Coordination: Traditional vs DevOps


Working in a DevOps team is extremely different from any other environments. In almost every aspect it’s different: culture, organization, roles, decisions and coordination. In this blog, I will zoom in one of  these aspects. I will discuss the dimension of coordination.

Before talking about coordination in DevOps teams specifically, let’s have a deeper look in how activities are coordinated in an organization.

Essentially, we can say that there are two basic concepts on how we coordinate. In the below figure, professor Julian Birkinshaw, of the London Business School, shows these two aspects:

  1. Coordination achieved through Bureaucracy;
  2. Coordination achieved through Emergence.[1]


Coordination achieved through Bureaucracy

The word ‘Bureaucracy’ has become tainted and talking about bureaucracy mostly got negative connotations. When the concept of Bureaucracy was created, it was seen as the rational legal form of organizing, call it a democracy if you want.

There were lot of countries as well as organizations and companies, which were run by autocrats and dictators. So, Weber came up with this concept to solve this problem. His vision in the basic was: create a system, which is bigger than any individual in that system. A corporate system with checks, balances, rules and procedures. In this corporate system there was no place for dictators or traditional kind of monarchs. It was a good concept in principle, and it works pretty well.

So what are the biggest benefits of this system?[2]

  1. Rules and procedures create efficiency: create efficiency through having standardized rules and procedures. Everyone knows what they’re doing, because everybody is following the rules.
  2. People are given roles according to expertise: we’re given functional activities, to do that suit our particular skills.
  3. Favouritism is eliminated: we get rid of this idea that certain people get to the top because they are predecessors of the previous leader, or because they are just the personal favorites to the person at the top.

All of these are pretty nice principles. And under certain circumstances, it continues to be a highly effective way, of getting work done through coordination of differing parts in an efficient way.

What about the weakness of this system?[3]

  1. Slow moving: bureaucracy slows things down. The reason is that there are a lot of people who are involved in running the process. Think about the meetings where you’ve had too many people in the meeting, and the meeting has reached a deadlock because you can’t agree.
  2. Internally-focused: there is a risk that you become internally focused, rather than externally focused, which is dangerous. People who are running a process can be convinced that the process itself matters.
  3. Disempowering: the bureaucratic system is highly disempowering for many people.
  4. Little room for creativity: individuals in bureaucratic system are just a little part in the system. It’s very difficult as an individual to take any sort of risks and to try anything new. You don’t have the degrees of freedom to be allowed to step outside the boundaries of the system.

 This is the traditional way of coordination. So how is coordination done within DevOps environment?

In my next blog I’ll answer this question where I will discuss the second concept of how we coordinate: Coordination achieved through Emergence.

Julian Birkinshaw, Managing the company of the future, of the London Business School, 2014.
[2] Julian Birkinshaw, Managing the company of the future, of the London Business School, 2014.
[3] Julian Birkinshaw, Managing the company of the future, of the London Business School, 2014.

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