Pitfalls to Avoid When Setting Up a DevOps Center of Excellence

As DevOps adoption continues to accelerate, many leaders are looking to establish a DevOps Center of Excellence (CoE). The role of the Center of Excellence is to ensure that the broader company sees the valuable benefits of DevOps: innovation, efficiency, and reduced risk.

With the continuing trends towards hybrid work and remote work, knowledge sharing among colleagues is unlikely to occur naturally and developers will fall behind on their preferred processes. CoE pooling can help address these challenges and facilitate DevOps adoption, but these five common pitfalls should be avoided.

1. The task is not clearly defined

The mission of the Center of Excellence must be defined at the outset. Without a common understanding of its purpose, the Center of Excellence will struggle to set goals and find themselves needing to justify their action.

It is important to determine the scope and structure. In terms of scope, consider the following questions: Will the COE simply establish effective methods, or will it overhaul DevOps tools across the enterprise? Are there specific goals for the Center of Excellence, or will it drive innovation in general?

As for the structure, some organizations allocate a full-time team of Centers of Excellence while others bring together experts from different teams that collaborate on improving DevOps operations. The latter approach is similar to communities of practice (CoP), which correlates more closely with DevOps success than traditional CoE settings, according to a DORA report on the state of DevOps. For this reason, I recommend that your COE takes as much of the CoP model as possible.

2. The COE becomes separate

Breaking down barriers between DevOps teams is a major goal of COEs. Ironically, some centers of excellence become an additional silo and risk separating from the rest of the company. While building the COE ensures a dedicated team is in place for continuous improvement of DevOps operations, it can be difficult to find a way to maintain the COE integration with parallel teams.

Your center of excellence can become an obstacle to innovation, slowing other teams down by calling for an ideal process that is difficult to implement. Avoid this scenario by keeping the COE working on real-world projects so that they remain aware of the nuances of the actual DevOps processes that teams across the company use.

3. No two-way communication

The Center of Excellence model revolves around peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. The COE can bring structure and decisiveness to this model, but open communication channels must be available for other teams to pass on their insights and feedback to the COE.

The Center of Excellence must establish formal structures to proactively gain visibility. In some of the companies my company recommends, the Center of Excellence audits other teams across the business on a regular basis. The review identifies the following:

  • What tools and processes do teams use
  • Who are the stakeholders of the environments each team maintains
  • How the team works in terms of DevOps KPIs (eg release cadence and lead times)

This data helps the COE identify best practices across the organization, not just from the COE itself. By bringing together the best parts of each team’s process, and forming a cohesive approach, the COE arrives at a process that it can share across the organization and justify with data-driven analysis.

4. Not ready to manage internal politics

No team likes to change the tools and processes they use. Those responsible for establishing the COE must prepare to deal with internal politics and resist change.

Given that the purpose of the COE is to create and advocate for best practices, one team’s preferences should not be allowed to influence the decision-making process. Nor should it be seen as a victory for one team if their tools and processes turn out to be more successful than the others.

It is a good idea to attract people from teams across the company when forming the COE. A center of excellence that reflects your organization’s makeup is better equipped to deal with potential controversies a transformation can raise.

5. Not measuring the effects and proving the return on investment

As with any other team, the COE needs to demonstrate a return on investment to help key decision makers understand the value it contributes to the business. Otherwise, management may reduce the COE budget.

To support the value of mature DevOps operations, the COE must have a solid understanding of the key metrics that must be tracked to demonstrate success. For example, the Center of Excellence must be able to demonstrate that releases accelerate and demonstrate commercial value to increase flexibility. They should be able to highlight that code quality is improving and calculate the costs that were avoided for rebuilding or maintaining poor code. The COE should demonstrate how the return on investment in their business ensures further investment.

Promote collaborative innovation

The expertise needed for a high-performance COE is often found in large organizations, and is spread across different teams. Putting this expertise together and tasking the team with creating innovative DevOps solutions can be valuable if you avoid the pitfalls that cause COEs to underperform.

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