As Gene Kim, one of the leading thinkers in DevOps, once said, “DevOps is not about what you do, but what your outcomes are.” What he’s telling us is that DevOps is about enabling a rapid flow of work that transitions from development to testing to operations, but the bottom line is that it’s about achieving results. Unfortunately, this too often gets lost in modern-day DevOps practices.
In this article, I will discuss five common pitfalls that occur in DevOps if you don’t pay attention to the endgame and how your organization can avoid falling victim to them.
DevOps and Automation: Measuring the Wrong Outcomes
Some people believe that, at its core, DevOps is about trying to automate everything. But ask yourself this: Once you automate, are you really delivering a better outcome?
The answer is not always yes. While metrics such as deployment frequency or mean time to repair (MTTR) are interesting DevOps indicators, they are no more interesting to determining if your team is delivering actual value than measuring the number of lines of code submitted or counting the number of keystrokes by the development team. You measure outcomes by determining a baseline from where you start and compare that with where you end.
We need to understand that DevOps is about much more than automation; it’s about the entire pipeline and how your team moves from ideation to delivery to production. Even large companies with world-class DevOps teams don’t always clearly see the problem and can struggle managing the value stream and putting together multiple pipelines. An anonymous but real-life example of this is an organization I know that had been doing DevOps for 18 months, yet hadn’t delivered anything into production in that span. Are they really doing DevOps? DevOps is a process, but if it produces zero value, it’s not delivering on its promise.
The key is focusing on delivering value and measuring value delivery into production. However, before you can begin measuring value, you have to define what it means to each individual deliverable. Common metrics include the number of story points, actual revenue from product comparison and customer satisfaction. With your clearly defined metrics in place, you can measure value as it gets delivered to the customer.
DevOps and Fragile Environments
One Achilles’ heel in the DevOps process is the pre-production environments where code gets deployed and tested. Automating a delivery pipeline relies completely on code being built and deployed to various environments. Fragile environments mean that the developers and testers are wasting time dealing with problems originating from the environment and not the code itself.
While we wish all environments could be on-demand; the fact is, most are not. Another DevOps expert, Randy Bias, has an analogy about pets versus cattle in describing servers, and the same analogy can be used for environments. If environments are not standardized and repeatable, you have to be willing to move on from it like a farmer moves on from livestock; you can’t hold onto sentimental attachments like we have with our pets. What’s most important is that in no case can an environment be singular in nature.
One element of the solution is to create code and automate, but the key is building up environments that are complete. Every environment needs proper builds, proper data and proper tests validating the environment. Additionally, the automation must have the stability to perform successfully every time. If you have piece of automation that fails even just 5% of the time, that’s unacceptable.
The only way automation works in an environment is if you can trust the environment. When the environment is unstable, it’s like playing Russian roulette: No one knows exactly where the danger lies. It could be in the environment, the code, the data, the middleware … a number of places. When a problem arises, developers are often the last line of defense, but dealing with an issue such as this pulls them away from getting real work done.
On this point, I’d like to share a warning: Disconnected toolchains lead to disconnected teams. The planning, development and testing teams can lack cohesion, and the release and operations teams often struggle to be on the same page. Each of these groups have their own tools and management, but they need to be able to communicate with each other effectively to make things work smoothly. In an ideal world, planning initiatives would flow into features for the development and testing team, which would flow into release pipelines and operational changes. Every team still can speak its own language, but the tools need to be interconnected and unified across the teams.
The term “hybrid” has many different uses in the software development space. Hybrid methodology refers to combining waterfall, agile and DevOps practices. Hybrid environments means your environment is housed in multiple locations such as the cloud, on-premises, virtual or code. There’s also hybrid geography, hybrid architecture, hybrid style—the list goes on.
The key to transitioning to DevOps is properly managing the different types of hybrid. If you can’t manage hybrid delivery, you can’t manage your entire delivery and you can’t improve your delivery holistically. Organizations must learn to manage in a world of hybrid delivery and be able to handle cloud and on-prem, as well as teams all over the planet.
The Theory of Constraints is about pinpointing the bottlenecks in your process and fixing them. Any work that’s not focused on eliminating the constraint will not result in improvement and could be considered a waste of time.
It’s important to remember that if you haven’t fixed the bottleneck, you haven’t improved anything. At the same time, if you’re automating the non-constraints, you’re wasting efforts by trying to improve what doesn’t need improving.
As we’ve pointed out, DevOps does not equal automation. If an organization has messy processes and tries to automate them, they’ll be left with an automated mess. Therefore, organizations will see the best results from automating their constraints and just as important, not automating the non-constraints.