What NFL offenses can teach us about DevOps

How DevOps in the enterprise can take a page out of the NFL training camp manual to succeed individually and work as a team.

What does the National Football League have to do with DevOps?

With the NFL training camps and preseason underway, including the news buzz around the latest crop of quarterbacks, such as Johnny Manziel, I got to thinking about the locker room signs about there being no “I” in the word “team”.

The same holds true in DevOps. DevOps is the enabler in the application economy where every business is a software business. In order to succeed in the application economy, Dev and Ops teams must learn to work together to get to market faster and with minimal interruption to user experience.

If you were a NFL team general manager and your objective was to build a high powered passing offense, you’d focus on, build out and align all the complimentary elements such as quarterback receivers, running backs, lineman and so on.

Sure each of those players would hone their positional skills, but before you ever took the field in a meaningful game, you’d make sure they played together as a cohesive unit, learned the same playbook, and read the defense in the same manner. That is what is currently happening in training camps.

Seems obvious.

Applying training camps principles to DevOps

If you’ve been reading about DevOps online, it would seemingly go against the principles above. Much of what is written about DevOps seems to focus only on accelerating application deployment into production.

That is like focusing on just one piece of the offense; say the quarterback, and hoping the other pieces come together on game day. Maybe that works in the Pee-Wee league, but not in the NFL and not in the large enterprises.

If you were an IT leader whose objective was to build a DevOps culture where development and operations work collaboratively toward achieving the shared goal of creating business value, then you can’t just focus on Dev.

Succeeding solo while playing as a team member

Like complex NFL offenses, each function in the application lifecycle needs to excel at their craft and should continuously improve. But they must come together as a team with a culture of collaboration, communication and cooperation with a singular shared objective to win in their market.

So when reading about DevOps, look to see if the author is talking about all, or just part, of the DevOps lifecycle. If they are defining DevOps around the isolated capabilities of one position or function or just one hand-off in a larger process-flow at the exclusion of the rest, that goes against the core principles in team sports and is counter to the spirit of DevOps itself.

Fair game

Now if DevOps authors are talking about foundational capabilities or processes within a position or that facilitate or accelerate a larger DevOps culture, that is fair game – as long as they acknowledge it is just that: foundational and for the greater good of the team or company.

Even if Johnny Manziel turns about to be an elite quarterback, even the most die-hard Cleveland Browns fan know that the other pieces of the offense have to be individually capable and they all have to be aligned as a cohesive unit to meet their shared objectives.

A football team general manager and IT leaders should be looking at the whole team and entire process-flow to increase their chances of winning. That is how NFL offenses can remind us of the first principles of DevOps.


Cameron van Orman is senior vice president of Product and Solutions Marketing at CA Technologies.…

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