The DevOps journey can be successful when you use offshore outsourcing software partners, but it requires careful attention from your IT leaders.
The old saying, “The only constant is change,” has never been more true for software development, whether your company is a SaaS provider or a manufacturer of discrete products that rely heavily on software delivered by your IT department. For the past several years we have seen four key movements:
- The continued adoption of outsourced software development. As far back as 2013, it was reported that 2 out of 5 CIOs surveyed planned some sort of outsourced software development for the coming year.
- Increased outsourcing options. While outsourcing to India is still a legitimate option today, it’s certainly not the only viable option available. Companies are now able to answer the question: “What country will provide my outsourced programming team?” in multiple ways.
- Agile as a mainstream methodology. Software development teams continue to embrace Agile as the preferred methodology for software development projects.
- Interest in—or adoption of—DevOps. Since the term “DevOps” was introduced by Andrew Shafer and Patrick Debois at the 2008 Agile conference in Toronto, large and small companies alike have shown increased interest in embracing DevOps and the promise it holds for rapid software deployment.
The current state of tools and service provider capabilities should entice IT leaders to adopt (or continue to adopt) DevOps methods for software development. More than ever before, there are capable teams of programmers across the globe that you can tap into for a successful software.
There is No Substitute for Good Process
The goals of higher output and greater efficiencies and even “continuous deployment” through DevOps have their roots in elite manufacturing methods such as kanban and lean manufacturing. Like its manufacturing method cousins, DevOps success hinges on good process. To see improvements through the use of DevOps, you must have clear understanding (and description of) your current software development process. You need to communicate your processes clearly in words and pictures with your outsourcing partner. Issues that are birthed out of shortcomings in your DevOps process will be exponential when you add the variable of outsourced development into your work steps.
Key Takeaway: DevOps is only possible through good process. If you’re not committed to good analysis and continual improvement of your processes, then the use of an outsourced software developer will only allow you to create flawed software and generate chaos more rapidly.
Tools Create Speed
If good process is the engine of DevOps, then automation tools are the gasoline that makes the well-designed process run with speed. Automation of good process makes it possible to eliminate bottlenecks in the software development cycle—you can truly “sprint through your sprints.” Perform an inventory of your tools:
- Are you able to seamlessly (and automatically) promote code?
- Can you perform test-driven design?
- Can you perform test-driven development?
- Can you easily associate features and fixes with promoted code?
- How do you perform regression testing?
Key Takeaway: Automation tools must be used with consistency by you and your outsourcing partner. These tools will enable the process that you all follow daily in the development activities of your project.
Having the right outsourcing partner for software development is important. To outsource successfully in a DevOps approach, you must be very selective in your choice of an outsourced software development team.
- The best partners employ a programming staff that have achieved the major certifications that are important for your DevOps project needs. Moreover, a good partner invests in its programming staff’s training on a continual basis. We like to see evidence that its programming staff regularly renews their certifications.
- Experience. Equally important is having a software outsourcing team with demonstrated experience in your business vertical (example: discrete manufacturing, banking, etc.) and expertise in the system functional area (e.g. finance, e-business order processing, warehouse management, etc.). Of course, the software development team also should be versant and have demonstrable experience in the use of Agile and DevOps techniques.
- The right partner should be neither too large nor too small. The outsourcing company needs a pool of programmers large enough to keep with the intended work pace of your project. Conversely, we caution IT managers to be wary of extremely large outsourcing companies. Your project and company must be “big enough to matter” to the partner you select. If you are seen as too small in terms of the revenue opportunity, the outsourcing company will defer attention and its top talent to larger customers, who are more able to influence decision-making.
Key Takeaway: To succeed with DevOps outsourcing, you need the right partner, based on attributes of skills, demonstrable experience, and a size that’s proper for your company.
John Adams, the second U.S. president, once famously said, “Facts are stubborn things.” DevOps presumes a culture of continuous improvement—and our metrics help demonstrate that improvement. We collect metrics so we can accurately measure pace of work, quality of software produced, level of effort and so on. We measure events over time to see if we are improving, worsening or stagnant. Metrics are a critical means of communication and mutual accountability between your company staff (IT and business) and the outsourcing partner who is writing your software. In a DevOps-driven outsourcing relationship, you’ll regularly capture and report on metrics (estimated and actual) such as:
- Lead Time: In software development, you need to measure the time elapsed from concept to the point delivery of the completed software. From project to project or even epic to epic, you want to see an increase in speed to deliver software.
- Sprint Time: Teams using Agile will have sprints measured in a few days, instead of months, for the typical time for work grouped in “phases” or “activities,” using traditional development methods. Be sure to track metrics for your sprints.
- Sprint Volume: How many sprints are needed to complete a story? How many sprints are needed for a version? For each of these metrics, look for consistent volume (i.e. number of sprints produced) over time.
- Issues and Open/Close Rates: Measure how many production issues are reported AND closed within a specific time frame. Observe and take action on trends rather than establishing a hard and fast number; there’s no “right answer.”
Key Takeaway: Metrics allow you and your outsourcing partner to objectively assess the pace and quality of rapid work being performed in a DevOps/Agile-driven development project.
Collaboration is Key
It almost goes without saying that you and your outsourcing partner will need to have good, regular rhythms of communication. This continuous collaboration is essential because you and your vendor-partner team are:
- Operating in a common disciplined way using DevOps methods.
- Performing work through a common set of tools.
- Progressing through the project goals in a series of rapid sprints.
- Capturing and analyzing team metrics to ensure project health.
Honestly assess what barriers might exist to good collaboration. Do you need to ramp up your real-time collaboration tools? Do you have a master calendar of formal meetings where the agenda will drive good information-sharing, decision-making and issue resolution?
Are time zone differences an issue? This may affect the geographic location from which you will select your outsourced development team. In a recent survey, one-third of U.S. companies that outsourced to India considered the 10-hour (or more) time difference to be a big challenge. Very often the “core team” in an outsourcing software provider will be working hours that are completely opposite of normal U.S. business hours. Some companies find that a “nearshore” outsourcing partner helps optimize collaboration. Because the outsourcing partner is in the same time zone as your IT leadership team, it’s easier to schedule meetings or even have impromptu discussions, which are so important in software-development methodologies such as Agile.
Key Takeaway: DevOps and Agile require high collaboration. Set yourself up for success by ensuring there will be no reasonable impediments to good collaboration.
A Perfect Storm – and Opportunity
The recent evolution in best thinking and adoption of DevOps, and the parallel growth in options for software development outsourcing together create a kind of perfect storm in software development. The potential of DevOps is augmented by the inherent continuous-change nature of Agile. We see the ability to transfer work across the “virtual shop floor” of development without geographic constraints. This new programming paradigm of DevOps, partnered with Agile, is now matched by equally exciting (and relevant) growth in the options for delivering high-quality code from anywhere across the globe.
About the Author / Steve Mezak
Steve Mezak is founder and CEO of Accelerance, a leader in global software development outsourcing, as well as the author of “Software Without Borders,” co-author of, “Outsource or Else: How a VP of Software Saved His Company,” and a CIO columnist.