Four Must-Haves for DevOps Survivalists

What are the bare necessities for DevOps success?

In the 2000 film Cast Away, Tom Hanks plays a FedEx employee who crash lands on a desert island and must use remnants of his plane’s cargo to survive. This may not be the most profound film ever but it is thought-provoking. Thinking about the essential items you’d want to find in that cargo is an exercise that can be metaphorically applied to almost any situation.

Take DevOps, for example. What are the essential items that any DevOps professional must have in their kit bag to ensure survival?

Many Choices, a Few Essentials

If we believe the purists, DevOps is an organizational mindset, so it’s only necessary to stick up on cultural programs and workforce change initiatives. Vendors, on the other hand, will claim DevOps survivalists need the latest and greatest tools. Finally, the process fans will argue the case for a raft of best practices, including scrum, Kanban, scaled agile—to name just a few.

But in all the noise, what’s essential? What does an organization need to fuel a successful DevOps program and ensure it is sustainable? There are four no-brainers, analogous to the techniques you’d find in any half-decent survivalist handbook, which provide surefire ways to help a business survive and thrive using DevOps.

1. Outcome Management

So, you need development and operations to start collaborating to ensure business survival. The Internet has lots of guidance here but the real trick is to ensure alignment around a single goal, business problem, objective or customer experience metric—and then have everyone sing it around the campfire.

How many programs have languished because of lousy management direction and objective misinterpretation? It’s why successful DevOps programs use customer-centric metrics as both the program guiderails and the means to measure team contribution and success. At Netflix, for example, it’s how much a TV show helps sign up or retain customers.

2. Tribal Collaboration

Remember how contestants on Survivor (which debuted the same year as Cast Away and is still on air!) are divided into two competing “tribes”? Well, that’s a desert island metaphor that doesn’t entirely work for DevOps, where any successful program won’t start and end with the development and operations tribes but will permeate its way across the entire organization.

For example, security practitioners will use DevOps-style practices to help IT move from reactive code-patching to protecting the business as code is designed, built, developed and delivered. Similarly, enterprise architects will use it to help drive microservice architecture and continuous delivery, empowering development teams to rapidly deploy customer value.

3. Lean Thinking

Pioneers in automotive manufacturing championed the use of innovative-yet-simple methods to assess the quality of products earlier in the assembly process and prevent the build-up of unused inventory. Champions in our own software factories employ similar practices to identify and clinically eradicate high-cost software practices that don’t contribute to the bottom line.

Rather than just getting better at fixing bugs and defects, lean thinking promotes finding ways to eliminate the source of problems so they don’t happen in the first place—freeing up teams to spend more time creating new features. There are various automated techniques for eliminating waste and optimizing software development in this way.

4. Chaos Whisperers

Fixing problems while cranking out software is table stakes for any IT business. What’s not is thinking beyond the status quo to deliver software systems that get better and stronger—becoming anti-fragile. This means challenging traditional standardization and change management rules to deliver more frequent software updates and learn from failure.

It means transforming the operating model from a series of functionally-oriented shared services to a fully-integrated service model aligned to business needs and customer journeys. This demands that all leaders, engineers, processes and tools can thrive from disorder but not contribute to it.

A Few DevOps Luxuries

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Desert Island Discs, the popular UK radio program broadcast on the BBC. Every week a guest “castaway” is asked to select pieces of music together with a book and one luxury item they would like to have with them if they happened to be stranded on a desert island.

So, what luxury item and book should you take on your DevOps adventure? For the luxury, there are certain tools that benefit every DevOps team and business. One example is application performance management (APM), where monitoring insights deliver the fast feedback DevOps teams need to drive improvements—from applications to infrastructure.

And finally, when it comes to selecting a good read, perhaps steer clear of the well-trodden DevOps fodder or academic tracts. Seek out something that’ll make you laugh as you aim to survive everything and anything that the wonderful world of IT and software development throws at us.

Peter Waterhouse
By Peter Waterhouse | July 19, 2017

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