HomeDevelopmentDevOpsDevOps the culture not the practice, and Maslow's hierarchy of needs

DevOps the culture not the practice, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs


Why has DevOps “culture” been so successful?  I have been giving this some thought, not from a technical perspective, but from a human and business needs point of view.  This got me thinking about Maslow and his  Hierarchy of needs.  Who is Maslow I hear you say?  Abraham Maslow was a phycologist who proposed in 1943 that healthy human beings have a number of needs and these needs are arranged in a hierarchy, which he constructed in the form of a pyramid. The theory suggests that certain needs, such as physiological and safety needs, are more primitive or basic than social or ego needs. However, the crux of Maslow’s premise is that the higher-level needs can only be addressed once the lower, more basic needs have been met.  There are several examples of Maslow’s pyramid showing how he developed the concept.

DevOps and Maslow
I present the traditional Maslow Pyramid.

OK, now you understand who Maslow was and what his hierarchy is, you are now wondering what on earth it has to do with DevOps?

DevOps is a framework that frees the Human from Drudgery

This is a lofty claim. However, the fundamental premise of DevOps (the culture, not the practise) is to eliminate waste from the system. Whether it’s technical debt, unplanned work in the form of outages, or streamlining and optimising planned work. The goal is to remove work from the system so that better, more interesting work can be done instead of reactive, painful work.

A framework must cater to the needs of all in the various business towers in order to be successful in meeting both business and personal needs. According to Maslow, every human being has a purpose and must progress through the layers to reach the top. Self-actualization is at the top of the pyramid; this is where you as a human get to do whatever you want after everything else has been provided for. The same is true for a business.

Which leads to the question “How do DevOps principles enable a company’s employees and the company itself to achieve self-actualization?” (channelling my inner “let’s make a noun a verb”)”

DevOps and Self-Actualization

When we map out the evolution of technologies, you note a similar evolutionary path. As new technologies start to perform their intended functions, developers and operational staff strive for greater accomplishments and solutions to more complex problems. It’s a pattern that exists at every new stage of technological development as we strive to achieve loftier goals. It also happens in organisational structures as our work becomes more dependent on technological capabilities.

As already alluded to this progression merits consideration in terms of the role that a DevOps strategy plays in an organisation as they grow and mature. DevOps promotes a communication, collaboration, integration, and automation mindset among software developers and IT operations, but it can also be swept up by a desire to go beyond the scope of its basic needs and seek constant improvement. Through this lens, consider how DevOps culture strives to meet the demand for a more holistic approach to the end-to-end software delivery life cycle (SDLC), and how it will continue to mature as needs change and evolve.

As with Maslow we will start at the bottom and work our way up the pyramid.  Starting with the lowest level the physiological requirements we will start our journey to enlightenment.

Physiological Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs begins at the bottom of the pyramid with basic needs. These are physiological needs for humans, the physical necessities for survival: air, water, food, shelter, and so on. This is the realm of manual processes in technology, where operators flick a switch, crank a handle, or spin a wheel. It is one of the fundamental functions of machinery.

The notion that I have to use software at all, let alone manipulate it to fit my business objectives, is at the bottom of the DevOps pyramid. Further development cannot begin until that basic need is recognised. Initially, Dev teams created applications and handed them over to QA teams to test. The production environment in these early stages did the job, but it lacked cohesion on a fundamental level. Teams may harbour mistrust, and production environments may become unstable as a result of poor communication or diverging points of view. Tasks were completed separately, much like a simple machine, and passed from team to team only after the fundamentals were completed.

The first step was to recognise the need for software, which is now a basic requirement for the majority of today’s businesses and organisations. To advance and mature, a company must take the next step toward addressing more complex problems and make decisions that promote structural growth and organisational progress.

Safety Needs

Moving up Maslow’s hierarchy, human motivation addresses concerns for safety and well-being as preferences are formed and order is sought. Organizationally, emerging DevOps teams strive for greater usefulness and functionality. Teams must adapt and find a way to overcome a lack of cohesion in order to perform basic functions. Organizations require a level of assurance (in comparison to Maslow’s concept of safety) that the development and operations teams can collaborate and have the best intentions for the project. This stage encourages a more advanced approach to software delivery and the reduction of production issues.

When companies and organisations realise that software is a basic need, their focus shifts to how to best make it happen across multiple teams working toward a common goal. And, if an organisation can achieve a certain level of internal stability and order, it can begin to look beyond itself to develop outside relationships in the way that Maslow describes in the third layer of his pyramid: belonging.

Social Belonging

Human motivation shifts to interpersonal relationships and feelings of belonging in the third stage of Maslow’s pyramid, after physiological and safety needs are met. When it comes to an organisation that serves customers or constituencies, once internal structures are in place, more resources can be allocated to outward pursuits. This stage in the business mindset occurs when the emphasis on outcomes shifts from vendor-focused and internal needs to customer service. They inquire: What answers or solutions does the customer expect from me? Organizations try to answer what it takes to provide customers with what they need in the same way that humans consider what it takes to be a friend or find love in Maslow’s acceptance stage.

DevOps automation contributes at this stage as teams integrate into a structured or organised community that can provide those answers. Teams begin to collaborate, and the early stages of a feedback loop and full visibility into the SDLC are developed. As a cultural shift toward full lifecycle ownership occurs and teams take responsibility for the entire deployment life cycle, not just in stages, the workflow becomes increasingly automated.


If organisations succeed in putting customers first, they can move on to responding to customer needs at a faster pace. The next stage in Maslow’s hierarchy, known as the esteem or status level, is divided into two components: internal and external.

Maslow classified these two types of esteem as follows: (1) esteem for oneself through dignity, achievement, mastery, and independence, and (2) esteem for others through reputation or respect. To achieve everything that organisations want to achieve for the customer, they must improve how the organisation functions internally, and they must demonstrate to the customer that they are listening, with the goal of directly responding to the customer’s needs.

Internally, the organisation expects its teams to communicate, collaborate, and integrate more effectively, and it expects its production activity to be responsive rather than prolific. If this is accomplished, it demonstrates not only that an organisation is listening to the customer, but also that it can provide solutions at a cadence that helps the customer succeed.


The final stage of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization: the realisation of potential and becoming the best version of oneself. This may not be an end goal in any organisational structure, because striving to be better should always be a core tenet. However, it could be argued that a level of corporate-actualization can be claimed when the brain trust at the top—the CEO, the CIO, the board, and so on—is fully aware that the components of their organisations are working together and what they are accomplishing.

Far from being the end, this is the time to do some soul-searching by asking the essential question: Is it all working? This is the most important question an organisation can ask itself on a regular basis, and doing so demonstrates a high level of maturity and it is this part that resonates most with DevOps.

You can recognise your basic needs; build structure into your organisation; service your customers, listen to their needs, respond quickly, and help them succeed; and internally recognise what makes your organisation successful. However, you risk regressing if you don’t ask if everything is working consistently and rigorously.

The last question is “How does an organisation maintain or even enhance its hard-earned growth once it has reached a mature stage?” The best thing it can do is define itself consistently through the use of qualified actualization tools and reporting engines. True self-actualization and corporate-actualization necessitate tools that can quantify an organization’s maturity and where it stands in comparison to its competitors. Organizations require tools that can correlate data against a variety of peers in the vertical or in common geography, for example, and provide comfort in knowing what works and that they are on the cutting edge.

I present Maslow’s Infinity Loop.

This is why I prefer my Maslow Infinity loop over the traditional pyramid to define needs, because, Individual and business needs and desires change and evolve over time and self-reflection, continual improvement and development at all stages will allow for continual growth.

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