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July 23, 2015

Stop Siloing! 3 Tips to Enhance Interdepartmental Communication

Stop Siloing! 3 Tips to Enhance Interdepartmental CommunicationLike a lot of modern methodologies, DevOps is a set of practices and philosophies designed to alter the way we develop software. Unlike most other methodologies, however, DevOps puts a major emphasis on cooperation and communication, instead of focusing solely on nuts-and-bolts processes such as design and coding.

If you've spent much time reading about DevOps, then you probably know all about how it encourages effective interaction between departments. What you may not know are DevOps-friendly strategies you can use to put an end to siloing and get your departments working toward a shared vision instead of their own unit-specific goals.

Keeping that in mind, here are three DevOps-inspired ways to improve your organization's attempts at collaboration, cooperation and communication:

1. Understand Siloing

Knowing what siloing is means knowing how to deal with it. In short, the term means keeping departments or resources belonging to the same organization away from one another — an often inadvertent practice that comes with a host of nasty side effects.

Baseless, counterproductive rivalry. Poor interdepartmental communication and teamwork. Squabbling and finger-pointing when things go wrong. These are just a few of the many problems that can arise from siloing. So is the tunnel vision that can occur when people work in cloistered groups with specialized goals.

When you lose sight of your organization's end goal, it's easy to forget that the people who check your work for security errors or compliance issues are in the same foxhole as you. But when you start seeing these not as everyday issues but as detrimental, solvable problems, you begin to understand why DevOps is catching like wildfire.

2. Restructure and Refamiliarize

What do you do when your organization's structure comes packed with inherent communication issues? You change the structure. Small, multidisciplinary teams are a cornerstone of DevOps culture — but if you can't up and change the way your entire office interacts, doing anything you can to encourage better communication between departments is still a net positive.

Small changes can cause big ripples. For instance, adding a "State of the _____" for your operations, security and/or QA people gives them a space to express concerns and challenges in a way everyone can understand and appreciate — especially if they use clear-cut language and strong analogies. Naming one member of each department as a liaison (or even assigning individual liaisons for each pairing) can bring similar benefits. Even if physically moving your people isn't possible, you can almost certainly find ways to bring departments closer together. A little understanding goes a long way when it comes to negating the effects of siloing.

3. Set a Shared Goal

While defining a shared goal should definitely be more formal than sending a quick e-mail, it's an easy thing to pull off. A deceptively practical one, too, considering how much good it can do for your communication-improvement goals relative to the amount of effort it requires.

This is where those tiny, flexible DevOps teams can really come in handy — but a lot of offices can't pull that kind of change out of a hat. If that's the boat you're in, make sure you're at least pinpointing a few ways in which individual tasks play into that goal. The trick here isn't to change what people do so much as it is to change the way they see it, by thoroughly outlining how their own work contributes to the larger, shared goal. Once you define that goal and how everyone contributes to it, a lot of communications problems will resolve themselves. It's easier to turn finger-pointing into shared problem-solving when you know exactly how the next step up the chain contributes to the end goal.

Open Talk

The shared challenge behind all these tips is increasing understanding — helping every individual understand what everyone else does and how it helps them fulfill their own responsibilities. Whether you have the capacity and/or authority to make full-scale changes or you're only at liberty to make minor suggestions, doing everything you can to promote that simple idea can make larger-than-expected changes in the way your departments talk — and that's a big deal, considering the detrimental effects siloization can have on an otherwise healthy workplace.

Want to learn more about DevOps? Check out Veracode and Gartner's "Market Trends: DevOps" report. There, you'll find more specific information about the movement and what it can do for companies that embrace it.

Photo Source: Flickr

Evan Wade is a professional freelance writer, author, and editor from Indianapolis. His time as a sales consultant with AT&T, combined with his current work as a tech reporter, give him unique insight into the world of mobile/Web security and the steps needed to properly secure software products. Follow him on Twitter.

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