Transitioning to a DevOps way of working often requires company culture to transform. It’s not just about job titles and the division of labor, it’s about how teams solve problems and approach new projects. Some of these approaches might seem perfectly reasonable, but can actually lead to more problems. In this blog series, we’re unpacking seven of those scenarios so companies can learn how to do DevOps right. This time, we’re examining why having a so-called superhero in the office actually weakens the team.
What could possibly be bad about “superheroes”? Well, it’s not the individual that’s problematic, it’s the dynamic. Placing so much responsibility on one person’s shoulders makes the team dependent upon that individual. If the superhero calls out sick or leaves for another opportunity, the team is suddenly much weaker.
This dynamic evolved from a more traditional work environment where there was a specific person assigned to different aspects of production: front-end software, back-end software, operations, deployment, etc. Everyone had their own turf. A typical response when something went wrong was, “Yeah, that’s back-end stuff. I don’t know that so that’s on him.” If the issue wasn’t in someone’s designated scope of work, they felt no responsibility to resolve it. Only the superheroes, typically people that had been with the company for a long time, were knowledgeable about other areas.
Having a superhero also decreases others’ motivation to learn new skills and understand the full scope of operations. If an issue arises, it’s easy to say, “Oh, go ask Vivian. She knows,” instead of figuring it out. In this way, the superhero actually becomes a bottleneck. Nothing gets done until he or she is available. Productivity is seriously restrained.
Creating Shared Responsibility
So, how do DevOps teams make sure everyone has a basic understanding of production from start-to-finish? Collaboratively writing software fosters this dynamic organically. People chat as they work, “OK, how are you doing that? I need to be acquainted with making changes in those areas of application frames.” They start getting a sense of what their colleagues do, even if it’s not in their own area of expertise.
As shared knowledge builds, people become equipped to troubleshoot. A discussion naturally occurs when issues arise. The response changes from, “Go ask Vivian,” to “Let’s all pause what we’re working on and figure this out.” And, if the superhero is leading the effort, he or she discusses what’s being done.
This collaborative atmosphere creates skill-building opportunities. Companies and employees benefit when people have a variety of knowledge and skills. Instead of one or two superheroes, there are many capable people ready to step-in when problems appear. Organizations become much stronger.
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Until then, tune in next time to find out why “our POs only focus on functionality” is the seventh habit of a highly ineffective DevOps team.