DevOps is, according to Wikipedia, a set of practices that combines software development (Dev) and information-technology operations (Ops) which aims to shorten the systems development life cycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality.
The concept itself is pretty recent, as the first formal event on the topic was held in 2009. But in some shape or form this “collaboration” between Software Development and then Execution in Production, has had experiences already in the past. Today, it is thanks to this set of practices that Agile Software Development can deliver its value. In essence, what DevOps means is that instead of having physically separated processes (and teams) that develop a solution and then move it to production (i.e. make it available to the user), and maintain it and service it, we have a collaborative effort of a team. This is a central asset for example of the Spotify Engineering Culture, that so often is taken as a mantra to scale Agile in organisations.
What has this to do with HR? I share the idea that it is the DevOps principles that are more revolutionary for the HR profession than “just” Agile on its one. Why? Because the central idea of the DevOps approach is to create direct links between the work you’re doing and the results you achieve serving your customers.
Applying some Design Thinking methodology of customer involvement at the beginning is critical, especially as we think and transition to the concept of Employee Experience. We involve our customers in the design of any solution, we reason in terms of the moment of truths, we test and learn with them… but what about the execution side? And what about measuring the ROI of this? A clear advantage of DevOps methodologies is precisely the strong link with ROI measurement, not through countless KPIs, but through appropriate measures that thoroughly measure the value created.
Let’s also remember that one of the foundations of DevOps is also to include security considerations in the process. Instead of thinking of IT security as a separate process (which too often translates into “it’s someone else problem”), security concerns and practices are embedded in the DevOps toolchains, allowing a holistic answer to problems and issues. This, for me, translates well with the need for HR to ensure “compliance”, yet often this is seen as a separate aspect, delegated to the “experts” only.
Is there a possibility to create a similar “HR-Ops” mentality? I believe there should be, and for me, it is part of the quest to move back the focus of HR towards organisational performance. An example? Talent Development. We have been focused as a profession for many years on the development of individuals and their competencies. Still, often without a clear connection to the value, they would generate for the organisation as a whole. On the contrast, the most effective way to achieve results is also a form of “joint development and operations“, which is training on the job. One of the elements that appeal to me more about the concept of a Deliberately Developmental Organisation is that development is immediately tied in with a strong ROI.
But what are the elements that HR can learn from DevOps? Adopting the cultural foundations that make DevOps work. The DevOps Research and Assessment has done a thorough research of the critical aspects that enable a performing DevOps organisation, both from a process as well as from a culture perspective.
When we think at the DevOps process, five principles have been identified as part of the 2019 State of DevOps Report and then enable real value creation. Let’s see them here, with a quick description of how these can be generically applied to HR (or to any other function in reality).
High Trust and free information flow are characteristics that are almost part of the design of such a winning culture. Still, their impact is not new, as it was investigated already a few years ago by Dr Ron Westrum. In his research, Westrum provides three characteristics of good information:
He then developed the following typology of organisational cultures.
|Power oriented||Rule oriented||Performance oriented|
|Low cooperation||Modest cooperation||High cooperation|
|Messengers “shot”||Messengers neglected||Messengers trained|
|Responsibilities shirked||Narrow responsibilities||Risks are shared|
|Bridging discouraged||Bridging tolerated||Bridging encouraged|
|Failure leads to scapegoating||Failure leads to justice||Failure leads to inquiry|
|Novelty crushed||Novelty leads to problems||Novelty implemented|
The DORA research has shown that the way people work influences culture. And the elements that are listed under the “Generative” type of culture are all key to enable a different and more proactive focus truly.
As you can see from the table above, there are six traits that we need to build to match the DevOps mentality in an HR context truly. Once we have enabled the process above, through the appropriate redesign of roles and functions, the following are the key aspects to reinforce and deliver value.
Will DevOps take over HR? I think that this approach is one of the clear advantages that some IT organisations have over HR in enabling the success of a firm, especially as they create the direct link with the customers (internal or external). For support functions, this has always been a somewhat mysterious path, but it’s in it that we can trace the real value contribution.
In its quest for Agile HR needs to take a stance on implementing some of these cultural attributes, as they are vital to reaffirming the centrality of its role. And will quickly demonstrate the value created for the entire organisation. As you noticed, I have not mentioned technology here. Although DevOps was born in a technological environment, the principles can also be applied to products and services that do not need technology. After all, a “DevOps” is not dissimilar to an old-fashioned tailor, able to produce and interact with the customer all the time, creating value in the relationship. This is how it was explained to me the first time I came across this concept. A genuinely human aspect we should retain and valorise.
What do you think of DevOps applied to HR?
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