Is DevOps in the enterprise real? The short answer is yes, but you may assume it’s only relevant to the world’s leading cloud companies because they’re the ones that make the headlines. DevOps offers the promise of agility, quality and ultimately better-performing software. While DevOps processes can increase agility, and agile approaches are a great help in improving responsiveness to change, the overall process still needs a clear objective, measurable KPIs and a finite scope.
In other words, unlocking the promise of an agile (product) organization requires a few complementary approaches. If those are ignored or applied incorrectly, DevOps agility can become an impediment to adaptability and agility for your enterprise.
Yet, I’ve read so many blogs about how the cloud and DevOps processes solve problems. It’s true they can, but the nuance is that, while a few teams can coordinate change amongst themselves, when you attempt to deploy a DevOps practice at scale, challenges are quickly apparent. For example, if I’m working for a startup that has fewer than 50 developers and very few layers of management between the CTO and her team, the management and communication lines are likely short enough that strategy and direction can be conveyed directly to the teams. However, for larger organizations—where there are many often geographically distributed teams with silos of responsibility and layers of management—far more coordination and communication are required.
In these environments, it is more likely the business will achieve agile teams but not an agile culture. This is because it’s too simple and, therefore, commonplace for these environments to execute in silos not aware of changes to other silos and where environmental constraints and dependencies are not considered throughout the development process.
The best solution to these challenges is to focus on a cascading framework of objectives and goals. Every company has its mission-critical goals—some call them strategic imperatives, others call them (or include in them) board-level mandates—and those goals should cascade into a more refined product, program and team goals as you traverse the management tiers. This ensures the business leaders can set a strategic direction that will be measured in a certain way, and every subsequent layer below them understands how their initiatives align with supporting that direction.
The first critical element for building a successful, sustainable DevOps culture is understanding your goals and how you’ll define and measure success.
The next element is to establish which decisions each level of management can make autonomously. For example, risk tolerance is a strategic decision, architecture and security posture are typically defined for a product, platform-level technology decisions can be delegated to program teams and project teams can then focus on making the more granular technology decisions that will differentiate their product, service or feature.
Finally, communication is key. This sounds trite, but communicating this cascading decisioning framework, exposing the decisions each group makes that could impact the particulars of an environment and then discussing requirements and challenges of architecture and software choices can ensure that each team, at each level, can remain agile and adapt to change effectively.
The question is: Do you have the management rigor to dig into these challenges and own them? The answer likely lies in how important the pursuit of agility is to you and your business.