When it comes to the delivery of applications and improving their quality, the term DevOps comes up a lot. Interestingly, while studies continue to report its importance and adoption rate, there’s little agreement on what DevOps is or how exactly it enhances business outcomes. This article is a take on the subject from a product development company based on our extensive DevOps experience.
What Is DevOps?
A good way to learn why use DevOps or how it works is to start with what it is. Here, things already start getting interesting, as DevOps is in the elusive category where everyone seems to understand what it is, yet somehow there is no single definition of it. In fact, its Wikipedia page proudly lists four sources confirming that no such definition has been presented – all while many wrong interpretations abound in academic and technical literature.
The term itself is a portmanteau of Development and Operations, which pretty much explains its purpose – to unite these two aspects and streamline the development life cycle. This may sound like something that only affects large corporations with disconnected departments in different physical locations. In reality, however, small startups are also prone to face challenges such as inefficient processes.
Another point everyone seems to agree upon is that DevOps is a set of practices and cultural philosophies rather than a specific tool. There are, of course, tools that are commonly used under the DevOps model. However, these represent only a part of the broader set of practices that bridge gaps between teams, improve communication, and automate inefficient routine tasks.
Why DevOps Matters for Businesses?
To understand what problems DevOps solves for business as a whole, we need to remember that at its core it is all about operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. By bringing together siloed teams, it also facilitates collaboration and enables continuous delivery of value. On a smaller scale, this amounts to timely releases of updates and responsiveness to feedback. From the strategic perspective, it establishes trust between your brand and the customer base, so the benefits of DevOps for organizations also include improved customer experience, stability, and resilience.
What’s more, the DevOps process is a solid foundation for a broader cultural and mindset change within the organization. Its central idea of removing barriers between teams not only improves the technical side of operations but also contributes to the sense of shared responsibility, facilitating commitment to excellence.
At this point, you might start wondering whether these claims have any substance behind them. In other words, can we be certain that DevOps actually works? Well, as a matter of fact, we can. While the history of DevOps is not particularly long, there’s already plenty of evidence in its favor. The most comprehensive effort so far has been the State of DevOps report by Google, aggregating six years of research. The results are unambiguous: organizations that implement the DevOps lifecycle are twice as likely to successfully meet the organizational performance goals and enjoy a host of complementary advantages:
- Business resilience and sustainability
- Reduction in burnout
- Improvement of work-life balance
- Increased flexibility and scalability
Most of these outcomes are possible due to the central role software now plays in organizational performance. So, in a sense, the reliability, quality, and speed of delivery brought in by DevOps services have a measurable impact on customer satisfaction and profitability, essentially creating a positive feedback loop.
DevOps and Agile
By now, you have probably noticed several parallels between DevOps and other approaches in software development. Perhaps the most prominent intersection is with Agile development, which also aims at continuous delivery and relies on build automation. Both Agile and DevOps are umbrella terms that share several practices, similarly to several other methodologies:
- Scrum: A framework for small teams that tackles complex tasks by breaking them down into manageable goals that adhere to the agile mindset;
- Lean development: A conceptual framework that integrates lean thinking with software development to minimize redundant operations and create sustainable growth;
- Continuous delivery: A software development approach and a crucial part of DevOps, which emphasizes build automation to improve release reliability;
- Kanban: The method of balancing demands with operational capacity that improves customer satisfaction without overloading the team.
So, instead of asking what is agile methodology in DevOps, a more relevant angle would be to look for the intersection points between practices and frameworks. This will not only illustrate its holistic nature but can also contribute to the change in mindset necessary for the transition.
How DevOps Works
The basic premise of the DevOps model is to help operations and development teams to work together. This can be done in a variety of ways, from literally merging the teams together to incorporating tools that address specific shortcomings of the development process. However, the most popular approach by far is what is known as the DevOps cycle. There are many variations to how this process is divided, yet it is often presented as Plan, Code, Build, Test, Release, Deploy, Operate, Monitor.
Of course, in the end DevOps is about continuity anyway, so you can break it down into components that will work for your company (as long as everyone agrees on the meaning of each stage). Below is an example of how our product development company in Toronto defines the DevOps toolchain.
If you are familiar with project management, this phase should be pretty self-explanatory. This is where the product roadmap gets fleshed out based on the expectations of stakeholders and feedback from the audience. While there is no unified approach to planning, there are many tools that more or less define the management and tracking of the progress, such as Azure DevOps or Jira. It is also common to break the roadmap into finer chunks and label them if you find suitable to micromanage the tasks.
At this stage, the ideas drafted at the planning phase get fleshed out. Strictly speaking, the coding itself is not in any way different when it is a part of the DevOps cycle – but the development environment is. For example, a standard set of tools can be chosen for the team to use, which improves consistency of the code style, eliminates common errors, and prevents some of the security flaws. In other words, it is about creating an error-proof system.
In this phase, the codebase gets turned into an application. Unlike coding, it mostly involves routine technical operations, which is why it also features DevOps practices more prominently. The most familiar example is adding the new code via a pull request. In the simplest terms, this is a standard procedure of reviewing the new code for issues before it can be added to the codebase. Once the checks are passed, the build undergoes a series of automated tests to detect any inconsistencies.
After the app is built, it can be tested in a staged environment before it is released. The procedure will vary depending on the accepted practices, although these four aspects will be covered in some form or another:
- User acceptance
Testing (also sometimes called verification) is usually a combination of manual and automated tests.
After all the issues are identified and addressed, the app will be considered ready for production. This stage involves deciding what should be available to the users and flagging features that need more polish. The release schedule is also decided here, either by setting regular intervals or breaking it up into milestones. The final approval is usually issued manually, but the bulk of operations in the middle are automated.
This is the crucial moment during which the app becomes available to the customers. On a technical level, it is similar to the test phase, but the production environment is used instead of the testing one. For this reason, it is often accomplished with the same set of tools. This way, the complexity of the system is kept to a minimum, reducing the likelihood of errors.
The new version of the app is live. It is now a task of the operations team to ensure smooth performance. Probably the most important and demanding aspect at this stage aside from load balancing is feedback management. User feedback is an invaluable source of information about the app, so setting up the tooling is essential if you don’t want it to fall through the cracks, leading to a frustrated audience.
Naturally, you’d like to retrieve as much information as possible about how well your new app fares. Aside from performance, this also includes monitoring user behavior to determine how the design can be made more intuitive. Moreover, the performance of the toolchain itself can be evaluated at this stage to improve the productivity of both teams. Keep in mind that this phase is not an endpoint but a transition to the next loop of the cycle.
Benefits of DevOps
Because of its techy-sounding name, it is often assumed that the value of DevOps is restricted to the development process. However, its advantages extend beyond the technical aspects of development and delivery. On the one hand, it helps to reduce operational expenses and improve customer satisfaction, leading to better business outcomes. On the other hand, it creates a healthier workplace culture by promoting collaboration and accountability. Here’s an overview of its main benefits:
- Speed: The increased pace of development via automation makes the process more responsive to issues and less prone to delays.
- Reliability: Ensures that the application is consistently maintained, improving end-user experience.
- Collaboration: The integration of teams has a positive impact on a larger culture and values of the organization.
- Scalability: Infrastructure automation and consistency of practices make it possible to scale up the operations effortlessly and with little to no unforeseen problems.
- Security: Multiple checks and validation procedures throughout the development cycle reduce the chance of vulnerabilities in release versions.
- Brand loyalty: Consistent and reliable release schedule fosters trust of the customers.
- Healthy culture: The emphasis on collaboration and integration strengthens employee engagement, boosts productivity, and makes the process feel more satisfying,
- Accountability: Transparency and clear allocation of responsibilities create a robust accountability culture.
- Innovation: Delegating routine tasks to DevOps tools frees up time for the team to apply their talent for creative purposes.
How to Build an Effective DevOps Team
As you might have guessed, there is no one way to implement DevOps. The requirements and practices will vary depending on your organization’s structure. Still, some of the steps are more or less universal. Here are the most common ones.
The success of process automation and continuous delivery depends on relevant skills of your team. Having a release manager and an automation architect on board will be a great boost.
Align DevOps Practices with Business Goals
Skipping to the adoption phase unguided will result in a misdirected effort and a waste of resources. Start by understanding what you are aiming at and whether it can be solved with DevOps. And, while you’re at it, make sure the team is on the same page with your vision.
Select the Tools
The tools may not be the only element of DevOps but certainly a crucial one. The market offers a plethora of excellent solutions – in fact, your organization may actually already use some of them. Also keep in mind that your team may have more experience with certain tools – something you can leverage for a smooth transition.
Decide on the Metrics
Do not take the benefits of DevOps for granted. There are many ways to measure the outcomes of adoption, including cycle time, change failure rate, and mean time to recovery. Without an evaluation framework in place, there’s no way to tell if you are on the right track.
Even if your dev team aces the coding part, training may still be necessary in other areas. Organization-wide changes in mindset and culture are the most prominent (yet somehow often-neglected) example. Don’t let the resistance to change ruin your impeccable transition roadmap.
In the end, DevOps is more of a philosophy than a specific set of tools. While it makes the concept somewhat elusive, it also means that its positive effects can be observed far outside its initial scope. However, it’s not a magical solution that remediates every problem simply by being there – its implementation certainly requires a change in mindset. Still, the benefits it brings to the table justify the effort. Our team of professionals will be happy to offer DevOps services and help your business achieve a new level of excellence.