Culture Debt – Watch your Balance

Culture is a key term in the context of DevOps. And then it feels like it is sometimes one of the most overlooked. When we talk about DevOps we usually refer to People, Process, and Products or the Three Musketeers of DevOps how I like to call them. Culture spans at least the first two, it certainly influences the third and vice versa.


As we know, every company has its unique “Stallgeruch”, company culture. Even within companies,image members of individual teams, large and small, are mostly birds of a feather. When hiring a new member for a team, don’t you pay attention how she or he might “fit” the team? Does the candidate have the right “culture fit” or attitude?

But there is another aspect to an organization’s culture. How do teams do their work? How do they interact with other teams within the organization? Is there a culture of collaboration or is everyone working in his own silo?

You find very special cultures that have developed over the years. Not so much in startups but more in mature enterprise organizations that are already around for many years with long established IT department comprised of strictly defined groups with roles and huge fences between them. Attitudes towards other teams or towards the business have developed as a result of namely years of doing things the way they have been done always.

Culture Debt

That is what culture debt is all about. “This is how we have done it for years. Why should we change?” Valid but wrong question. The questions should be, “What do we gain if we change our way of working together?” or “How do we become more successful by collaborating?” The tried & true is no longer sufficient. Even for well-established enterprises times have changed. Out of need for more agility and to enhance flexibility, shadow IT, one of the scare words in IT departments, has mushroomed everywhere.

Silos of teams with different focus have developed over the years and are now one of the culture debts that needs to be paid off. Breaking down the silos and allowing for closer collaboration between developers and operations teams is one way to pay off the debt. This blog and plenty other resources are here to help.

Today’s fast paced world requires flexible, extremely agile teams; teams being able to react to customer demands in what seems to be the speed of light. Only a new IT with less and less silos, less and less fences between teams – less and less culture debt – will be able to survive.

IT departments, and that includes every role in IT, need to adjust to the modern world. Pay off the accumulated debt. For developers agile development methods are practiced for quite some time. Hopefully they replaced the old waterfall model long ago. And while the development teams budged under the pressure and delivered more and faster results, many operations teams still have not kept up with the times.

Time to even the Balance

clip_image003As with any other debt, one day is payment day. For many traditional operations teams this time has come. As with any other debt, there is no easy getting out. Embracing a DevOps culture may help many operations team getting out faster.

In the day of Digital Business and beyond, many traditional enterprise IT organizations have turned from providing only internal services into what was traditionally the role of an ISV or Independent Software Vendor and create apps for mobile devices and desktops for customer interaction and more. With the entrance of traditional enterprises into the world of ISVs, there is now room for any culture debt.

In conversations with some of the largest enterprises we see a lot of signs that they started paying off their culture debt. Cross-functional teams are built to solve tough problems that cannot be fixed by only the developers or only operations. Business teams understand they need to talk not only to the developers if new capabilities, features, and products are needed. Operations teams are included in these conversations and begin to develop a sense for the business as never before. CIOs support small incubation teams to test this new way of working – DevOps style.

Successes are shared across different business units within companies as new opportunities arise. New ways of learning and sharing best practices are developed and nurtured across role boundaries. The meaning of the word ownership seems shifting from single or individual to team ownership. As is the term responsibility. Shared ownership, shared responsibility, shared success!


Maybe the term DevOps is currently over-hyped. Its impact on the way of working in a collaborative, inclusive way starts to pay off and many enterprises see their culture debt melting away. Can you see it?


Some resources you hopefully find useful in your endeavor of DevOps and beyond. Start paying of culture debt and check out these resources:

Have fun