Note: This is Part 2 about organizing for collaboration. Part 1 can be found here.

In the previous post, I focused on some common ways to organize with DevOps folks in mind. A quick recap… commonly organizations will stick with hierarchical approaches, but this creates silos. Some organizations choose to use a hybrid approach, where DevOps engineers are still centralized with the hope that engineers that are in a matrix organization will learn the DevOps ways, but this creates problems around having DevOps engineers feeling part of the software delivery team. A common approach is a full-on matrix organization, where engineers with different skill sets and reporting to different managers work together on software delivery teams, leading to well-balanced teams with a diversity of views, opinions, and approaches.

A Stepping Stone…

How are true matrix organizations and software delivery teams part of the organizational journey? The reasons may be subtle, ultimately boiling down to organizing so that autonomy, accountability, and purpose can flourish. Daniel Pink goes into depth on the subject in his acclaimed book Drive. In brief, he describes that these are the main attributes that motivate us, allowing us to be delighted in what we do and be fully engaged.

Self-contained software delivery teams are, by definition, autonomous. They include engineers with varied experience and specialties allowing these teams to operate as a full-stack team. These teams are empowered to deliver on a single purpose in an end-to-end fashion. Lastly, they are held accountable for delivering on the mission and purpose of the team.

This model has been highlighted extensively by Spotify. The essence that organization are these software delivery teams, which they define as squads. Engineers with the same specialties form chapters, and engineers with an interest in similar topics form guilds. Those concepts allow for knowledge sharing, best practices, and common solutions to be shared between squads. Ultimately, though, the squads are autonomous, accountable, and share a single purpose.

Despite Spotify growing, using this foundation of squads has allowed them to remain nimble. It’s a good example for other organizations to take away key learnings from. Specifically around empowering autonomous teams, focusing them, and holding them accountable for delivery in their area.

Going Further… Laloux Model

Is the matrix organization the “be all, end all” of organizations? No way! There is a continuity of organizational models. In the book by Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations, he outlines what that continuum looks like.

According to the model, there are 5 main categories of organization: red, amber, orange, green, and teal. A red organization is one where power and fear are in control. An orange organization is one where structure, hierarchy, and process reign supreme. An amber organization is a meritocracy with innovation and accountability, typically in a hierarchical structure. Amber is where most companies are today. The last two are where the concepts of autonomy, accountability, and purpose shine. In a green organization, individuals are empowered, there is a shared purpose and values. Lastly, in a teal organization, power is shared and authority is decentralized, leading to autonomous teams that wax and wane as the needs of the organization change.

Teal organizations, in particular, reflect the principles of Agile organizations. These organizations adapt to needs. Employees in these organizations are encouraged to be authentic. These unique characteristics align well with Daniel Pink’s research as well. The whole organization becomes autonomous and self-regulating, where the purpose of the organization resonates with each person in it.

If this topic is of interest to you, I highly encourage you to research it further. I’ve linked several lengthier summaries in the references section, and ultimately I encourage you to read the book itself. The book covers many case studies of different organizations, which is tremendously useful in understanding the journey these organizations have been on and how shifting towards teal has allowed for those organizations to grow.

Achieving the DevOps Dream

The original post in this short series was around achieving the DevOps dream. With a look into matrix organizations, and what other types of organizational models exist, allowing a DevOps culture thrive is achievable. Organizations can shift from creating isolated “DevOps Teams” to integrating DevOps and infrastructure within teams and allowing for shared responsibility of development and operations. This is a step in the right direction. As the organization grows, it will come to realize that teams also do not need to remain static as well. They need to change as the focus of the organization changes. In time, the benefits of building interdisciplinary teams that change over time become the norm.

With these types of organizations comes happier employees that have clear purpose and autonomy, and are held accountable. The organization also ends up delivering customer experiences that delight and are responsive to feedback.

In conclusion… I hope that you enjoyed this series and you’re able to take away some information to add to the organizational conversations within your organizations.


Update – 11/25:

Update – 12/6: