The First 100 Days of a DevOps Manager
In today’s guest blog post, Branko Avramovski, Head of the DevOps team at Singular, shares his insight about “What a manager of DevOps organization must do in 100 days of starting a new position”. In the first part of the blog post, Branko tackles the general challenges of starting a senior position and continues with the specifics of a management role in the DevOps department.
When a person starts a more senior role or a similar role in a new company, there is always a 100-day milestone. Every eye is focused on this new person, expecting to transform things that are not set well and improve those that work, but can be improved and polished.
Both things require good mental preparation and impeccable self-discipline to get real impact, move things around with limited resources and time, and make tough decisions without having the commodity of experience working in that company.
I will avoid analyzing risks of possible failures, which can be experienced during some course of actions. Instead, I will focus on the general principle and strategy: how to set safety boundaries, eliminate big problems, and valorize better on existing established practices.
Keep “the order in the universe” while you invest your energy in fixing or improving things. Starting a leadership role can be daunting. But with the right approach, you can avoid serious pitfalls. You are the one in the driver seat setting the tone for the future success of your role, department, and the future of the company.
That is why you are here in the first place.
“In every organization, the people are the source of knowledge transfer and the “fuel” for the change.”
So, what should you do first?
The most important thing to get things done is to clear your priorities. Right? That’s it! You set your priorities and then go for the results.
While setting the priorities that can make an impact visible might seem like a logical action to take in your executive role, this may not be the first step you take. Prior to setting the priority list, make sure you are not stepping in the wrong direction. Prepare. HOW?
This blog post aims to answer this question by giving strategic advice on prioritizing activities when transitioning from one to another role or company. Even before you make your first move, you need to understand and learn a lot about your role, company targets, current general company processes, management practices, and people.
The change you plan to implement will depend on the people. In every organization, the people are the source of knowledge transfer and the “fuel” for the change. At the same time, you need to fit in with the organization and establish credibility.
To do this, prepare yourself mentally for the new role by understanding what you have to offer, what you have achieved, and why you were the best candidate. Mental preparation also means taking a step back and considering what skills are required for you to succeed.
One of the biggest pitfalls is assuming that what has made you successful before will ensure success in the future. It won’t. Experience is valuable, but you also need to develop specific, individual needs for the new role.
“Talking to people is essential, not just employees at all levels but also customers and suppliers – what are their perceptions and aspirations?”
In the First period/cycle that can last 30-50 days, prepare the ground. The important topics to focus on are:
- Understanding the challenge
- Accelerate learning and orientation
- Build or restructure the team
- Pick up the low hanging fruits early
Understand the challenge
There are a lot of aspects of the senior position that are neither listed in the job requirements nor are they exposed in the role description or during the talk while you were on the job interview. These aspects may be crucial for you to get on top of the game. Make sure you consider the following topics:
Establish new working relationships and build trust. While this takes time, it also requires attention and effort. You may expect that the status that comes with your seniority will give you access to all the information you need. But, this is a common misconception.
Master technical complexity. Understand and learn unfamiliar markets, technologies, processes, and systems. Talking to people is essential. However, not just employees at all levels but also customers and suppliers. What are their perceptions and aspirations?
Be sensitive to political and cultural issues. Understand the ‘hidden’ organization, the informal processes, and alliances that exist.
Manage expectations. Carefully deflate those views that are unrealistic while taking advantage of those that are useful.
Maintain your balance point and set the right pace. It is easy to get carried away as a new leader, either trying to do too much or moving too cautiously. Find the pace that is good for the business and sustainable for you.
Accelerate your learning and get oriented
First, get to know your new organization as soon as possible. What does this mean? Understand the customers, products, systems, and structures of the company. Also, get to know its people, culture (the way things are done), and politics of the company. At first, this can feel like a complicated task. The data you have may not contain the information you need. To solve these dilemmas:
Categories formal information: Information in the first category is vital, valuable, or time-sensitive. The second category contains useful information now or information that can be essential in the future. The third category is either useful background information or material that can wait.
Focus on the information that you need to understand well to be able to make decisions
Use informal sources of information. Don’t rely on written reports only like official documents and emails. Speak with people at all levels of the organization. Get to know the people in the business and find out what they would like to see. In particular, find out about their aspirations, views, and concerns.
Build your team
Without the right team working effectively, success will be severely limited. Potential pitfalls can include:
- keeping the existing team for too long without assessing the skills and quality of work;
- failing to refocus them on your top priorities;
- overlooking the need for team restructuring to be kept in line with the overall aims of the business;
- failing to retain good people, and trying to do too much yourself.
These difficulties can be avoided by:
Restructuring your team. Think well about restructuring options. Possible options are to keep team members in place, promote, retain and develop, move laterally, observe for a while (on probation), replace as a low priority and replace as a high priority.
Consider what matters to you and the business and rate each team member against these criteria. If you have a team that needs restructuring, focus on evaluating individual capabilities against required skills and performances to reach the goal.
Aligning goals and establishing operational control points. Be sure that people are motivated and focus on priority issues. This may mean adjusting incentives, reporting systems, and operating procedures, as well as, encouraging teamwork and a shared vision.
Deciding how you want the team to work. Assign a couple of small scopes and set general goals and let the team deal with them. Observe and assess the way of work through status meetings and workshop sessions. Start by understanding how team members are used to working, preserving the best of what worked well, and changing what did not. Decide what team management style can work best to get short term goals and early wins achieved, and focus on building long term strategy for team improvement.
Pick up the low hanging fruits early
Securing early wins is important – they energize people and build momentum. Early wins don’t need to be big, but they do need to be significant and quick, and you need to avoid the potential pitfalls. These include failing to accurately understand the situation; failing to get wins that matter to the company management. Several techniques help when starting:
- Focus on business priorities and behavioral changes. This will highlight where and how early wins can be secured.
- Establish short-term and long-term goals and priorities for your work.
- Breakdown the initiatives and plan to make changes in waves rather than too much too soon.
While you address the steps established in the first cycle, ignite the second cycle as early as possible. At this time, many things are already rolling, and you need to prepare yourself for a very challenging period. Invest in spreading the vision and keep up with the pace. The main things to focus on are:
- Communicate your vision
- Manage yourself
Spread the “word” of Vision
A real test of a person in a leadership role is their ability to create and communicate an effective vision for their team and business. Developing a successful vision often means changing – or transforming – the team so that they can move in a determined way in the right direction. Vision and transformation are, therefore, closely interrelated. That is why having a good understanding of how to establish vision is a crucial skill. Characteristics of a successful vision include that it must:
- Comprise feasible, attainable goals.
- Be imaginable and paint a clear picture of the future.
- Also, excite and inspire as many people as possible.
- Easy to communicate the vision with anyone, quickly and easily.
- Appeal to the long-term interests of customers, employees, and shareholders.
- Be specific and real-world enough to be used as a basis for action and decision making.
- Be general enough to avoid any boundaries that limit reaching potential and allow individual initiative.
When taking on a new role, you need to stay confident, focused, and balanced, exercising sound judgment and decision making.
Prepare yourself (at least mentally) before taking on the new role. Even if you only have a few days, it is helpful to reflect on your style and how you intend to approach the challenge. Consider your greatest vulnerabilities and how you will compensate for them, as well as your strengths and how you will use them.
Avoid the pitfalls. Avoid being too hasty or moving in all directions at once; being tired, brittle, or stressed, or being too biased and subjective.
Allow time for self-reflection. Perhaps at the end of each week for the first month. Assess what has gone well and what has gone poorly. Think about your next priorities.
Build support ecosystems. Keep in touch with people whose judgment you can rely on, and make sure that your personal life is stable and secure.
“The most important word that you need to remember about DevOps is “speed”. Obviously, speed won’t get you anywhere without good control points and proper service level measurements.”
Where does the DevOps story come into this?
Every industry, company, and the professional segment has its flavor added to these guidelines and practices. DevOps is still too young to be referred to as an independent organization. DevOps is young in terms of segmentation of roles and needs additional attention of where things need some specific inputs, modified approach, and customized approach.
DevOps by definition refers to culture and not organization, skill, or professional profile that you can recruit in the university alley. You need to develop a culture among the existing team members and usually in conjunction with every team delivering customer services.
The most important word that you need to remember about DevOps is “speed”. Obviously, speed won’t get you anywhere without good control points and proper service level measurements. These are the things in the puzzle you need to figure out.
So, the most important question here, is “ What must one do in the first 100 days of organizing a DevOps organization?”
Building the proper team for DevOps culture
Focus on team composition, role definition, and spreading the culture across existing roles. These might spread across the organizational unit for which you will not have organization management entitlement, so the culture must be spread across teams collaborating and aligning.
Identify “champions” in your team and across teams in your area, and motivate them to work on DevOps cultural vision.
Experiment with technology and get away fast from robust systems that can lock you down with their legacy from the beginning. Don’t be afraid of failures. Move swiftly to the next best choice. Adopt liberal decision making on the tech level in the team.
Keep the rules set of operations simple and neat. Don’t overload the process with complex organizational overhead until you get approximately to the desired level of efficiency, making DevOps activities catalytic culture and motivator mindset in the company.
Align your Vision and DevOps culture vision
As previously said, the word of Vision needs to be communicated, understood, and accepted. You must initiate this process at the very beginning of your new role involvement and nurture it with the utmost attention.
- Be sure the Vision is aligned accurately with the business goals, and the DevOps’ culture and vision.
- Don’t allow things to slip and get back in the comfort zone for the development and operations teams and let them be biased about the vision.
- Don’t let the Vision be evaluated only by individual points of view in a “closed” environment. Instead, invest time and energy to have your Vision understood and adopted in a broad audience, with a proper understanding of different view angles.
- Invest time in building trust and relationships with C-level management as this effort needs strong sponsorship from the entire company management.
Whether you are starting a new adventure in DevOps related management roles or other management roles, be realistic and don’t push everything at once. Set your short-term goals and long-term goals in a proper timeline and stick with the plan as much as is possible without detouring from the Vision statement.
In many cases, a management role in a new organization requires a big investment. You need to clarify your position before taking this step. For doing this, try to find answers for some of these questions:
- What information do you need before starting your new role?
- What expectations do you have – what do you want to achieve – and what are your boss’s expectations?
- Can you manage expectations to achieve what is possible while allowing yourself to excel and exceed expectations?
- Do you have a clear perspective about the business – its strengths and weaknesses, products, markets, customers, people, and opportunities?
- Are you ready to manage people in your new role?
- What long-term changes might be needed (personal and organizational)?
- Have you assessed your weaknesses?
- Is there a mentor or coach you could work with to support you during the transition and to help you achieve your aims?
The answers to some of these questions can simplify your approach. It can give you advantages in using your strengths while minimizing the negative impact of your weakness.
Now that you know what DevOps Managers should do in their first 100 days, take notes and work hard to become the manager your team deserves. At Singular, we value leadership and we’re always on the lookout for people who will be just the right fit for the team.
That being said, if you’re up for a dynamic journey filled with lots of learning, taking bold steps, and growing professionally, check out the current job opportunities.
Looking forward to showing you the next edition of our #BeTechReady content. 😉
Photo credits: AniDimi Photography