<DevOps Culture: Westrum Organizational Culture/>

The importance of organizational culture cannot be denied, especially in DevOps circles. While culture is intangible, it is one of the most important drivers for success in any organization, including software development and technological companies.

Understanding Organizational Culture

Literature is filled with numerous approaches to modeling culture. However, organizational culture generally exists at three levels: basic assumptions, values, and artifacts.

  • The first level is all about forming basic assumptions as team members interact and strive to make sense of work relationships and activities.
  • The second level revolves around values that provide a lens through which team members interpret relationships. Values influence group interactions and shape social norms.
  • Finally, the third level, artifacts, entails written or documented mission statements, formal procedures, technology, rules, and regulations.

What is Westrum Organizational Culture?

Westrum Organizational Culture can be described as a set of capabilities that drive enhanced organizational performance and software development and delivery. It is based on research by Dr. Ron Westrum. He is a sociologist, and much of his work revolves around human factors in system safety in technological domains, particularly healthcare and aviation. In his work, he noticed that organizational culture affects the information flow through an organization. Westrum provided three basic characteristics of good information: It is relevant, timely, and presented in a way that allows the receiver to use it effectively. It is important to understand that good information flow is fundamental to effective and safe operations in the high-consequence environment, such as software development firms and innovative organizations.

In 1988, Westrum presented the following organizational culture typology.
PRP.JPG Source: A typology of organization culture, BMJ Quality & Safety 13, no. 2 (2004), doi:10.1136/qshc.2003.009522 In line with Westrum's work, DevOps Research and Assessment's (DORA) research confirms that a high-trust organizational culture is an indicator of good performance and effective software development delivery.

Implementing Organizational Culture in Technology Companies

In light of DORA research, it is evident that a cultural change can be experienced by changing the way people work in an organization. The first is not to change how people think – but how they work and behave. Teams should strive to create a generative culture that supports the flow of information through the company. This can be done by examining Westrum's model to identify and adopt behaviors associated with generative culture: High cooperation, trained messengers, shared risks, bridging, failure inquiry, and novelty. Here are some practices based on these behaviors that team members can adopt to improve the organizational culture.

Practice High Level of Cooperation Form cross-functional teams with participants from different aspects of the software development process (developers, business analysts, QA engineers, security, and so on). This method allows everyone to share the burden of creating, delivering and sustaining a product. It's also critical that everyone in the team works well together. Silo mentality should be discouraged to enhance the flow of information and boost cooperation within the team. Having informal discussions is an excellent way to break silos and foster better communication across teams.

Train the Messenger to Deliver News It entails encouraging individuals to deliver negative news without the fear of judgment. The goal is to improve things and conduct a blameless investigation. Eliminating the fear of delivering bad news will enable teams to expose and address challenges more efficiently. Create and promote an environment where it is safe to take calculated risks and fail so that anyone can bring up issues at any time.

Encourage Shared Responsibility When working as a team, it is everyone's responsibility to ensure quality, availability, dependability, and security. Having the developers share responsibility for continuous Integration and maintaining their code in production is one method to increase the quality of your services. Sharing responsibility improves collaboration and hence decreases risk. The idea is simple: the more overlooking the software development and delivery process, the higher the number of faults in procedure or plan can be identified and avoided.

Allow Failure to Lead to Inquiry An organization's culture is shaped by how it responds to failure. Holding individuals accountable for failures often leads to a toxic culture. A better approach is to ask questions about what caused the errors and how to prevent them from happening again in the future. Such inquiries can help you enhance your technical system, processes, and culture.

Implement Novelty Encourage team members to try new things and experiment with fresh ideas. It can lead to fantastic results. Some companies allow engineers to experiment periodically on a weekly or monthly basis. Others hold mini-conferences to foster collaboration and discuss ideas. This is how a lot of new features and products get started. Freeing the employees from routines and repetitive duties is the way to generate value.

The Bottom Line

Westrum has presented a powerful model. Teams and organizations can work strategically and effectively toward enhancing their culture by concentrating on the six characteristics of Westrum's typology. However, it is essential to avoid some pitfalls of organizational cultures, such as focusing solely on local teams without understanding how team culture impacts the organizational culture. Remember, failures are unavoidable in a highly complex environment. It is how the team or organization chooses to deal with them that makes a difference in the long run.

If you are looking to implement a generative construction in your organization, Hooligans are here to help. We specialize in custom software development, mobile app development, enterprise software development, automation, and DevOps interventions.

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