Chapter 2. What Is Organizational Culture?

The concept of organizational culture was developed in the middle of the 20th century, ostensibly by Edgar Shein at MIT Sloan. The idea that a group of people working together in a corporate environment could create a culture distinct from the greater societal culture is now fairly well accepted in many industries. IBM and Walmart are well known for having cultural characteristics that separate them from competitors, for good or bad.

Groups of people create a culture through shared values and behaviors. How we reward behaviors, how we treat those values as malleable or immutable affects how strong the organization’s culture is and how well it is supported by the participants. It also affects how the members of the culture will react to attempts to modify the characteristics of that culture.

The last few years have seen a lot of discussion of what DevOps is and isn’t. DevOps is as much about culture as it is about tools, and culture is all about people. No two groups of people are guaranteed to create the same sort of culture under similar circumstances. So to talk about a cultural movement in absolute terms is disingenuous. Implementing a prescribed toolchain won’t magically turn your team into a DevOps team. Using DevOps-friendly tools and workflows can help your team work in a more DevOps manner, but creating a culture that is supportive of the ideals of the DevOps movement is crucial.

We added a Velocity Culture track to the 2010 Velocity Conference out of recognition that there are important cultural aspects of successfully operating large infrastructures. What is more challenging, however, is how to help aspiring DevOps cultural warriors make modifications to their organizational cultures in order to reap some of the benefits of DevOps. Cultural change in general is a topic widely discussed in business research, and we can borrow from lessons learned by other industries.