What Makes DevOps Successful: Co-location of Teams

It’s no great revelation that the past 20 years have seen a remarkable transformation in how, when, and where we work. Driven by the desire to source top talent wherever it’s found and enabled by a rich menu of communication and collaboration technology, highly distributed development teams are an increasingly common feature of today’s IT organization.

While much is said regarding the potential upside for employers that facilitate remote and distributed work, in the software development world there are downsides that simply can’t be ignored. From communication breakdowns to security breaches, distributed development teams face a host of challenges that can erode quality and productivity and eat away at your bottom line. In safety-critical markets like aerospace and defense, the vulnerabilities and hidden costs of running distributed teams often cancel out any potential or perceived benefits.

Recognizing the importance of keeping teams together, in the DevOps movement co-location of team members is considered a critical success factor and a foundational element of implementing DevOps at your organization.

Empowering a new organizational culture

To better understand why the DevOps movement places such a high priority on co-location, it’s helpful to consider that at its core a DevOps implementation is about adopting a new organizational culture. Such a cultural shift is an order of magnitude more disruptive than adopting a new tool or process.

In this light, workplace elements like the physical location of the staff and even the actual layout of the workspace loom larger than they might when discussing other development paradigms. With many more touchpoints across the larger organization, DevOps teams need to be present and integrated.

Despite the allure and convenience of modern tools, there is still no substitute for face-to-face communication. It is more natural and spontaneous and fosters a freer flowing of ideas. When colleagues are sitting next to each other, asking questions, or pulling up a chair to look at in-progress work is baked-in to the daily rhythm. Co-located team members spend less time writing emails and sitting on conference calls. Co-located teams are more productive and have higher morale.

Co-location is a force multiplier for many of the other key elements of a successful DevOps organization. It fosters an environment with a simple reporting structure and flattened hierarchy where all team members are expected and encouraged to step into leadership thinking. DevOps prizes a high degree of collaboration across roles, trust among colleagues, and a focus on the larger business rather than stove-piped departmental objectives. Co-location is virtually essential to success in all these objectives.

For the aerospace and defense industry, co-location can be a particularly worthy pursuit. But as the industry faces continued pressure from ongoing austerity demands, mergers and acquisitions, and a desire for greater across-the-board agility and innovation, traditional roles are breaking down and the industry is embracing tighter alignment of development and operations. Co-location is an enabler of a DevOps team that is more attuned to the business drivers and better able to respond to the client’s needs.

Achieving co-location in your organization

Achieving full co-location of a DevOps team is no small feat, and if you’re in the midst of a DevOps implementation you’re sure to encounter headwinds. First and foremost, your existing teams are likely to be at least somewhat distributed. Perhaps that just means your legacy operations and development teams are in different spaces in your facility, or perhaps you have developers currently spread across time zones who have never even met face-to-face.

Co-location may involve relocation which will almost certainly meet with resistance. In some cases, reorganizing and rebuilding teams might be more practical than trying to entice talent to move.

Another vexing and frequent problem faced in DevOps implementations is that existing facilities sometimes don’t lend themselves well to co-location and other goals for collaboration space. In such situations, creativity and even investment in re-engineering facilities might be in order.

Regardless of the obstacles encountered, if your organization is serious about DevOps, you should be wary of too many compromises on co-location. Getting your team together and working in one place is key to unlocking the full DevOps promise of faster development, greater innovation, and improved quality, all without compromising the critical safety requirements of industries like aerospace and defense.

To learn more about how DevOps can benefit your organization, please contact Performance Software.

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