Key Takeaways from Continuous Discussions (#c9d9) Podcast, Episode 86: Human Factors and DevOps

Written by: Electric Bee
1 min read
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In a recent episode of Continuous Discussions (#c9d9), we were joined by expert panelists who discussed human factors in IT, and how these factors impact the way Dev and Ops create and operate software – including aspects like maintainability, quality, testing, security, release process and usability. The panel included: John Allspaw, co-founder of Adaptive Capacity Labs; Dominica DeGrandis, director of digital transformation at Tasktop; Jessica DeVita, senior program manager for Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) at Microsoft; J. Paul Reed, managing partner at Release Engineering Approaches; and CloudBees’s Sam Fell and Anders Wallgren. Continue reading for some of their top takeaways!

What Do We Mean By Human Factors in IT?

When presenting in front of the company, when the CEO asks if there are any questions, no to very few people will raise their hands, a human factors issue per DeGrandis : “We have all this incoherence across many groups in technology because nobody is 100% clear on what leadership wanted us to do, and they don't feel safe raising their hand saying, ‘I don't really get this.’”

We need to get better at blameless post-mortems, according to Wallgren : “One of the things we're not terribly good at as an industry is the post-mortem. We’re not good at doing the dispassionate technical cause and effect analysis in a blameless way, but yet trying to find the root cause and trying to find the way forward to make sure that it doesn't happen again.”

Allspaw puts human factors into layman’s terms:  “At the highest level, I think that the intersection of people, work, and technology and how those things come together is about the most accessible definition of human factors.”


Word choice is a critical component to truly understanding human factors. For instance, there really isn’t “root cause” or “best practices” in the complex systems we work in, advises DeVita : “There isn't such a thing as root cause. And if that word bothers you as much as it does us that are learning about this, don't try to change it overnight but take a look at adding vocabulary like ‘contributing causes’ or ‘multiple root causes.’”

Human factors tries to shed light on the “right” story in IT (especially when looking at finding the root cause of an accident or error), says Reed : “There's always a story behind the story. There's the story that gets told and there's the story that actually happened. Human factors tries to acknowledge that.”

System Safety and Safety Culture

Many IT professionals simply don’t feel safe admitting they are at the root of an incident, or feel comfortable pointing out who is, per Wallgren : “Accidents involve the notion of somebody knew what was going on or somebody had the right answer, but was not able, or felt comfortable, or couldn't communicate that to the person who it would matter to at that time.”

Measurement drives the workforce positively, per DeGrandis : “What we're measuring impacts workers tremendously because people value what is measured and they will march down that path.”


What does it really mean to have safety in IT? Allspaw challenges us to think about the definition: “’Safety’ is an absolutely loaded word. We cannot say the word safety and expect that, especially in IT, the person who we're talking to understands what we're saying, no more than we could say DevOps, no more than we can say agile.”

DeVita explains what it truly means to have a safety culture: “Safety culture is one where the boss has to be able to hear bad news and people have to feel safe to bring things up.”


Safety is especially challenging in complex systems, as it is difficult to apply the results of these systems to the larger whole, says Reed : “One of the things that is really hard to model is the fact we live in a complex world, we build and operate these complex systems. And a lot of times, we don't really know how they integrate into a wider context.”

Watch the full episode:

Want more Continuous Discussions (#c9d9)?

We hold our #c9d9 podcast once a month on Tuesday’s at 10 a.m. PT. Each episode features expert panelists talking about DevOps, Continuous Delivery, Agile and more. Check out all past episodes and panelists here.

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