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DevOps - let's work it out together!

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: DevOps, DWP Digital

I’m Alex Stanhope, head of DevOps at DWP Digital. We’ve been making significant progress in our DevOps journey, breaking down traditional organisational barriers to unlock the full value of technology to transform our services.

We’re currently looking for DevOps engineers to join us in our digital hubs, to help solve challenges for our 22 million customers at a higher pace.

Alex Stanhope
Alex Stanhope

We’re a progressive organisation

I joined DWP Digital in 2016, right when the organisation was moving its project management approach from waterfall to agile.  So many organisations pay lip service to that. But I've been inspired to see how my colleagues here have committed to - and persevered with - agile project management and the distributed decision-making that underpins it.

As a government department, there are many risks to manage and governance requirements to comply with, but all parts of the organisation have pitched in to make it work - and work well.

DevOps takes the same level of commitment, but in a different way.  If agile is about taking something on, DevOps is about letting something go. And that something is the need to know what I’m doing!

The power of not knowing

DevOps is a culture transformation tool.  I proudly say that when I come into the office each day I don’t know what I’m doing; that’s an essential part of building the new culture.

If we don’t know, we can work it out based on what’s in front of us.  We can pick a solution based on what’s best, now, for this, and which will almost certainly mean a change.  This power to make a change is opened up by not knowing and shouting about it!

Like many of us, I’m invested in my colleagues’ opinion of my work performance.  It matters to me that I’m competent, effective and do a valuable job.  The risk associated with that is that I fear the unknown. Not because I’m resistant to learning new things, but because I’m reluctant to look stupid.

While there’s an increasing appetite to recognise the value of experimentation and failure, looking like you don’t know what you’re doing can be very undermining and threatening to business leaders.  That’s why creating a DevOps culture is about real visible leadership; embrace the cognitive dissonance associated with not knowing, be visible not knowing, build a team around not knowing, then work it out together.

It’s uncomfortable initially, but surrendering to it opens up all kinds of new opportunities.  Once I recognise that what I’m doing now isn’t right, or isn’t sustainable, or isn’t going to precipitate the kind of change that the organisation so badly needs, I can find a new way of working.

Wider than just ‘dev’ and ‘ops’

DWP Digital is made up of nearly 3,000 specialists and we’re growing rapidly as we recruit new tech talent to join us.  Within that number we have product owners and business analysts, architects and UX engineers, automated testers and delivery managers, so this spirit of collaboration is wider than just ‘dev’ and ‘ops’.  Security, architecture, governance and product design are all part of the DevOps picture.

If I’m a software engineer with 20 years’ experience cutting application code, my mind has 20 years of positive reinforcement telling me, “this will work if we do it my way”.  If I’m an infrastructure operations engineer with a lifetime’s experience running applications in production, my way will be similarly reinforced.

To work together, we need to cross the chasm.  We need to value each other’s experience at least as highly as our own.  A DevOps collaboration involves a lot of willingness to say “I’ve done it this way for years, but I’ll try something new.  I believe in something better.  Let’s work it out together!”

DevOps has the power to make real improvements in service delivery, so it’s important that we unlock its potential. If you’d like to join us on our transformation, take a look at the roles we have available, check out our LinkedIn page or follow us on Twitter @DWPDigital.

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