DevOps Conflict - Do You Feel It?

Applications development people can't stand the Luddites in the operations group, and ops people hate those prima donas in apps dev - at least that's what we are led to believe. To explore the issue, two of my colleagues who write to the infrastructure and operations (I&O) role - Glenn O'Donnell and Evelyn (Hubbert) Oehrlich - invited me to participate in an experiment of sorts. They arranged a joint session for the I&O Forrester Leadership Board (FLB) meeting, and I was the sole applications guy in the room - a conduit for I&O FLB members to vent their frustration at their apps dev peers. For those who aren't aware, FLBs are communities of like-minded folks in the same role who meet several times a year to network, share their experiences, guide research, and address the issues that affect their role.

We infused the session with equal parts education, calls for joint strategic planning across all IT work, and a bit of stand-up comedy - Glenn noted that as representatives of our respective roles, he and I were actually twin sons of different mothers. I noted that in that context that our parents must have been really ugly. Once we opened the session for discussion, the good folks in the room wasted no time in launching verbal stones my way. Now, I'm no IT neophyte: I've been in the industry since 1982, and I'm no stranger to conflict - I grew up with 3 older brothers, and we all exchanged our fair share of abuse as siblings will. Still, I wasn't quite prepared for the venting that followed. To summarize a few of the main points, I&O sees apps folks as:

  • Reckless in their approach to building and maintaining new applications - not enough focus on testing, performance, and other post-production catalysts for problems.
  • Indifferent to the problems they "throw over the wall" to operations.
  • "Country-club" prima donas. In contrast, the ops folks see themselves as the "blue collar" set.


Now it's a fair point that conflict is pre-built into the DevOps relationship:

  • The mission of apps folks is to introduce change to applications - even when we aren't changing application functionality, we're introducing change to them to keep them running.
  • The mission of ops folks is to strive for 100% uptime in a reliable and scalable way - to mitigate the risk to ongoing operations. Every change to the operations environment opens the door - however slightly - to risk.
  • Even within apps, there is conflict between the roles:
    • New projects are highly visible events to the business; production implementation is a big deal, often with great fanfare.
    • Contrast that with the comparatively mundane activity of keeping those core applications running post-implementation - there is no singular notable event; it is more of a series of smaller, continuous activity that remains largely invisible to the business.


So mitigating the conflict where and when it exists is a responsibility we all need to take seriously. We will continue to address the issue, and as part of that, we plan to repeat the DevOps sessions in the future at various venues and expand the audience beyond I&O to include apps, EA, and CIO roles. We'd also like to hear from all of you on how real this problem is in your world:

  • DevOps conflict - do you feel it? Is it real or imagined?
  • What is the DevOps relationship like in your IT shop? Do you have conflict?
    • If so, what are you doing about it?
    • If not, why not? What makes your shop different? What techniques are you using to mitigate conflict? How would you advise your peers to mitigate conflict?
  •  Is there anything in your corporate culture that you feel increases or mitigates conflict?


When you have your answers to the above questions - ask your peers in I&O and other roles to answer the same questions/to post their perceptions on DevOps conflict here. Maybe we'll open some more eyes.

As for me, I'm off to renew my country-club membership - I didn't know I had one, but I must because I've been an apps guy my whole career. Don't worry - I'll say "hi" to Biff and Muffy for you ... while sipping my 3-martini lunch at the country-club! *;-)


DevOps is actually a positive term in many communities

Interesting use of DevOps. Notice that in many communities, "DevOps" is actually a positive term to denote the merging of app development and operations working closer as an integrated team and discipline, Sounds like you are actually referring to "Development" and "Operations" vs the "DevOps" movement.

DevOps is positive here too

Hi Alvin and thanks for chiming in. I intended this piece to be a little provocative - to draw in those with strong opinions, expose conflict if and where it exists and help folks move beyond adversarial viewpoints toward solutions.

So while much of this was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, it is also lamentably true that some of the stereotypes are far worse than painted within. I'm really hopeful that the blog will initiate a lot of interaction - thanks for being first.


Conversation started in the App Dev community

Hi all,

We've kicked off a thread in Forrester's App Dev Community for this conversation. Jump in and let us know what your DevOps relationship is like.

Too much focus on conflict

Hi Phil,

I really wonder why you chose to use the word "DevOps" in this blog. As Alvin Chan points out the DevOps movement (see the blog Alvin refers to) is focused on positive cooperation between the dev and ops teams, and even about making them one team with a shared responsibility to get new apps running successfully, reliably and quickly.

As for the question you want to ask people, I think most people that have worked in enterprise IT departments can predict most answers. The really interesting one is " If so, what are you doing about it?" and the DevOps movements actually tries to answer this question. So, to summarize, my question is: When will you follow up this post with positive recommendations and a way forward?

Regards, Vincent.

Conflict was an opening, not a focus

Thanks for replying Vincent, and sorry for the delay - I was out on Xmas holiday for a few weeks.

The idea for the post actually came out of a Forrester I&O session in Dallas run by Evelyn Oehlrich - Glenn O'Donnell and I did a short interactive session on where Ops and Apps come together and some of the stereotypical problems at the junction. As the lone apps guy in the room - there was a fair amount of open hostility toward me:
* The ops folks characterized themselves as blue-collar, and the apps folks as the "country-club" set
* They complained that the apps folks tend to throw poor quality apps over the wall and move on, leaving problems for ops to solve
* Apps folks let them know at the last minute that they needed all sorts of new hardware

These are a sampling, but the themes are common enough to anyone who has worked in IT for any period of time.

Having raised the issue - and after having some theatrical fun with it - we also noted that real improvement requires fundamental change:
* Real joint planning across apps, I&O, and PMO
* Earlier involvement of ops in the SDLC
* Joint accountability for success

None of this is in conflict with Alvin's blog. The goal in posting this was to encourage discussion, and people tend to join discussions when the topic hits home with them / is painful. So we're on the same side of the issue - I only used conflict to draw people into the conversation. I would not take the word "conflict" too seriously, or out of its context.

There are long-seated problems based on the way the two groups have historically been chartered - one to minimize change to maintain a smooth operation, the other to introduce change. I agree wit hthe post - it is time for positive change, and recognizing the problems that exist creates the atmosphere for positive change.

As David D'Silva's post notes, this discussion was moved to the Forrester community, so I'm cross posting this there.

DevOps Caricatures, Stereotypes, and Solutions

Hi everyone,

I'm the "blue collar" ops guy in the caricature with Phil's "country club" app dev guy (once you see us, you realize NEITHER of us belongs in a country club!). The Phil/Glenn show was a caricature intended to exaggerate the stereotypes that do exist. We've each been in IT a LONG time and we know they exist, and for a reason.

There is no denying that most interfaces between Dev and Ops are contentious. We know it, and everyone else knows it. The basic cause is the natural tendency for people to socialize within their common interests (cliques) and an accompanying natural tendency for those clusters to collectively defend against other clusters. This is textbook sociology, not a Forrrester fabrication.

The workshop we did was a trial balloon for a few of our ideas to help push the DevOps concepts forward. Phil and I are huge fans of the DevOps principles, as are our colleagues on both sides of the interface. Watch for some thorough reports on this topic from us, but also realize that the concepts are not quite fully baked. Our profession is still working out the nuances of a movement that will undoubtedly improve the situation. We want to make sure we properly vet what we will publish.

This is where YOU come in. While Phil and I and our colleagues are intelligent, experienced professionals, we don't have all of the answers. Our insights are rooted in constant infusion from the community - you! Phil's post is one step in that vetting process. I've enjoyed reading the resulting dialog and I look forward to much more.

When you have a problem as big as this Dev-Ops divide, a little humor can go a long way toward neutralizing the shields some people naturally put up to moving forward. Our little comedy skit poked fun at this problem as a means to open up the audience to solutions - and it worked! There was a serious side to the silliness, but let's have a little fun while we chase a better world! :-)

Thank you!
-- Glenn O'Donnell, Sr. Analyst at Forrester --