Diving into DevOps

Annual State of DevOps Report: It's Now About 'Transformational Leadership'

The evolution of DevOps continues apace, and the sixth annual "State of DevOps Report," published today, suggests the next phase of that evolution will be driven by what the report's authors call "transformational leadership."

"Leadership has been sort of maligned in DevOps, because it was a grass roots, practitioner-led movement for so long," said Alanna Brown, senior product marketing manager at Puppet, and co-author of the report. "But now what we're seeing is that, in the most successful DevOps initiatives -- those that achieve organization-wide success -- the leadership has fully bought in. DevOps is no longer just about technical practitioners."

The free report was commissioned by Puppet and DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA), and sponsored by Amazon Web Services, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Splunk, Atlassian, Electric Cloud, Deloitte and Wavefront. It's based on a worldwide survey of more than 3,200 technical professionals, including executives, developers, and other IT professionals.

This is another 50-plus page report packed with stats and graphs "that enterprises can use to improve performance, leadership and culture within their own organizations," the report's authors wrote. The report looked at the impact of automation practices, continuous delivery, lean product management, and DevOps in not-for-profits and organizations that use off-the-shelf software. And it considered, for the first time, the importance of leadership types and how they impact performance.

So, what exactly is transformational leadership? According to the report, it's "a model in which leaders inspire and motivate followers to achieve higher performance by appealing to their values and sense of purpose, facilitating wide-scale organizational change. These leaders encourage their teams to work towards a common goal through their vision, values, communication, example-setting, and their evident caring about their followers' personal needs."

Transformational leaders are inspirational communicators with vision, Brown explained, who provide intellectual stimulation, supportive leadership, and personal recognition to the people they manage. And they really matter when it comes to the success of an organization's DevOps efforts.

"When we look at transformational leadership in relationship to everything else -- product management practices, process improvement changes, IT performance, organizational performance, and technical practices -- what we see is that transformational leaders have a strong influence on the technical practices and process improvement practices, which lead to higher IT performance and organizational performance. They're not the doers, but they have a very strong influence on how people do their work."

The importance of leadership in the DevOps evolution was underscored in the report by a statistic from a Gartner Predicts cited in the report: "By 2020, half of the CIOs who have not transformed their teams' capabilities will be displaced from their organizations' digital leadership teams."

"That's a sobering reality for most CIOs today," Brown said. "Or it should be. Most know that they have to change, and that business as usual will no longer suffice. And it's not just about how you push code through; it's about the cultural practices you enable, how you empower your team, and the example you set as a leader."

The list of co-authors on this year's report is another DevOps Who's Who. Along with Brown, it includes Dr. Nicole Forsgren, CEO and chief scientist at DORA; Jez Humble, co-author of The DevOps Handbook, Continuous Delivery and Lean Enterprise; Nigel Kersten, chief technical strategist at Puppet; and Gene Kim, researcher, DevOps guru and co-author of The Phoenix Project and DevOps Handbook.

Among other things, these researchers found that automation has become a real differentiator. The highest performing organizations covered in the survey automated 72 percent of all configuration management processes. Those organizations spend less time (28 percent) in manual configuration processes that stall innovation and deployments. So-called low performers spend almost half their time (46 percent) on manual configuration, the report concluded.

They also found that Lean product management practices seem to be driving higher organizational performance. "Lean product management practices help teams ship features that customers actually want, more frequently," the authors concluded. "This faster delivery cycle lets teams experiment, creating a feedback loop with customers."

"The key takeaways from Puppet's 2017 State of DevOps Report emphasize the power of automation and transformational leadership," said Steve Brodie, CEO of Electric Cloud, in a statement, "but also highlight the critical importance of helping teams connect the dots between business metrics and the underlying tools and processes that are driving product innovations."

There's a lot more in this report, which is available now as a free download from the Puppet Web site.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of Converge360.com sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].