The Art of DevOps

This is the third in a series of posts on DevOps. The first written by my colleague Lee Reid was titled The Simple Math of DevOps. The second The Calculus of DevOps was written by IBM client, and my friend Carmen DeArdo of Nationwide. Lee introduced mathematically improving delivery throughput by leveraging DevOps to improve Trust. And Carmen used Calculus to imply that the business value of IT can be improved by adopting DevOps to increase the frequency of releases. In my post I would like to visit the art of DevOps , or the art of adopting DevOps by picking up right where Carmen left off – by looking at the culture side of adopting DevOps.

Lee and Carmen have already alluded to some basic premises behind DevOps as an approach – reducing batch sizeand improving collaboration. These result in reducing complexity, increasing throughput, and improving trust. Let’s talk about how to get there.

As I have worked with customers adopting DevOps, across company sizes, across industries and countries, there are four common threads that make DevOps adoption successful, leveraging all three aspects of DevOps adoption – culture, process and automation. These are:

  1. Reduce batch size: The most effective way to manage risk and quality, while increasing speed is to reduce the batch size in each iteration or ‘sprint’. This is a mind shift to release smaller, more frequent new versions. Where it is not possible to release new versions that frequently to customers, release small batches to a pre-production area. The deliverable in pre-production is tested and made customer-ready, and then released to the customer at formal release dates. As Lee and Carmen have both discussed, reducing batch size is a pre-requisite to improving both trust and business value.
  2. Shift-left Operational engagement: Get operations engaged right from the beginning of a project/initiative. This has been a core principle of DevOps. Do not leave Ops in a silo that one throws code over the wall to, but have them engaged in the development process, right from requirement inception stage. This allows Ops to have visibility into what is coming from Dev; allowing them to deliver the right production-like environments, as and when needed to Dev and Test teams. It also allows Ops to shift operational concerns left, left into the minds of developers, making them more Ops conscious and engaged in what happens after they hand-off to Ops.
  3. Continuous funding: This is a significant change in an organizations funding model to enable continuous availability and engagement of SMEs and business functions, previously not engaged on a continuous basis – like security, legal, marketing, etc. Carmen in his post mentioned several examples of ‘waiting for…’ work, someone else to do something and environments. Another ‘waiting for’ in enterprises is for funding. Funding is typically provided in a waterfall manner, with specific hard dates (Months, quarters, fiscal year) and gates, not suitable for a Continuous Delivery model. Funding too should be continuous.
  4. Create a ‘Product Management’ team: This team includes a Designer, Development lead, operations lead and an Architect at the minimum (4-in-box). They own the ‘product’ through its entire lifecycle, and beyond transient projects. They are responsible for long-term thinking, design thinking, evolutionary architectural thinking, and overall ownership of the product, from concept to end-of-life.
  5. Setting up a DevOps Center of Excellence (CoE): This center of excellence is not an administrative organization or a ‘tools/enablement group’, but a place where DevOps adoptees come to learn from each other and share expertise and lessons learnt. As organizations adopt and scale DevOps adoption, this CoE also becomes a source of DevOps coaches, helping teams and programs adopt DevOps, and own the organizations DevOps framework – their own flavor of DevOps.

Adopting DevOps is an art. It is not as simple as hiring a consultant who can show how to improve processes; it is not just buying and adopting tools to automate manual tasks; and it is not going through ‘fall-back-into-the-arms-of-the-person-behind-you’ exercises to build trust. It is a combination of all three – process improvement, organizational and cultural change, and automation with tools to replace manual processes. Adopting these in any enterprise, outside of startups, requires overcoming organizational inertia. By changing culture not by edict, but by showing the need and value of change. By building trust, not through meetings, but with improved communication and transparency. By improving business value, not by measuring mandated KPIs, but by improving organizational agility and throughput. Overcoming organizational inertia, by delivering towards a common goal for the business, irrespective of where in the organization one is, and what role one has. By developing a culture where everyone takes responsibility of delivering value to the business.