Definitions Matter: Step Two in a DevOps Transformation
The first post in this series on DevOps Discovery discussed the importance of asking fundamental questions of stakeholders to facilitate alignment on priorities and establish a mission statement when beginning a DevOps transformation. Part 2, below, reviews definitions of common DevOps-related terms and provides examples of how failure to agree on such terms can hinder your transformation.
The industry is full of terms such as continuous integration, agile, continuous delivery, DevOps, etc. The practices described by these terms often are defined differently by various industry “experts,” resulting in stakeholders in the software delivery process having different understandings of what constitutes these practices. Some will state they are already following the practices; others will state they do not. Some will believe the objectives unachievable, while others will be bullish on the prospects; differing interpretations blocking agreement on the organization’s current and target states. If stakeholders cannot agree on the current state (or the start point) and the target state (or the destination), it is impossible to “map a route” for the journey to DevOps.
For example, let’s look at how some define continuous delivery:
Continuous Delivery – Definition 1:
A software engineering approach in which teams produce software in short cycles, ensuring that the software can be reliably released at any time. It aims at building, testing and releasing software faster and more frequently.
The approach helps reduce the cost, time and risk of delivering changes by allowing for more incremental updates to applications in production. A straightforward and repeatable deployment process is important for continuous delivery.
Continuous Delivery – Definition 2:
Continuous Delivery is a software development discipline where you build software in such a way that the software can be released to production at any time.
You may read the above and initially think there is no difference in the definitions but, note that the first definition addresses deployment of software with the statement: “A straightforward and repeatable deployment process is important for continuous delivery,” whereas the second definition addresses deployment of software with the statement: “Build software in such a way that the software can be released to production at any time.”
This distinction may seem trivial, but it is the often the source of confusion between the practices of continuous delivery and the practice that is commonly called continuous deployment. In contrast to continuous delivery, which states that every software build “could be released,” continuous deployment is loosely defined as “the practice of releasing every good build to users.”
When establishing your target state for the DevOps transformation a seemly slight confusion such as this can result in pushback from stakeholders concerned that continuous deployment is unachievable or too disruptive. These sentiments include:
- Business: “We cannot gather, spec and track our requirements at that rate.”
- Operations: “There is no way we can support daily delivery into production, ensure security, uptimes and perform our day-to-day work. It takes us an entire weekend and multiple attempts to deploy today.”
- Customers: “Our compliance team needs three months to review and approve every new version of our accounting system.”
The confusion and potential pushback exemplify the need for establishing baseline definitions and alignment at the start of a DevOps transformation, and doing so in the specific context of your organization. The importance of points such as how far it deploys varies with the organization—some organizations can support continuous deployment to production multiple times a week or even multiple times a day, such as Netflix does. Other organizations, such as providers of critical financial systems, may never pursue this cadence of deployment. Be sure to apply these industry practices pragmatically as fit for your organization, not dogmatically based on generic industry definitions.
Let’s look at a couple of definitions of DevOps:
DevOps – Definition 1:
“DevOps (development and operations) is an enterprise software development phrase used to mean a type of agile relationship between Development and IT Operations. The goal of DevOps is to change and improve the relationship by advocating better communication and collaboration between the two business units.”
DevOps Definition 2:
“DevOps (a clipped compound of “development” and “operations”) is a culture, movement or practice that emphasizes the collaboration and communication of both software developers and other information-technology (IT) professionals while automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes. It aims at establishing a culture and environment where building, testing, and releasing software, can happen rapidly, frequently, and more reliably.”
Like the example with continuous delivery, these two definitions also are very close. Yet on detailed observation, it is clear the first definition describes DevOps as being focused on relationships (i.e., culture and collaboration). The second definition extends this to include the “automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes,” giving consideration to tools and technical practices such as continuous delivery.
Does this matter? Yes. Often if the executive sponsors and key stakeholders do not account for the need to establish tools and technical practices and only focus on relationships, there is a high chance for unrealistic expectations for timeline, budgets and results. Conversely, if the need for changes in culture and process are not considered and the DevOps transformation focuses only on tools and technical practices, the efforts are also unlikely to yield the expected results. A DevOps transformation must account for the trinity of “People, Process and Tools.”
When considering DevOps, it objectives and the objective of its component practices it is useful to establish a clear idea of the relationships between theses practices. It is often useful to visualize them as below:
DevOps is the “What,” the target state as defined by a set of guiding principles. Agile development, continuous integration and continuous delivery are the “How,” a collection of process, practices and tools that together build the foundation for a sustainable DevOps implementation.
In the next section, we will review some of the initial discovery questions asked when beginning on a DevOps transformation, provide real-world examples of answers from various stakeholders in real organizations, and analyze those answer to better understand the journey to DevOps.