the usage of capabilities or to do both. This decision is based on the structuring and/or size of the organisation, but also dependent on the size of the skill-gap and the goals the organisation wants to achieve with the DevOps transformation.

Simplifying the usage of capabilities must be focused on the capabilities that ever team requires. Instead of every team choosing their own implementation, the implementation is chosen at an organisational level. However this usage of this capability/implementation by the teams should be simplified as much as possible, enabling teams to gain the capability with zero/minimal effort.

New skills/capabilities required to make DevOps transformation successful, where the organisation bridges certain capabilities

Bridging the skill-gap within the teams should be focused first on the most mature teams, these teams should become your ambassadors helping and inspiring less mature teams. When it comes to coaching teams, the constellation of the team dictates a certain coaching style and not every coach will be a good match for a team. Most of the time I choose an embedded coaching style where I learn how to use a capability to solve a problem the team has.

When it comes to less mature teams a training program should provide the first steps to increase the maturity on certain capabilities. These teams will get familiar with ‘why’ and ‘what’ for the required capabilities and necessary hard-skills.. This should kickstart teams to become familiar with the required hard-skills and allows them to create a plan how to built up the hard-skills.

A DevOps transformation often brings challenges for teams to gain new hard-skills and capabilities. To empower these teams to gain these hards-skill/capabilities, focus on making at easy as possible for these teams but also make it easy for an organisation as a whole. As an organisation establish a methodical approach for finding the right teams to transform and also for measuring the progress of the transformation. So beware an DevOps transformation is not only a process change, but also requires new hard-skills/capabilities.