DevOps brings you the deep pink color of fresh strawberries and SAFe the rich, creamy texture of blueberry yoghurt!
‘Agile’ delivery is not always smooth. If not managed well, it can be a nightmare, as those of us who have seen rogue agile processes run amok know. That’s where the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) comes in. It blends with DevOps to bring agile delivery to the enterprise.
A quick word about SAFe: Those familiar with SAFe would know that it divides the work of building a system into small time-boxed units. Each unit must typically be deliverable in around two weeks.
For instance, if you run a factory then receiving and issuing material is likely to be part of what you want to automate. You may want to provide users with features, such as the ability to create issue vouchers online, modify vouchers, cancel vouchers, or search for a particular item while creating a voucher. Some of these features may be small enough to be delivered in two weeks. Others may need to be split up further into sub-features, and so on. Let’s suppose the item search feature is tiny enough to be implemented in a couple of weeks and can therefore be considered a unit (or ‘iteration’ in SAFe parlance). The system would be the sum of several similar units, each capable of being implemented in a couple of weeks. Typically, one would assign the units to various teams, and schedule them based on their inter-dependencies and various staff, infrastructure, and other resource constraints. This composite set of small units is called a ‘program’ in SAFe. More about SAFe in a later article.
The DevOps culture: The SAFe methodology requires that each unit be made usable within the two week interval. That is, the unit must be developed and deployed to a production-like environment. The ‘agile team’ creating the unit must therefore have an ‘end-to-end’ perspective of the unit and not be constrained by artificial boundaries of development, testing, or operations. The members should have the skills, and be willing to work in each other’s domains, collaborate actively, communicate frequently, and provide feedback quickly and clearly.
This active collaboration between developers, testers, and operations is what DevOps is about. An organization that has a DevOps culture will therefore find it easier to implement SAFe.
Developing on cadence: A factor which makes project managers reluctant to use agile methodologies in large enterprise scale projects is the number of multiple units (and teams) operating in parallel. SAFe attempts to simplify the process of synchronization between teams by aligning the two-week windows so that they all start and end together. By ‘developing on cadence’, as this practice is termed in SAFe, the different agile teams can align common activities like planning, review and system demos. This makes it easier for the program to identify inter-team dependencies and assess how unit-level feedback and change requests can affect other units or teams. The cadence mitigates the complexity of synchronizing work across scores of teams.
SAFe DevOps tools: While work synchronization helps, there are certain activities that still need tools. With often several hundred code changes being checked in every day, enterprise scale projects need sophisticated configuration management and deployment tools capable of tracking and maintaining the multiple versions of code, intelligently scheduling and triggering builds and automated tests, communicating feedback about test status, configuring and creating environments, creating installers, and deploying the builds to the appropriate environments. Tools like Docker make the deployment process quicker and more flexible. IBM® Rational® solution for Collaborative Lifecycle Management (CLM) provides a suite of tools capable of working across the spectrum of tasks and managing the complex delivery process end-to-end.
Agility over the last mile: Because of the need to deliver usable code at short intervals, testers and operations personnel need to be as nimble as developers. While developers may have achieved success in using Agile methodologies and have efficiently been churning out byte sized chunks of code at short intervals for a while, it is only more recently that operations teams have begun to accept agility as an achievable goal. DevOps, assisted by various collaborative and automation tools like CLM and Docker, has played a significant role in changing mind sets and transforming capabilities over the last mile.
It is this end-to-end blend of the DevOps culture with SAFe, along with the various tools that are part of the DevOps ecosystem that will propel enterprise level software delivery towards the goal of smooth, continuous delivery.
About the Author / Vidhya V Kumar
Vidhya is an advisory software engineer at IBM. An evangelist and practitioner of agile methodologies, continuous delivery, and documentation, she has around ten years of experience in the IT industry. She is a subject matter expert in DevOps, Application Lifecycle Management, and Search methodologies.