Culture not tech, keeps teams stuck in the middle of their DevOps evolution

Nigel Kersten, Field CTO at Puppet

Puppet, the industry standard for infrastructure automation to mitigate security risks and scale remediation, released the research findings of the 2021 State of DevOps Report.

This year, over 2,650 IT, development, and information security professionals including 424 in Asia Pacific (APAC) took the survey, providing insight into the chasm between organisations with highly evolved DevOps practices and those whose DevOps evolution has plateaued.

Puppet conducted the first report ten years ago when DevOps adoption was not ubiquitous.

Significant findings of the 2021 State of DevOps Report

A decade later, 83% of IT decision makers report their organisations are implementing DevOps practices to unlock higher business value through better quality software, faster delivery times, more secure systems and the codification of principles.

However, within that 83% are distinct cohorts of organisations whose success with DevOps is contingent upon a number of factors, revealed in the report. 

Many companies in the middle stages of their DevOps evolution have plateaued. Among these mid-evolution teams, cultural blockers are the biggest hurdle to reaching DevOps success.

Culture blockers include a culture that discourages risk (21%), unclear responsibilities (20%), de-prioritising fast flow optimisation (18%), and insufficient feedback loops (17%).

Culture is identified less as a barrier in APAC as DevOps practices evolve. APAC respondents were less likely (37%) than the total (47%) to say the blockers to DevOps are cultural.

23% say they are related to tech, and 40% say both culture and tech equally.

Report findings also revealed:

Organisational structure and team dynamics matter 

The report found 91% of highly evolved teams report a clear understanding of their responsibilities to other teams compared to only 32% of low-evolution teams. 

Survey respondents are using the cloud, but most are using it poorly  

65% of mid-evolution firms report using the cloud, yet only 20% use the cloud to its full potential. High-evolution teams use cloud better with 57% satisfying all five NIST cloud capability metrics compared to only 5% of low-evolution respondents. 

Being good at automation does not make a firm good at DevOps

90% of high-evolution teams have automated most repetitive tasks compared to only 67% of mid-level and 25% of low-evolution. 

DevOps success includes stronger security—or in this case, DevSecOps

Among highly evolved organisations, 51% integrate security into requirements, 61% into design, 53% into build, and 52% into testing in contrast to mid-level organisations in which security becomes involved only when there is a scheduled audit of production or an issue reported in production. 

The most highly evolved firms benefit from top-down enablement of bottom-up transformation 

Fewer than 2% of high-level organisations report resistance to DevOps from the executive level compared to 13% of those in the low-evolution firms.

Puppet invited a wider group of DevOps influencers to respond to the data and build on recommendations for what organisations can do to climb out of the sticky middle.

Contributors include the authors of the Team Topologies model, which has been immensely influential in the industry.

“A standout finding from the report is the importance of team identities; organisations with less ambiguous team names with more clearly defined team responsibilities are more likely to be more highly evolved in their DevOps journey,” said Nigel Kersten, Field CTO at Puppet.

“The title ‘DevOps team’ is misleading, as it allows many organisations to assume that having a DevOps team means they are doing DevOps correctly.”

“We recommend less ambiguously named stream-aligned and platform teams in the Team Topologies model, which create a well-defined path to achieving DevOps success at scale.” 

“In ten years, we’ve gone from hype to practice in the way technology is delivered, all with the data to show what we’ve learned along the way. That’s some quality iteration,” said Michael Stahnke, VP of Platform, CircleCI.

“The final stage of DevOps evolution is often the building of a highly leveraged platform and team structure, incorporating self-service capabilities beyond infrastructure. When it’s really done well, the word DevOps tends to fall away as it’s just how work is happening.”

Key determinants for mid-evolution organisations to achieve DevOps success at scale include a successful platform team approach, organisational buy-in from managers and practitioners, a strong automation practice, and a willingness to accept risk and invest for the future.

For everyone who completed the survey, $5 was donated to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the World Central Kitchen, and the UNICEF COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

We also donated added funds provided by our sponsors with total contributions at $45,000.

State of DevOps Report Methodology

The survey collected data from technical professionals with a working knowledge of their IT operations and software delivery process. ClearPath Strategies, hosted the survey and conducted the data analysis.The resulting report was written by Puppet and CircleCI

Stakeholder comments on the State of DevOps

“There will always be teams that are doing something unique and off the beaten path. Cultivating an innovation mindset means giving them the freedom to create without too many constraints,” said Carl Timm, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Armory.

“While standardisation can help with operations and compliance, it’s more important to be deliberate about creating space for teams to explore and create, which extends to tooling. The report does a great job of reinforcing this notion and showing why it is so important.” 

“Using cloud technologies or agile practices alone is not enough to move organisations from mid-level to high-performing,” said Matthew Skelton, co-author of the book Team Topologies.

“The 2021 State of DevOps Report from Puppet shows that team identities and clear interaction paradigms matter. These and other principles and patterns from Team Topologies are helping organisations in every sector and geography become more high performing.”