DevOps and ITSM Promotes
Psychological Safety

Make a cocktail (or blend) of best practices to achieve better, faster, safer services

January 29 | 07 mins read

In today's fast-paced and technology-driven world, DevOps and IT service management (ITSM) concepts are crucial in work environments that cultivate psychological safety and reduce technostress.

What is DevOps?

DevOps focuses on collaboration, automation, and continuous improvement to enable teams in their workflow. By eliminating silos via cross-functional communication, DevOps promotes psychological safety within organizations, allowing employees to feel comfortable taking risks, sharing ideas, and admitting mistakes without fear of judgment or retribution. DevOps teams comprise all relevant individuals across the value stream of defining, designing, creating, testing, introducing, supporting, and improving a product or service. DevOps teams include not only technology staff but also those from the organization and suppliers. Combining DevOps automation, principles, and practices facilitates the emergence of DevOps as a Service or a DevOps Strategy, meeting the agility demands of a digital economy.

What is ITSM?

ITSN is the practice that complements DevOps by providing a structure that ensures efficient service delivery. By automating repetitive tasks and streamlining workflows, ITSM reduces technostress - the stress caused by technology-related challenges by empowering employees to focus on value-added activities rather than getting bogged down by manual tasks.

Further, ITSM practices enable DevOps to fix issues quickly via incident and problem management. DevOps and ITSM tools can automate the collaboration required to resolve issues, thus lengthening the time between failures (MTBF), a key metric for both frameworks.

It is vital to remember that DevOps and ITSM are frameworks organizations must adopt but then adapt to fit their needs and practices. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and copying a model from someone else may cause more harm than good in your organization.

What is Psychological Safety and Technostress?

Psychological safety is vital in the workplace, fostering open communication, innovation, and growth. Safety implies staff can voice opinions, question ideas, and share concerns without fear of repercussions. Individuals are more likely to take risks and learn from their mistakes by leadership creating a safe environment. Technostress is the adverse effect technology can have on an individual's mental and physical well-being, leading to burnout, depression, anxiety, and decreased productivity. Organizations must address psychological safety and technostress to promote a healthy and productive work environment.

How do DevOps and ITSM promote Psychological Safety?

How do DevOps and ITSM promote Psychological Safety?

Collaborative Culture: DevOps and ITSM encourage collaboration and teamwork among IT professionals and the rest of the organization. Both frameworks aim to ask, "How can we help you solve an issue or meet a goal?" In mature companies, this could be as frequently as every two weeks. DevOps and ITSM facilitate moving from project management to product ownership. Cross-functional teams collaborate to manage the value stream of tasks that enables the customer or consumer to enjoy a service that meets their experience expectations while serving the organization's goals.

Transparency and Accountability: DevOps and ITSM practices emphasize transparency and accountability by sharing their progress, challenges, and learnings, creating an atmosphere of trust and psychological safety. Transparency is best performed by using DevOps or ITSM tools that display work status and issues. Kanban, integrated project and design, automating the management of incidents, and ensuring that the services in development are tested and approved by the product or service team all function as transparency and accountability capabilities.

Continuous Improvement: Your ways of functioning and services must improve to meet the demands of a digital economy and a safe workplace. DevOps and ITSM frameworks prioritize continuous improvement and learning by encouraging experimentation, taking risks, and learning from failures. This mindset of continuous improvement promotes psychological safety by fostering an environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth rather than reasons for punishment. No Blame, no Shame is the DevOps and ITSM motto!

Automation and Standardisation: DevOps and ITSM focus on automating repetitive tasks and standardizing processes. Reducing the risk of errors creates a more predictable and stable environment, decreasing stress and promoting psychological safety. The tools of DevOps and ITSM have matured, and with the introduction of AI, they can now happily co-exist. Think about how it used to be, with each silo having its technology. Cloud, AI, cybersecurity, business continuity, infrastructure-as-code or APIs, testing, and support can seamlessly flow together as best-practice models for the organization are implemented.

Automation and standardization significantly reduce technostress as the game of "it was your tool that broke" goes away, letting teams create safe places to learn. Knowledge sharing, accurate documentation, and configuration identification management (CI) allow teams to use automation in every aspect of their task with clear traceability and governance.

Continuous Delivery and Deployment: The crux of both frameworks is the ability to deliver software updates and enhancements frequently and reliably. No more Big Bang or large project/code implementation as changes now occur often, allowing rollback or even the ability to test customer preferences (A/B testing) to get the best product into use quickly. Psychological safety results as the fear of making mistakes during the release process and creating a culture of experimentation and learning diminishes. Continuous delivery and deployment provide the competitive edge required in a VUCA and digital global economy. Continuous delivery and development are among the most significant yet challenging aspects of DevOps or ITSM maturing.

Regular Retrospectives and Reflections: Team members regularly and frequently meet to review their work, identify areas for improvement, and celebrate successes. This creates a safe space for individuals to openly discuss their experiences and learn from each other, fostering psychological safety. Leadership can transform from command and control (do this now) to servant or generative leadership (how can we help the team?) by participating in retrospectives and reflections honestly and truthfully.

Supportive Leadership: DevOps and ITSM frameworks require strong and supportive leadership in creating a psychologically safe environment by setting clear expectations, providing guidance and support, and actively encouraging open communication and learning.

  • Empowered Decision-Making: DevOps and ITSM empower team members to make decisions and take ownership of their work.
  • Recognition and Appreciation: By acknowledging and celebrating achievements, individuals feel valued and supported, which enhances psychological safety and encourages continued growth and innovation.
  • Training and Development: Investment in skills and knowledge development promotes psychological safety by equipping individuals with the necessary tools and resources to succeed.
  • Work-Life Balance: Acknowledging that team members have personal lives and commitments outside of work promotes psychological safety. Hybrid working and no more late nights as work is completed during the normal are just two of the examples that DevOps and ITSM enable.

DevOps-ITSM Great Practice Thoughts

Gene Kim, in his seminal DevOps novel "The Phoenix Project," introduced psychological safety as he highlighted how the Security officer had mental and alcoholism issues. But when the security officer returned, he helped turn the IT teams into valuable parts of the organization. You've all read this book - go back and see for yourself!

Gene Kim went further in "The Unicorn Project" to define the concepts of continuous improvement and learning (both core DevOps-ITSM values) were introduced via the Five Ideals:

  1. Locality and Simplicity
  2. Focus, Flow, and Joy
  3. Improvement of Daily Work
  4. Psychological Safety
  5. Customer Focus

Consider what would happen if every project supporting a product or service began with a culture of The Five Ideas. Each team would collaborate in an organization, supporting risk-taking, sharing ideas, controlling work in progress, visually alerting status or issues, fostering resilience, becoming creative, and just wanting to participate in organizational goals. This is not a cowboy culture but an agreed set of guidelines or guardrails empowering teams in their efforts.

A real-world example from a European bank I assisted was when the CIO used the Service Desk as the central point of collaboration and reporting amongst all product teams. Instead of being an afterthought, all teams shifted left with the strategy of design and release, making daily changes of features a standardized outcome.

Top tips

To create a blended DevOps-ITSM culture, try these tips:

Introduce visual opportunities: Value Stream Management, which includes post-it note mapping of workflow, Kanban, Obeya, incident management, goal sharing, and more, all underpin the visual management of what we need to do today and how we do culture. Making it visible highlights the issues, letting teams and leaders collaborate on solving the organization's problems or tasks.

Let the teams choose their tools: If they build them, they will use them and ensure that what's created benefits all. Give teams the budget and latitude to design their practices and the technology to support them.

Change the attitude and behavior of leaders: Create a new climate of work, improvisation, digital competitiveness, and celebration of success and effort. Use gaming or workshops to design the new practices of involved leadership instead of management by reports.

Refrain from introducing DevOps or ITSM as per the course material: Take it from an ex-trainer, CIO, and principal consultant; DevOps and ITSM perform best when teams understand the basics but then align their KPIs or OKRs with organizational goals. The best-practice trend is to move towards Site Reliability Engineering teams instead of development and operations silos.


DevOps and ITSM frameworks provide a variety of strategies and practices that promote psychological safety within teams. These include continuous delivery and deployment, knowledge sharing and documentation, regular retrospectives and reflections, supportive leadership, empowered decision-making, recognition and appreciation, training and development, conflict resolution, work-life balance, continuous improvement, cross-functional collaboration, automation and standardization, clear communication and feedback, and shared goals and objectives.

By implementing these practices, organizations create an environment where staff and customers feel safe, supported, and empowered to contribute their best work. This fosters a culture of innovation and collaborative learning, leading to improved outcomes and success for the organization.

Leaders should provide clear expectations and guidance, ensuring team members understand their roles and responsibilities. DevOps-ITSM value stream management and visual management, underpinned by common ideals, foster the digital culture of safety and trust to meet the changing goals of the organization in a VUCA economy.

Understand how DevOps and IT service management (ITSM) concepts are crucial in cultivating psychological safety and reducing technostress in work environments.

About the author

Daniel Breston

After more than fifty years in IT, covering every role from service desk analyst to CIO or Principal Consultant, I am more convinced than ever that my beloved industry is suffering from mental health issues. Instead of retiring, I am blogging and speaking about how leadership creates environments and cultures that promote anxiety, stress, depression, burnout, alcoholism and more. I admit that I was one of these leaders and want to demonstrate how leaders of today can do some simple things to avoid my mistakes.

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