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InfoQ Homepage News Fostering Healthy Tech Teams in a DevOps World

Fostering Healthy Tech Teams in a DevOps World

Building healthy DevOps tech teams that are responsible for a broad area can be challenging, Brittany Woods stated at QCon London. To measure the success of your team, several frameworks provide metrics indicating team health, which help ensure the team is moving in a positive direction. Psychological safety matters for healthy teams to ensure each software engineer brings their own lived experiences to build better products and that they feel safe to do so.

Brittany Woods gave a talk about how tech teams work in a DevOps world at QCon London.

Healthy teams can take many different forms at the team level. It can be healthy teams full of all developers with the same skill set and healthy teams with a "DevOps mix" of functions, Woods said. It’s about what works for your specific organisation, she added.

Woods argued that the way you structure your organisation, or rather the teams within your organisation, is a key part of driving the culture you hope to promote. She gave an example related to DevOps, which she refers to as the single-team DevOps model.

Many organisations that have tried to scale their DevOps practices with a single DevOps team have found challenges not just in promoting DevOps across their business, but in retaining members to staff the DevOps team, she explained:

Put simply, it’s hard to have a single team responsible for such a broad area for so many critical areas of the business and maintain psychological safety. With such a team, you get cognitive overload, unclear remits and therefore a feeling of not knowing how their work impacts organisational strategy and a whole host of other things that all culminate in a tough environment. On top of this, you’re also building a massive silo and crutch which hinders the rest of the business from truly adopting DevOps.

If you are building empowered DevOps teams, you are building teams that have agency to make change, Woods said. You are building teams that are collaborative and helping each other achieve common goals. And it’s not just one team you are doing this for, but many.

There are many ways to measure the success of a team, and it doesn’t always have to be through the number of tickets completed or lines of code written, Woods mentioned. As an example, she mentioned two frameworks to follow for good metrics in a team:

We all know about DORA metrics - deployment frequency, time to deliver, error rate, and mean time to recover; but I have also found the SPACE - satisfaction, performance, activity, community, and evolution to be a fantastic measure of the less technical aspects of a team’s impact.

Woods mentioned that a big thing for platform teams is building community. Having metrics to understand the health or impact of the community that you’ve built can be a good indication of whether the things you’re doing are working:

How many internal community building events did you host? What was the attendance? How was participation? Is that changing over time?

Psychological safety matters for healthy teams, Woods argued. We build better products and software when the ideas of many come together because each engineer brings their own lived experiences. An unsafe environment leaves room for only one, or maybe even none, of those lived experiences, she concluded.

InfoQ interviewed Brittany Woods about healthy tech teams.

InfoQ: How did you measure the success of teams through community participation?

Brittany Woods: In communities that I’ve built, I’ve measured over time participation as a litmus test for ensuring content is proving valuable to a wide audience. In my specific case, we launched a new lightning talk series that occurred on the second Wednesday of every month. I measured two things: level and rate of incoming proposals and attendance.

In our first session, we had just shy of 200 engineers globally join with four proposals. For our second month, we had 316 engineers and leaders in the audience along with enough proposals to fill content for several months’ sessions. Seeing this growth trend, even when it balanced out, showed that there was a need for this type of community in the organisation.

InfoQ: What role does psychological safety play in teamwork?

Woods: Engineers who feel psychologically safe in their teams contribute more to discussions, put forward more ideas, try to solve harder problems, and collaborate with their teammates. And these are all things you lose if you do not have that safe environment, which means you’re losing out on all of those ideas born of that individual’s experience.

When I didn’t feel safe, it seemed to kill the spark for the work I was doing. Even though I was excited by the work, the environment took all that excitement away. I didn’t feel like I had any agency to make changes and I certainly didn’t feel safe sharing my ideas or experiences.

The culmination of all of this isn’t just a mental impact, but one that impacts your work and contributions as well. That’s why it’s so important to intentionally foster safe environments for your teams. We spend the majority of our days with our teams at work, and having a safe and collaborative environment, one that you enjoy being a part of, is so important.

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