Establishing a Good Production Operations Culture

Mark Verber

Very Early Draft

People are Valuable

People who have worked with a complex system often develop a deep tacit knowledge about that system. This can not be quickly or easily grown and should not be thrown away. It's important to hire great people, and then work to retain them. Many places talk about how their people are their most important asset, but few actually practice this. It's complete foolishness not to treasure and invest in people. There is nothing more important. Interactions with people should demonstrate that they are valuable. We need to be sensitive to people's lives and realize people are not machines, and are not interchangeable parts. Take the time to discover coworkers strengths and weaknesses. Involve yourself and others in areas that play to strength.

Transparency & Truth

Objectivity is your friend. It is better to know what's up, even if what you learn is unpleasant, than to be blind. If you know about a problem, there is a chance to make it better. This means that whenever possible you should collect objective data (more on that below). Use real data to guide decisions. Likewise, factual data should be welcomed, even if it is offered by people you don't like, or used as a weapon rather as a tool to help. The appropriate response to learning something new, even if the learning process is unpleasant should be "Thank you for giving me something new to consider, or for helping me discover a new insight"

Not only is it important to be open to new information, but it's important to share what you know. Transparency is important because it allows everyone to understand what's going on, making it easier to work together and share a common vision / viewpoint. A commitment to truth and transparency makes it much more likely that an organization can learn.

5 minute rule

Everyone should feel free to ask anyone (regardless of position or responsibility) a question about what they are working on and/or why they are doing something they way they are. Note: the question should be asked in a respectful way. You should always be willing to spend a few minutes explaining what you are doing and why. There are several reasons for this. First, it will make it more likely that everyone will be working with the same agenda and disconnects can be discovered. Second, the person asking the question might learn and grow. Third, even though the person asking the question might not have your experience or background, they might recognize the issues you are facing from a completely different domain and have insights which will be extremely valuable to you.

Integrity & Personal Responsibility

Trust is the key lubricant in human relationships. Trust is built when people see you behaving in a consistent manner, positive manner. At the core of this is having integrity and taking responsibility for yourself and your work. This can come out in a number of ways such as:


An operations group has to work effectively within the team and across teams in an organization. It is critical for the operations team to have a good relationship with not only engineering, but also sales, product marketing and finance. At the heart of effective teamwork is mutual respect and trust.  People need to trust that you will deliver what you promise, and you need to be able to trust and depend on your team mates.  Mutual respect means that you let people do their jobs. If you aren't happy with there work you should work to help them improve. You should avoid at all cost taking on their work. I have often seen operational groups go into the business of engineering. Why? Because the engineering group wasn't delivering an effective product. While this works for a time, it often results in the operations team losing focus (and therefore doing a poorer job operating) while the engineering group doesn't get better.

Lazy (the good kind)

High Quality

Systematic Improvement

Understand Systems

Specific technologies or system components don't exist in isolation. We can't afford people who are so specialized that they only know about one small piece of the other overall system. Everyone should understand, at least at a high level, how everything fits together. Likewise, people need to understand some broad systems principles which govern how things are built.

Technology Agnostic

Operations people are often extremely opinionated. Opinions (especially well informed opinions) are extremely valuable, but extreme "attitude" has no place in a professional workplace. People need to be able to get beyond their personal bias, and select and work with technology based on it getting the job done within business / organizational constraints.

Other Ops Culture To Think About

There are a variety of groups that have captured their cultural distinctives. We should example these other culture and learn from them... both what we want to imitate, and what we would like to avoid.