Cross-functional Cooperation: Breaking Down Silos and Finding Your DevOps Stride

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When organizations arrange teams around specific roles, silos often start to crop up—leading to poor communication and weak cross-departmental support. In fact, 86 percent of employees and executives view insufficient communication and lack of collaboration as causes of workplace failures.

Ultimately, silos are problematic as they lead to employees becoming hyper-focused on their own individual goals rather than the needs of the whole team or company. This can cause critical information and project priorities to be forgotten or even ignored.

How do I know if my organization has silos?

There are a number of ways to indicate whether or not a project is suffering from silos. When you observe a general lack of collaboration, little to no innovation, unnecessary duplicated work, or you’re having a difficult time rallying teams around the same goals—you’re dealing with the silo effect.

Some more specific ways to detect silos on teams include an observation of the following:

  • QA is unaware of what features should be tested
  • Development produces code that is not easily testable
  • IT/Operations pushes new releases out at their own whim
  • Development and QA are surprised by what is running in production
  • Development sends code to production without prior consent or notification to IT/Ops

Additionally, if you notice important project details being regularly dismissed, employees have a habit of blaming other employees for project issues—or worse, when failures occur, there is little coordination or cooperation to get them fixed in a timely manner—your organization has silos.

How can you use DevOps to help break down silos?

DevOps practices help break down common barriers between teams such as lack of collaboration and fragmented workflows. Companies can begin breaking down these barriers by coordinating activities across functions by practicing daily team standup meetings and building common tooling that makes the lives of each project function easier and more efficient.

But standups and tooling alone won’t fix silos. Additionally, it’s important for companies to build and document processes—and the supporting automation—that enables software to seamlessly transition from development to production. To support long term sustainability, developers must also be engaged in writing code that actively supports the initiatives of QA and IT/Ops (i.e. scalable, highly available, easily monitored, and tested).

What challenges might we face when breaking down silos?

People tend to gravitate toward those with similar positions, expertise, and career backgrounds—so you can expect some form of resistance as you work to make changes that break down problematic silos in your department or team. You may even deal with employees who don’t yet trust other teams or struggle with defining and agreeing upon altered roles and responsibilities.

People generally don’t openly embrace change right away, but when you give them reason to believe in a new approach—or even a reason to believe in the potential of a new approach—and you find ways to illustrate that you all share a similar vision, it’s easier to start breaking silos from within. And the good news is people generally want to collaborate. In fact, 39 percent of employees think their teams don’t collaborate enough.

Ok, but will DevOps really help create cross-functional cooperation?

Breaking down silos with DevOps is possible. Base2 Solutions, where I work, was asked by a large Fortune 500 company to help incongruent groups function effectively to deliver on a complex software platform. Multiple suppliers and internal groups were contributing disparate functionality and it became very difficult to efficiently build and deliver the end product due to the inherently siloed nature of the project. We worked with the client to develop clear processes and procedures for integrating, testing, and building the product such that quality could be maintained. Further, we also delivered tools and environments that streamlined interactions between groups.

When you incorporate DevOps, you can expect teams working together to support shared organizational goals, better product quality with a lower risk of downtime, proactive rather than reactive approaches to projects, and an overall enhanced ability to scale as your business grows and changes.

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About Author

Matt Brewster is DevOps Team Lead for Seattle-based Base2 Solutions. His proficiencies include deployment/build/test automation and infrastructure, systems integration and analysis, performance automation and analysis, infrastructure virtualization and containerization, aerospace information technology, software quality assurance and rapid prototyping. Matt’s DevOps/Infrastructure knowledge includes VMWare, AWS, Virtualbox, Docker, Vagrant, Ansible, Chef, Linux, Nginx and Jenkins. Get started with your DevOps practices by discovering how you rank with our DevOps maturity evaluation.

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