DevOps culture: Learning culture

Research from the DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) (PDF) team shows that an organizational culture that values learning contributes to software delivery performance with the following:

  • Increased deployment frequency
  • Reduced lead time for changes, time to restore service, and change failure rate
  • Strong team culture

The climate for learning in your organization is directly related to the extent to which your organization treats learning as strategic:

  • Does your organization view learning as an investment necessary for growth?
  • Is learning seen as a necessary burden, undertaken only grudgingly?
  • Is learning completely avoided?

Research done in other areas, such as accounting, has also shown that a climate for learning is predictive of performance gains. For more information, see An empirical analysis of the levers of control framework (PDF) by S. K. Widener.

How to implement a learning culture

You can help your organization create a climate for learning by viewing learning as the key to improvement and as an investment. Some steps you can take to directly support learning include:

  • Create a training budget, and advocate for it internally. Emphasize how much the organization values a climate of learning by putting resources behind formal education opportunities.
  • Ensure that your team has the resources to engage in informal learning and the space to explore ideas. Learning often happens outside of formal education. Some companies, like 3M and Google, set aside a portion of time for focused free-thinking and exploration of side projects.
  • Make it safe to fail. If failure is punished, people won't try new things. Treat failures as opportunities to learn, and hold blameless post-mortems to work out how to improve processes and systems. Help people feel comfortable taking reasonable risks, and create a culture of innovation.
  • Create opportunities and spaces to share information. Whether you hold weekly lightning talks or offer resources for monthly lunch-and-learns, set up a regular cadence of opportunities for employees to share their knowledge.
  • Make resources available for continued education. For example, attending conferences is important for both exposure to new technology and case studies, as well as networking with peers.

Ways to improve your learning culture

Continuing to build a climate for learning is directly related to how an organization encourages and invests in learning. Here are some ways an organization can show that learning is important and necessary for growth:

  • Have regular lunchtime meetings ("brownbags") where one person presents about a project they are working on in a new tech, or something they are investigating. Rotate the presentations among team members and reward people for presenting.
  • When people attend conferences, have them share the new ideas through presentations or trip reports. You can even host regular meetups or mini-conferences to increase networking and exposure to new technologies and ideas.
  • Encourage people to get certifications or external trainings. You can help with this by covering costs of external trainings and forming study groups that are a part of normal work activity.

Ways to measure learning culture

The most effective way to measure your climate for learning is to survey your employees. Use well-designed items and constructs that are rigorous and show good psychometric properties of discriminant and convergent validity and reliability (all statistical measures). The goal is for teams to feel that learning is encouraged and supported throughout the organization.

Research presented in the article An empirical analysis of the levers of control framework shows that you can measure learning culture based on the extent to which people agree or disagree with the following statements about their organization:

  • Learning is the key to improvement.
  • Once we quit learning we endanger our future.
  • Learning is viewed as an investment, not an expense.

Research from DORA shows that a climate for learning is a significant predictor of software delivery performance as well as organizational performance. Other studies show that climate for learning is predictive of organizational performance, so investments in learning, and a culture that values learning, is a good bet for organizations.

What's next

  • For links to other articles and resources, see the DevOps page.
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