Elite Teams Are Built on Strong Habitsby@beanz
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Elite Teams Are Built on Strong Habits

by Gearoid O'TreasaighMay 6th, 2024
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Utilizing DORA metrics and effective habit formation can elevate a team from average to elite in software development, fostering continuous improvement and excellence through strategic assessment and habit-building techniques.
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Going from a mediocre team to an elite team can seem daunting, especially when we need to figure out where to start. The DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) can be our north star, helping us build the habits and practices we need to be elite. We'll look at DORA, the challenges of building habits, and how to form habits that stick.

What Is DORA?

The DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) report focuses on four key areas to measure elite teams:

  • Lead time: How long does it take from code committed to running in production
  • Deploy frequency: How often does our organization deploy to production
  • Change fail percentage: How often do we need to rollback, patch, hotfix, or fix forward after a change
  • Failed deployment recovery time: How long does it generally take to recover service

The challenge here is going from knowing about those four areas that need to be worked on so that we go from being a mediocre team to an elite squad scoring a ten on the DORA quick check.

The four measurements of an elite team are:

  • Lead time is less than one hour

  • Deploy frequency is on-demand (multiple deploys per day)

  • The change fail percentage is ideally 0%

  • Failed deployment recovery time is less than one hour

To see where tour team currently places, try the DORA quick check.

This blog will focus on the tools, technologies, practices, culture, and philosophies that will help teams become elite. Improvements in our work take time since we need to break old habits that don't serve us well and build new ones. This blog will keep that in mind as we move through different topics. Each post will have an invitation to try out what we learn. If there are any questions or issues that need to be covered, make use of the comments section to submit the question.

The Challenges of Forming New Habits

We've all seen New Year's Resolutions and possibly have had some of our own. According to the Forbes report in 2024, 53% of those surveyed had given up on their New Year's Resolutions by the end of March. For many people, sticking to a new resolution or goal is challenging. There is now a day known as Ditch New Year's Resolution Day, which during 2024 fell on January 17th. While the media paints a picture of a significant stumbling block, statistics show it's less troublesome than perceived. We can see the reality of the quit rate in the chart below:

New year resolutions' quit rate chart.


Why Do People Fail in Their New Resolutions/Habits?

In an article by James Clear, he outlines five reasons our new habits might fail:

  1. Trying to change more than one thing at a time

  2. Setting big goals without breaking them down into smaller steps

  3. Seeking a result, not the ritual

  4. We have not changed the environment in which we perform our good habits, so we quickly revert to our bad habits

  5. Assuming small changes don't add up

However, there are ways to set ourselves up for success. In the book Atomic Habits, James talks about three key lessons:

  1. Small habits make a big difference.
  2. Forget about setting goals. Instead, focus on the system.
  3. Build identity-based habits.

The Impact of Habits

Building identity-based habits means, for example, instead of saying I go running, we say we're runners, or instead of saying we paint, we say we're painters. There is a subtle difference in the wording, but if we start to think we're runners, that can lead to thinking, what does a runner do? It could mean changing the food we eat, how often we train, when we train, and the goals we set for ourselves.

If we focus on getting 1% better every day in one year, we'll end up being 37 times better than when we started. It means that anything we set our mind to can profoundly impact us. It may not be noticeable at first, but as the changes compound over time, we will notice that we're a different person than when we started. Like a cliff being eroded over time by the waves, at the start, we overlook the impact each wave has, but over time, we see how the cliff face changes in its shape.

How Do I Go About Creating and Maintaining Habits?

In the Habits Cheatsheet, James Clear talks about the four laws to create a good habit:

  • The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious
  • The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive
  • The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy
  • The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying

As an example, let's say we've decided that we want to drink more water every day. We could make it obvious by placing a water bottle on our desk so that we can't miss it. Having a nice bottle or putting some lemon or mint in the water would be attractive. To make it easy, we fill the water bottle the night before so we don't have to think about it in the morning. Then, to make it satisfying, we could have a calendar above our desk where we put a sticker to mark each day that we've managed to empty our water bottle.

How Do I Beat My Old Bad Habits?

Again, in the Habits Cheatsheet, there are the inverse laws for avoiding our bad habits:

  • Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible
  • Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive
  • Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult
  • Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying

Let's say we want to watch less TV. We could make it invisible by placing the TV out of view, moving it to another room, or inside a cupboard. We might unsubscribe to our streaming accounts and TV subscriptions to make it unattractive. To make it difficult, we place the TV's power cord or remote control in another room. Finally, to make it unsatisfying, we could have an accountability partner that we check in with, with whom we will have to confess that we ended up watching TV.

The Next Steps

As we reflect on our DORA scores, we have an opportunity to identify areas where we can improve by forming new habits. The DORA quick check provides guidance on key areas we can work on to improve our score. In our team, we can decide what to work on to raise our score, moving us from developers to software craftspeople. Then, we can form habits to help us make lasting changes.

For example, if we identify a need to reduce lead time, we may realize our review process is slowing us down. When we explore it, we recognize we need to set aside time to review the code. We could take a habit-stacking approach. For example, when we open our laptops in the morning (our current habit), we first review all of the pull requests that are pending review for us. Another could be first to review pull requests after our lunch break.

To make it attractive, we might realize that the pull requests lack enough information, so we add a pull request template so all the information is there. Then, to make it easy, we could have a simple way for people to launch the application and see the change. To make it satisfying, we could recognize a person each week who does a great job of meaningful reviews and helps speed up the delivery of features.


We've explored the DORA report and how it measures teams' ability to deliver software. We've examined how habits are the foundation of meeting our goals/resolutions, looking at good and bad habits. Our challenge is to move from software developers to software craftspeople, using our daily habits to help us transform.


The lead image was generated using Microsoft Designer.