DevOps Institute

[E2] Cultural Transformation: The Most Human Element of DevOps


You’re listening to the Humans of DevOps Podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the Humans of DevOps through the S K I L framework. Here’s your host, DevOps Institute CEO, Jayne Groll.

Hi everyone. I’m Jayne Groll, CEO of the DevOps Institute, and I’d like to welcome you back to the Humans of DevOps podcast. If you’re not familiar with the DevOps Institute, please go to our website at and become a member. It’s free.

There you can explore our S K I L framework, which stands for skills, knowledge, ideas, and learning. DevOps Institute’s mission is to advance the human elements of DevOps, and we do that through providing lots of opportunities to learn such as this podcast.

For today’s episode, I’d like to take a look at cultural transformation, the most human element of DevOps. You know, improving organizational culture is well recognized as a critical success factor for a successful DevOps transformation. And yet it’s the most difficult and confusing aspect of any strategic initiative. Why is that? Well, cultural transformation involves humans and it involves human skills and whether it’s cultural process or technical skills, there is the primary human element associated with cultural transformation.

It’s much easier to update your software than it is to update people. And so as a result of that, culture doesn’t actually transform. People transform when they’re inspired to do so. You know, the term culture is bandied around a lot these days, but what does it actually mean before anyone can transform culture, they have to have a common industry understanding of what culture actually is or isn’t.

According to the business dictionary, culture is comprised of the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization. Wow. Pretty powerful definition. Social and psychological. It’s essentially how you interact, how you think and how you feel about your work environment. A complex set of factors and emotions that influence productivity, influence your loyalty, affect how you communicate and certainly influences how you collaborate with your peers and interact with those that are perhaps on your team or in your line of management.

So how people think, act, and feel about their environment is certainly going to differ from person to person, particularly when it comes to cultural change. You know, some will adopt new ideas on leaps of faith while others will require proof of concept. So many people are suffering from change fatigue, particularly in the IT space. They may actually be immune or at least cynical about new suggestions or new innovations and it’s the price we pay for.

Having introduced so many different ways of working over the last several decades, I would caution you to not think about culture as something surgical. You know, sometimes we call it organizational change management and it almost implies as if culture can be surgically corrected. You know what I mean? Kind of like you can surgically remove the old culture and then surgically attach a new one. Often with the expectation with that, that’ll happen within 90 days, right?

New behaviors, new cultures can’t be mandated, right? New behaviors, new cultures take time and they take patients and they take intentional efforts and reasonable expectations. There are some really well known well-respected models for how humans adapt to change. You might be familiar with the book Crossing the Chasm, which is really based on the Rogers adoption model. And it really does explain what raid individuals and groups adopt to new ideas or to innovations.

And so in this model, the stages can range from the innovators, to the early adopters, to the early majority, the late majority, and ultimately the laggers. And each stage has its own patterns of adoption, willingness to adopt and psychological needs. And until we start to understand how the people that we work with, whether they’re your peers or whether they’re part of your team or whether they report to you how they adopted change in which of these stages they’re most likely going to identify with, then cultural transformation becomes very, very, very, very difficult.

Every transformation, whether it’s a DevOps transformation, business transformation, a digital transformation, has representatives at each of these stages that will always be the innovators, right? Those that have new ideas and they’ll always be the early adopters that are excited about those new ideas and are willing to experiment and give it a try. And then when an idea crosses the chasm into the early majority, it has more acceptance but not necessarily critical mass.

And of course once it moves into the late majority, we like to think of as critical mass acceptance or becomes normalized and then there’s always going to be the group known as the laggards that are seemingly never going to adapt for whatever reason they are very satisfied with the way things are very reluctant about change and not necessarily willing to change it at all. Hopefully in your organization that’s very small percentage of your population.

So when we start to look at this adoption model, we understand that leaps of faith really apply to the innovators, the early adopters maybe to the early majority. And then as we move further and further through the curve, we start to operate on proof of concept. You would not be successful trying to convince those that are in the late majority of a new idea that’s percolating with the innovators or their early adopters. They’re just not ready to accept that.

And so when we look at kind of the people paradigm of, of DevOps, particularly when we talk about culture as a thing, it’s important to understand and recognize that within your population, either within your team, within your IT organization, or within your business, there are people that are going to segment into each of these stages and when and if you can identify that will also help you understand who to work with initially, who do provide proof of concept, who may never transform and what are the consequences of that as well.

It is a very personal perception, right? Culture is social and psychological. And that’s very personal. How I feel about my organization, how I interact with my peers, with my bosses, with others that I work with is very different than yours. And so the challenge behind cultural transformation is not the culture itself, it’s helping individuals adopt a new way of thinking, a new way of feeling. And that will result in a new way of working.

So as I said before, culture doesn’t transform. People transform when inspired to do so. The challenge for you and for those that are trying to bring DevOps initiatives to their environments is what is the inspiration that’s going to encourage your humans in order to be able to move forward?

So in future episodes of the Humans of DevOps podcasts, I’ll invite some well-known industry experts and thought leaders to share their thoughts on culture as well as technical topics and process topics. But we’ll be able to drill deeper into the ingredients that go into a transformational culture, including transformational leadership, looking deeper at this Roger’s adoption model, and some tips and tricks for being able to take people along the journey in a way that they might not go by themselves.

So thanks again for spending some time with me and I hope you’re enjoying this Humans of DevOps podcast. Please go to As I said before, please become a member. It’s free. There’s lots of assets and lots of other humans for you to interact with. Until next time.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Humans of DevOps podcast. Don’t forget to join our global community to get access to even more great resources like this. Until next time, remember, you are part of something bigger than yourself. You belong.

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