Attacking Silos with DevOps


In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people issues that are found in technology groups from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.


Many professionals, while having expertise in their technical niche, are sometimes less than perfect at communicating effectively with colleagues from other departments. This can result in departments failing to work effectively together; these departments resemble silos more than a collaborative and cohesive organization. This article will help you identify and understand some of the reasons why teams operate in silos and what you can do to change that.

Effective communication is an important aspect of any worthwhile endeavor, whether technology related or not. Many organizations consist of separate departments that operate as isolated silos with little or no effective communication between teams. The DevOps movement has been focusing on a set of principles designed to facilitate better collaboration between developers and IT operations professionals by emphasizing effective communication. DevOps also helps the QA and information security organizations operate more effectively within the development and operations structures.

Many professionals, while expert in their technical niche, are sometimes less than perfect at communicating effectively with colleagues from other departments. The end result can be departments that fail to work effectively together, thus resembling silos more than a collaborative and cohesive organization. This article will help you identify and understand some of the reasons why teams operate in silos and what you can do to change that.

It's often that teams can behave dysfunctionally. They compartmentalize information and refuse to collaborate with other members of the organization even when there is a clear need to know. They can be perceived by other members of the organization as showing fear and distrust. There have been many studies [1] of what sociologists and psychologists describe as in-group and out-group behavior, where team members typically act more favorably to members of their own team and may deliberately not cooperate with those outside the group. This tendency to “protect one's turf” may be problematic when trying to implement a complex system requiring cooperation from stakeholders throughout the organization. Another dysfunctional behavior can be seen in terms of covering up mistakes or working to maintain complete control over a function that should be shared between stakeholders. It can be helpful to understand some of the personality traits that can be seen in members of the team who act in a way that hampers the success of the team and also to understand what traits help facilitate great teamwork and success for the entire organization.

Many psychological studies describe clusters of personality traits in terms of what is sometimes called the big five[2]. These traits include openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Suffice to say that it is important to have team members who are willing to collaborate and reach consensus. Technology leaders need to consider how their team will work together and ensure that the team can act in way that is effective and functional. But understanding personality dispositions is only a part of the solution.

The organization needs to ensure that all of the stakeholders understand the need for transparency even when there is a requirement for a separation of duties (as is often the case with development and operations). There has been much written about the natural tension between development and operations. Developers are required to produce releases of the system with improved functionality and new features on a regular basis. In fact, without new features the organization may not be able to keep up with the competition and could actually cease to exist as a corporate entity. Operations staff members are generally focused on maintaining continuous and uninterrupted services. It is no surprise that some people are drawn to one area of focus or another, and that is also true for those who become quality assurance analysts or information-security specialists. There are also times when groups, which must interact, are indeed not part of the same organization, and this is especially true with cloud-based development.

Development in the cloud inevitably places a dependency upon support organizations that may be external to the business function. Cloud-based development has many advantages but one clear disadvantage is sometimes seen when the cloud supplier support organization does not believe that it needs to be transparent with the client-support organization. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) can only go so far when communication is hampered by the supplier-client relationship. This is also true when organizations depend upon vendors for support who may not have the same sense of urgency as the business entity impacted by a service outage.

DevOps puts a focus on good communication and collaboration between development and operations. Obviously, this is essential for QA, information security, and other key stakeholders. But we all need to keep in mind that within all of these organizations are people who have their personality dispositions and behavioral norms. Successful managers will work to get savvy at recognizing these people factors and work to help their team operation effectively.


[1] Jim Sidaniusa, Felicia Prattob & Michael Mitchella, In-Group Identification, Social Dominance Orientation, and Differential Intergroup Social Allocation, The Journal of Social Psychology, Volume 134, Issue 2, 1994

[2] Aiello, Bob and Leslie Sachs. 2010. Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World. Addison-Wesley Professional.

[3] Byrne, Donn. 1974. An Introduction to Personality: Research, Theory, and Applications. Prentice-Hall Psychology Series.

[4] Appelo, Jurgen. 2011. Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. Addison-Wesley Signature Series.

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