Personality Matters- Using Positive Psychology In DevOps


DevOps focuses on improving communication and collaboration between software developers and the operation professionals who help to maintain reliable and dependable systems. In our consulting practice, we often assess and evaluate existing practices and then make recommendations for improving. Our focus is often on configuration and release management and, lately, today’s popular new star, DevOps best practices as well. Bringing different technology groups together can result in some interesting challenges. We often feel like we are doing group therapy for a very dysfunctional family and many of the challenges encountered highlight the biases that people often bring into the workplace. This article will describe how to identify these behavioral issues and utilize positive psychology to help develop high performance teams.

We all come to work with the sum of our own past experiences and personal views which, by definition, means that we are predisposed to having specific viewpoints and maybe even more than a few biases. Many professionals come into meetings with their own agenda based upon their experiences, most business-related, some not. When conducting an assessment, we are typically asking participants to explain what they believe works well in their organization and what can be improved. In practice, getting people comfortable results in better and more useful information. When we bring developers into a room to talk about their experiences, we get a very different view than when we speak with their counterparts in operations or other departments including QA and testing. The stories we hear initially may sound like a bad marriage that cannot be saved. Fortunately, our experience is that there is also a great deal of synergy in bringing different viewpoints together. The key is to get the main issues on the table and facilitate effective and open communication.

Developers are often pressured to rapidly create new and exciting product features, using technology that itself is changing at a breathtaking rate. The QA and testing group is charged with ensuring that applications are defect-free and members often have to work under consider pressure, including ever shrinking timelines. The operations group must ensure that systems are reliable and available on a consistent basis. Each of these stakeholders has a very different set of goals and objectives. Developers want to roll out changes constantly, delivering new and exciting features while operations and QA may find themselves challenged to keep up with the demand for new releases. The frustration we hear reflects the somewhat self-focused perceptions from each side of the table as their differing perspectives cause an impasse.

Developers are highly skilled and often much more technically knowledgeable than their counterparts in QA and operations. This makes for some challenging dynamics in terms of mutual respect and collaboration. The operations and QA professionals often feel that developers are the immature children who lack discipline and constantly try to bypass established and necessary IT controls. This clashing of views and values is often a source of conflict within the organization with decisions being made based upon positional power by senior executives who may not be completely aware of all of the details of each challenge. The fact is that this conflict can be very constructive and lead to high performance if managed effectively.

Psychologists Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have developed an approach, known as Positive Psychology, which focuses on encouraging positive and effective behaviors that will help to bring out the best in each stakeholder during these challenging situations [1]. By focusing on developing desirable behaviors, positive psychology moves from just identifying behavioral dysfunction to promoting effective and high performance behaviors. The first area to focus on is honest and open communication. Martin Seligman uses the term bravery to describe speaking up or taking the initiative, a person’s capacity to exhibit valor and courage. Integrity and honesty, along with perseverance and diligence, are also desirable traits that need to be modeled and encouraged in positive organizations. Successful organizations value and encourage these characteristics and their active expression.  Positive organizations encourage their employees to take initiative and ensure that employees feel safe – even when reporting a potential problem or issue. Dysfunctional organizations punish the whistleblower, while effective organizations recognize the importance of being able to evaluate the risks or problems that have been brought to their attention and actively solicit such self-monitoring efforts.

We typically meet with each stakeholder separately and document their views, including frustrations and challenges. We then put together a report that synthesizes all of our findings including existing challenges and suggestions for improvements. The truth is that dysfunctional  behavior must be identified and understood. But the next step is to bring all stakeholders to the table to look for solutions and suggest positive ideas for making improvements. Sometimes, this feels a little like horse trading. We may get one group which is convinced that only open source tools are appropriate for use while another team may be very interested in the features and support that comes from commercial products. We often facilitate the evaluation and selection of the right tools and processes with appropriate transparency, collaboration and communication.

Positive psychology focuses on promoting the right kinds of behaviors that you need for a high performance team. Obviously, this has to start with understanding existing views and experiences. Clearly, bringing stakeholders to the table and getting their management to support, reward and model collaborative behavior is the key to any high performance team and successful organization!



















[1] Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5–14

[2] Seligman, Martin, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Free Press, New York 2002

[3] Abramson, L. Y.; Seligman, M. E. P.; Teasdale, J. D. (1978). “Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation”. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 87

[4] Deming, W. Edwards (1986). Out of the Crisis. MIT Press

[5] Aiello, Bob and Leslie Sachs. 2010. Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World. Addison-Wesley Professional.