Why is trust key to DevOps?

Ian Shaw 12th June 2017

People and organisations are sometimes wary when it comes to trusting employees. It’s understandable: trust means opening yourself up, and it making your organisation vulnerable.

However, trust is of utmost importance when it comes to working together in a team. It lets people do their jobs. And, to achieve maximum productivity in your organisation, teams, departments, management and employees need to feel comfortable and accessible to each other.

The main reasons organisations put barriers in the way of trust are:

  1. Sensitive or delicate systems
  2. A lack of experience or training
  3. New or temporary hires

Why should I trust my employees?

Well, there are two arguments you can make here.

  1. If you don’t trust someone to do a good job, then why did you hire them?
  2. If a single person can damage your company beyond repair, you need to reassess your disaster recovery policy. This isn’t a trust problem, it’s a design problem.

It’s perfectly okay to only give employees access to job critical systems and information. However, limiting this to the extent that it impacts their ability to do their job would negatively impact productivity and prove frustrating.

Trust should only be given to the extent that an individual needs it. For example, giving production server access to your QA team would be very trusting, but it doesn’t make business sense to do so. It’s not about granting universal access to everyone; it’s about giving your employees access to the tasks that they are required to do and having faith in their ability to effectively complete them.

Another compelling reason why you may want to trust your employees is that people tend to mistrust those who do not trust them. You can be sure that if you don’t demonstrate trust in your employees, they won’t show it in you, making you blind to many internal actions and feelings.

The types of trust

Patrick Lencioni makes an interesting distinction between the types of trust you can have towards others, one is predictive trust, and the other is vulnerability trust.

The former happens when you trust someone because you know them and can predict how their reaction will be, based on experience. The latter refers to a kind of trust where you open yourself up to others and reveal your weaknesses, your flaws and when you fail.

It’s of paramount importance to have vulnerability trust in your organisation. Allowing people to admit to failures without fear of punishment encourages them to be more open when issues arise and helps to avoid future failures.

trustStill not convinced? Take a moment to consider the number of daily decisions you make based on trust. When you cross the street for example, there is an implicit trust that cars are not out to run you over, and if it were to happen, it would most likely be due to human error. It doesn’t mean that you can blindly cross the street, but it means that you can gauge an expectation.

But what if someone told you that one in every hundred drivers deliberately tries to run-over pedestrians? How would this make you feel about crossing the road? I would be ridden with anxiety for sure! And would only cross the street when strictly necessary, taking precautions to ensure I don’t get run-over.

Let’s consider another less physical example. I am a regular customer of Amazon, and you could make quite a few arguments why they are a great purveyor of goods, such as selection, convenience and price. But one that comes to the top of the list is trust, the trust that Amazon works so hard to grow with its customers.

When I buy a product from Amazon, not only do I know they will do anything in their power to deliver on time, I also know that if I don’t like the product, it’s delayed or is faulty, I can always count on them to sort it out.

In some cases they will even go the extra mile and offer discounts, vouchers etc. It is this level of trust that they have built with myself that has led to my being a customer for so long.

Trust not only allows people to live their daily lives with a sense of security, it can also make save an organisation a substantial amount of time and money.

The speed of trust

In his book Speed of Trust, author Stephen M.R.Covey explores the idea of a ‘Trust Tax’ and the belief that as trust goes down, speed goes down and costs go up.

Think about that for a second, if your organisation has barriers in the way of granting trust to employees, then how long is productivity halted for? And, taking the cost of these barriers into consideration, are they really worth implementing?


Security professionals reading this article must be cringing at the mention of granting trust left and right, but this is not what I am advising here. I’m simply stating that if the risk is low and you can shoulder the cost of misplaced trust in an employee, you should always go ahead and do so. In the long run, the benefits will far outweigh the drawbacks.

One the great things about working for ECS Digital, is that everyone implicitly trusts each other and we encourage people to speak their mind and contribute without punishing them for their mistakes. We firmly believe this is the core of our success and why our engineers can fulfil their passions and be as productive as they can be for us.

The “trust free” future

It looks like with the development of cryptocurrencies, we are reaching an age that trust is no longer important, and many are calling some cryptocurrencies “trust free”. Ethereum for example, is a platform where you can write applications called smart contracts that can be designed so that the money (ether) is not transferred until the service you paid for is finished.

To use one of the cofounder’s example, let’s say you write a smart contract where you pay a taxi, the money would not be taken away from you until your gps coordinate changes to the place where you want to go.

From this point of view, there is no need for a middle company such as uber to ensure you reach your destination as the driver’s payment depends on this. Ethereum’s advocates also mention that in the future, identity will be verified with this technology, making it easier to establish everyone’s level of trustworthiness.

On a different front and going back to the crossing the street example I used earlier, technology for driverless cars is so advanced now that computers drive safer than humans and with a much lower margin of error. Meaning that in this scenario we would reduce the potential cost of trusting in half.

In a scenario like this, you may feel that trust is meaningless, but I would say that rather than call it a trust free transaction as some people out there are calling it, I would just say that the trust has shifted from an individual, intermediary or organisation, to an automated system.

Humans are after all, fallible. We make mistakes. This is why developing and testing a resilient and fault tolerant infrastructure is an important step in making your road to trust easier.

As technology moves on, the potential cost of trusting is being reduced dramatically. In the past, if you broke a server it felt like the end of the world. Today with the cloud infrastructure, spinning a new one is extremely easy, quick and you virtually remove the physical layer.

The more technology advances, the excuses for a lack of trust should diminish as well. Hopefully, we will be able to work unhindered by the fear that we can break too much while doing our work.

I am not saying that systems should be trusted entirely and blindly either. When you trust a system, you are implicitly trusting the organisation or community behind it. Because of this, it’s always good to assess the system you are placing your trust in and how difficult it is to corrupt.

To conclude, trust is extremely important, and you should trust your colleagues and subordinates as much as you can, but in the process, you should also do the most you can to reduce the potential cost of this trust by having systems in place that allow you to recover easily in case of human error.

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