October 13, 2016

Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose in DevOps

Written by Dr. David Patton

In Daniel H. Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he discusses the motivations of knowledge workers. He makes the case that knowledge workers are driven by intrinsic factors and not the extrinsic factors of punishment and money. As he states, “Carrots & Sticks are so last Century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” A great video covering his work is viewable at https://youtu.be/u6XAPnuFjJc. For most research on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation start with the work of Edward Deci from the 1970s.

Here is an explanation of the three types of motivation:

Autonomy
This is the granting of control over their own work to those doing the work. Guidance is fine, but too much and it becomes the micro-management which can be detrimental to motivation. Valuable feedback, performance metrics, and boundaries can be all that is needed.

Mastery
This is an innate desire to get better at doing some task. If it is too easy, workers may get bored. If it is too hard and little progress is made, workers often get frustrated and give up. So tasks must be challenging, yet doable. And fostering an environment of continuous learning will add to motivation.

Purpose
This is tying the work to a cause larger than themselves. Workers, who believe in that cause, feel that there is importance to the outcome of the work beyond just their own accomplishment.

DevOps?
According to Wikipedia:

DevOps is a software development method that stresses communication, collaboration, integration, automation, and measurement of cooperation between software developers and other information-technology (IT) professionals.

That certainly sounds like knowledge work to me. But are the three motivations the same for software developers and operations staff? And what might they be in a DevOps team. Let’s take a look in the chart below:graph_ccpcwlt051258_1

The management challenge then is to create a supportive culture where DevOps can flourish and the knowledge workers will be highly motivated by having aligned motivations of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

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