The New Collaboration Imperative

In this age of continuous delivery when increased time pressures compound communication breakdowns, keeping teams aligned has never been more important. Methodologies such as Agile and DevOps address these issues, and they require evangelists — plus tools — to support these practices. Jama Product Manager Derwyn Harris weighs in on this piece in CA’s publication, rewrite, on “purposeful collaboration” and how social media conventions within product development software support these teams.

Smart collaboration is critical in any tech endeavor, because moving parts are plentiful. But what does “collaboration” really mean? It’s a spongy word. Are we talking instant-messaging group chats? Scrums? Standups and retrospectives? Brainstorming software?

As the application development process quickly evolves, so must the support system that surrounds it. That means new tools are required, along with new ways of thinking about working together. We asked DevOps pros for a blueprint to the brave new world of teamwork and idea sharing. (You may never get a group email blast again.)

Big Picture First

Ajay Kaul, managing partner of AgreeYa Solutions, starts with some simple truths. “It is very important to communicate effectively with the IT and delivery teams, explaining to them that the real goal is to accelerate time to market and deliver high-quality products,” he says. “The key is getting started with one project and later creating a team of specialists who can spread the DevOps gospel within the organization, whether you are a startup or a large enterprise.”

The essentials of well-designed DevOps collaboration begin before you undertake an initiative. Start with getting buy-in from upper management and addressing any gaps in your employees’ skills, knowledge and availability. “You need to build a competency within the organization,” Kaul says. “You need to select the right tools for automated testing, build-release integration, configuration, deployment, and network and server performance monitoring, among others.”

This early work requires investing time and money upfront, after you determine which tech tools you will need.

Who’s Driving?

You need a champion for this endeavor—typically, the CIO. The champion must create the collaborative environment needed for DevOps to succeed. It’s natural for CIOs to think of technology as an end in itself, but DevOps must be placed in the broader framework of overall business operations. “Instead of thinking how IT can change the world,” says Kaul, “one should think of how business situations inform the changes in IT systems.”

That sets up the CIO in a role as a planner and a manager, not just the technician in chief. CIOs must shift their thinking from focusing only on individual department needs to integrating cross-functional and interdepartmental collaborative teams, Kaul advises. While the CIO plots direction, team members promote the adoption of DevOps on a project-by-project basis. One person is driving the bus, but the passengers are active participants in arriving at the right spot. One key is creating DevOps champions throughout the organization to distribute the workload of DevOps evangelism and DevOps implementation. This approach creates a more natural, collaborative environment, because multiple leaders will be pursuing the strategy in different projects, teams and departments.

The Power of the Social Circle

The basic mechanics of collaboration are familiar to any business professional, particularly in the IT world, where feedback loops are essential for success. On a day-to-day basis, these mechanisms may be as simple as team members relying on messaging platforms to work together and solve problems quickly. Large-scale beta tests are useful when gauging how well a software implementation works. But as projects become faster and more complex and involve additional team members—as in a DevOps environment—such tools are insufficient for managing these workloads. That’s where “purposeful collaboration” comes into play. Purposeful collaboration uses the power of social systems to enhance more traditional tools like instant messaging, email, service desks and cloud-based content sharing.

“Purposeful collaboration uses familiar constructs like those in social media to connect all stakeholders related to the project, both inside and outside the organization, in a meaningful way,” says Derwyn Harris, co-founder of Jama Software, which markets its own collaboration framework. The key word here is “meaningful.” Many so-called collaborative efforts begin with the best of intentions but then devolve by throwing every piece of information at everyone involved. If you’ve ever been frustrated after receiving your 30th message in an endless mass email chain that you should never have been copied on in the first place, you know how aggravating this approach is.

Purposeful collaboration offers information in a more targeted way. For example, all team members may be allowed to comment on a design mockup, while only managers have access to functional requirement documents. Users can then drill down into these comments and relationships to see how various team members have interacted with a certain item within a project. This visibility can help to clarify questions about who may be impacted if that item is changed or delayed.

The Death, Finally, of the Blast Email

How this process works depends on the specific tool used. For instance, a rich graphical interface can visually display how one individual’s work connects with the work of every other team member. This insight allows team members to drill down into any component of a product or aspect of a decision, so they can make better decisions in less time. It also includes indicators showing the scope of conversations and associated decisions, so users can immediately reach out to the right person.

“Purposeful collaboration connects the right people to the right work,” Harris says. “It is the antithesis of a blast email sent to hundreds of people.”

Ultimately, the goal is to make the collaborative environment a savvy alternative to slower, cruder communications methods. “It makes everyone’s job infinitely easier,” says Harris.