Is Agile a Prerequisite for Beginning DevOps Initiatives?

As part of our ongoing technical series, “Scaling Modern Software Delivery,” we’re taking a look at the benefits of DevOps for organizations at various stages of agility. Skytap regional consulting manager Raksha Balasubramanyam shares some great advice for how to achieve early-stage DevOps benefits, and the executive buy-in needed to scale success.

Noel: Is “being agile” a prerequisite for beginning a DevOps initiative?

Skytap Regional Consulting Manager Raksha Balasubramanyam
Raksha Balasubramanyam, Skytap Regional Consulting Manager

Raksha: It is not a prerequisite, but it can be a key DevOps enabler. A successful DevOps implementation requires an organization-wide focus on delivering innovative features that provide constant support for the business. Consequently, less time is spent on re-work, production issues, firefighting, and other wasteful activities.

Whether an organization adopts agile development or lean methodologies to help move toward this end-state is entirely up to what is conducive to their style. DevOps goes beyond agile or lean methods of delivery to encompass an organization’s culture, collaboration, and employee engagement

Noel: If you’re still in the process of “going agile” but are far from it – will executive level buy-in for DevOps initiatives be difficult to get to begin another project/transition?

Raksha: As with everything new and unproven within an organization, DevOps initiatives can be difficult to get full executive buy-in at the enterprise-level in the early days. However, implementing DevOps is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

A team can start small, focusing on gaining efficiencies and showing value within a single product or area. As you implement agile practices, also working towards improved automation, increased collaboration between stakeholders, eliminating waste, and establishing metrics and dashboards for visibility across the organization can help you prove gains from DevOps. Such visibility, in turn, helps with championing the cause and opening doors to other areas. Start small, aim big, and focus on continuous improvement.

Noel: We heard at the DevOps Enterprise Summit that many organizations were “very agile,” but found themselves still struggling with constraints and bottlenecks that agility was not removing. What are some of those constraints that agility alone isn’t designed to remove?

Raksha: We should recognize the difference between adopting agile methodologies for development/test and gaining overall agility. Agile development and test methodologies help teams get a better product developed and tested according to business requirements, with necessary demos and sign-offs from all involved stakeholders. They also allow for product changes to be implemented faster to meet customer demands.

However, to truly benefit the business, there is still a need to be able to consistently and predictably take a high-quality product to production in a timely manner. This is where agility comes into play.

Today, there are tools and accelerators that were not available a few years ago that can help organizations consistently deliver quality releases to production. Support for continuous integration, on-demand and self-service dev-test environments, test automation, and deployment tools all help in removing bottlenecks in tooling and transformation. Besides using the right tools, leadership prioritization of such initiatives along with the allocation of the necessary budget is a necessity.

Once such prioritization is made, it is imperative to create and maintain capacity (slack) in the system. Adding more to an already full plate will only result in a lack of throughput, under performance, and low morale and retention—something that being agile in development and testing alone will not solve.

Noel: We know that any culture change is difficult to implement; for those who’ve struggled to see agile as feasible in their organization, what are the benefits/ROI/rewards that a DevOps transition brings that can make it worth fighting for?

Raksha: I like to think about this on the lines of the “20-mile march,” a key concept from Jim Collins and his book, Great by Choice. It includes an analysis of the success of several companies and what differentiates them from others that were less successful. The 20-mile march refers to Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott’s journey to the south pole and their preparation, leadership, and discipline.

Where Amundsen was consistent with his pre-planned regimen of approximately 20 miles of progress a day, no matter the circumstance and conditions, Scott was making decisions driven by weather changes and pushing (or holding back) his team’s progress depending on the same. Amundsen and team made it to the south pole right on pace, having averaged approximately 15.5 miles a day, while Scott’s team unfortunately perished.

Amundsen’s team’s consistency, progress, and discipline is akin to what we seek for software delivery in today’s technologically advanced, customer-driven world. The ability to work as a single organization, deliver value to the business constantly in a predictable manner and be adaptable to changing environments are becoming table stakes for progress and survival. And at the core of these goals, lies the culture and leadership of an organization. Implementing DevOps practices within a team, department, and organization can help the journey to their south pole become a successful one.

To learn more about the ways innovative organizations are modernizing their development, testing, and IT operations workflows, check out our technical series!



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