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DevOps is Marketing

“Marketing is the act of making change happen. Making is insufficient. You haven’t made an impact until you’ve changed someone,” says author and blogger Seth Godin.

With that definition of marketing in mind, DevOps is marketing. DevOps changes the way we work. It requires a shift in thinking and accepting not only that nothing will ever be the same again, but that it can’t and shouldn’t be.

The people who “do” (real live developers, testers, database admins, etc.) have the easiest time making this shift. One of understanding this is that it’s relatively easy to sell a nail gun to someone building a house who is now using only a hammer and sheer arm strength.

The Change Challenge

It’s more difficult to convince people outside of that hands-on circle. Senior managers, executives, and  staff on the sidelines who are maintaining systems in the way they’ve always done it must be sold. After all, they’re focused on the end product — to them, the completed house looks and functions the same regardless of how the nails were put in. In fact, the “manual” method has a perceived advantage because it costs less — at least for now. With that method, you didn’t have to spend money to buy the gun.

When trying to convince these people, we make the mistake too often of becoming excited about how much faster the nails go in. This argument falls flat every time. No one cares. Instead, we must focus on benefits to them, like how much quicker they’ll be able to work and, extending the nail gun metaphor, how watertight the roof is. Look boss, no leaks!

Effective Marketing Requires Trust

Fundamentally, change happens when we build trust and understanding. It happens when we really stop to listen to the problems leadership is facing and figure out how to contribute to the solutions using the “tool” we have — DevOps. It involves doing first, then telling.

In five steps, building trust might look like this.

  1. First, invent a DevOps approach that works for your organization’s mission and culture. As you know, there is no one right answer. There is no copy and paste from someone further along in their journey.
  2. Next, build your DevOps program with whatever resources you can scrounge together. It might be tiny in the beginning. You certainly won’t be able to do everything but you can do something. Even more important than using the people and tools you have available right now (or can procure with a small upfront investment) is your proof of concept. With small wins, you can make your case that more resources should be devoted to DevOps.
  3. Tell a story about the benefits of DevOps that directly speaks to the narrative swirling around your organization at the highest level. What is the essential challenge you face together? How can DevOps contribute to a solution to that problem?
  4. Spread the word. This is where it gets fun! Talk to anyone who will listen, encourage them to ask hard questions, and ask them to tell someone else about DevOps.
  5. Keep showing up. Persistence is the single most important attribute among DevOps practitioners, evangelists, and leaders. DevOps only fails when you give up.

In summary, DevOps is about more than process improvement and new tools — it’s really about marketing. By shifting your mindset, you can help convince others of its benefits and help to spread those benefits to everyone.

Robin Camarote is a communications strategy consultant, meeting facilitator, and writer with Wheelhouse Group. She is intent on helping leaders get more done with fewer headaches by outlining clear, creative strategies and solutions that build momentum and buy-in at all organizational levels. She writes about how to increase your positive impact at work. She is the author of a book on organizational behavior entitled, Flock, Getting Leaders to Follow. She lives with her husband and three children in Falls Church, Virginia. You can read her posts here.

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