Culture, Not Tech, Is Key to Getting Most Out of DevOps Practices

The 2021 State of DevOps Report reveals continuing adoption of DevOps practices and identifies what actually works in the real world.

Sean Michael Kerner, Contributor

July 30, 2021

3 Min Read
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To see the other technologies and approaches highlighted in our Digital Transformation series, read our report: An Enterprise Guide to Digital Transformation in 2021.

According to the 2021 State of DevOps Report, there are multiple components that help ensure DevOps success beyond just having the right technology.

Put together by DevOps tools vendor Puppet, the 2021 State of DevOps Report is the 10th year the study has been conducted. For the 2021 report, there were more than 2,650 IT respondents, with 83% indicating that their organizations are using DevOps practices to improve application development. Maturity of DevOps adoption is not uniform across industries, which was a key finding in the 2019 edition of the report. The 2020 report highlighted the need for self-service platforms to help enable DevOps adoption.

The 2021 edition of the report found that, once again, automation is seen as a high priority, with 90% of respondents with highly evolved DevOps practices reporting that their organizations are using automation for common, repetitive tasks.

A key theme of the 2021 report is the relationship of culture to DevOps success. The study found that 91% of highly evolved DevOps teams have a clear understanding of their responsibilities. In contrast, only 46% of organizations with a low evolution of DevOps adoption are clear on roles and responsibilities.

Among the culture issues that the report revealed is that organizations with moderate DevOps maturity have a corporate culture that discourages risk, de-prioritizes fast flow optimization and provides insufficient feedback loops.

DevOps as Culture

In a roundtable virtual event that accompanied the launch of the 2021 report, a number of DevOps practitioners provided insights into the critical importance that culture plays in DevOps success.

Often, DevOps and digital transformation efforts have been focused largely on technology, according to Courtney Kissler, chief technology officer at Zulily. To get the development outcomes that are important, the whole company needs to shift its mindset, she said.

"I think a lot of what we're trying to solve through the DevOps community is, how do we have this really scale in a meaningful way, which means it can't just be a technology topic," Kissler said.

Looking beyond just having a product mindset, what's needed in DevOps is for practitioners and teams to understand how they can deliver business value, said Nigel Kersten, field CTO at Puppet.

"It's not just about the tech that we're all sort of neck deep in," Kersten said. "It's about the people interactions around technology, and that ultimately is the limiting factor for most organizations."

Looking forward, Michael Stahnke, vice president of Platform at DevOps vendor CircleCI, said he expects the term "DevOps" to still be relevant a decade from now, much like how developers are still talking about agile development. Over time, the focus will move from specific tools to the way people work, he said.

"DevOps is a way you work versus an outcome or a goal you achieve," Stahnke said.

About the Author(s)

Sean Michael Kerner


Sean Michael Kerner is an IT consultant, technology enthusiast and tinkerer. He consults to industry and media organizations on technology issues.

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