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Being a DevOps Team Manager

Dan Holloran November 12, 2018

DevOps Collaboration
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Being a DevOps team manager is less about management and more about empowerment. By nature, the DevOps lifecycle encourages CI/CD, speed, and reliability, but it’s the job of the DevOps team manager to help empower teams in achieving those goals. Are there pain points or blockers hurting the speed and effectiveness of the team? Are there any tools or processes that could help the team?

Another part of managing a DevOps team is identifying points of internal conflict and navigating any current problems or potential issues. In order for DevOps to work, there needs to be a cohesive, open relationship between developers, IT operations, and security. A DevOps team manager will need to oversee tooling, processes, and people operations to ensure operational efficiency and drive business success.

Establishing a Culture of DevOps

First and foremost, DevOps is not a defined organizational structure, process, or role, it’s a mindset. Establishing a culture of DevOps relates to implementing processes, tooling, and people operations conducive to collaboration and transparent workflows. A DevOps team manager is instrumental in deciding how teams will be structured, what their responsibilities will be, the tools they need, etc.

No two organizations should have the exact same implementation of DevOps. But, a DevOps team manager will help make decisions as teams grow to make the software delivery and incident lifecycles as efficient as possible. With every decision made by the DevOps team manager, the core values of a DevOps culture need to be top of mind. DevOps deepens the entire team’s exposure to systems in production; and alongside continuous improvements to team collaboration, automation, transparency, and increased accountability–development speed and system reliability improve.

In the end, a DevOps team manager’s ultimate goal should always be to cultivate a collaborative culture of DevOps and find ways to build reliable services faster.

Personal and Professional Traits of a DevOps Team Manager

So, what kind of person makes for a good DevOps team manager? The traits that make a great DevOps team manager are very similar to those that make any good DevOps-minded teammate. But, a manager’s skills and professional traits should be a little more refined. The DevOps team manager should be a good resource for developers and ops professionals across multiple disciplines. They need to be fully dedicated to the team and culture, the product, and they need to show technical excellence.

But, let’s dive a little deeper into the specifics of what makes a good DevOps team manager:

  • They’re a T-Shaped Person:

    A DevOps team manager needs to have a wide scope of technical understanding with a deep expertise in one area as well. This way, the manager can speak to and understand most issues across the entire infrastructure or service, while also providing great insight based on their specific discipline or experience.

  • They’re a Polyglot Programmer:

    The ability to write multiple different programming languages and pick up new ones quickly is essential for any DevOps team member. But, it may be even more important for a DevOps team manager to understand what their team is working on and find ways to help. A polyglot programmer can quickly look at new programming languages and provide valuable feedback to the team when they need it.

  • They Hire the Best:

    A DevOps team manager is good at identifying and hiring collaborative, technically excellent people. In a previous post, we created The DevOps Hiring Guide to help guide DevOps team managers when it came to hiring an efficient team.

  • They’re Collaborative:

    Since collaboration is one of the core tenets of DevOps, it should also be a value held by the DevOps team manager. DevOps managers spend a lot of time working with technical teams but they also need to collaborate with other business teams such as sales, customer support, and marketing. An ability to collaborate and provide visibility into DevOps operations drives faster development and increases the business value from the features your team builds.

  • They Show Love of Company:

    We touched on this earlier, but the DevOps team manager needs to show love for the company they work for. Do they love the product, culture, and people? If the manager doesn’t fully buy into what your team is trying to build, then decisions they make could potentially be compromised, hurting the productivity of the greater team.

Responsibilities of Being a DevOps Team Manager

As you may expect, DevOps team managers won’t spend as much hands-on time writing code or maintaining services in production. But, they’ll need an understanding of the day-to-day work and have the expertise required to help their employees be successful. Being a DevOps team manager means you find ways to improve system visibility and collaboration across the entire organization.

With a breadth of knowledge in a lot of areas, but skilled in one or two areas as well, an effective DevOps team manager can provide highly technical feedback and help spread knowledge across individuals and teams. While DevOps team managers should always be looking to improve collaboration and transparency across the organization, they’re also the go-to source for cross-functional knowledge sharing. Being the best DevOps team manager starts with a desire to continuously improve and ends with taking action.

DevOps team managers are also integral in managing DevOps efforts throughout the incident lifecycle. In our free eBook, How DevOps Plays Into the Incident Lifecycle, learn how managers can leverage a DevOps culture to remediate incidents faster and make on-call suck less.

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