DevOps: Breaking the Development-Operations barrier

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What is DevOps?

DevOps is a set of practices that works to automate and integrate the processes between software development and IT teams, so they can build, test, and release software faster and more reliably. The term DevOps was formed by combining the words “development” and “operations” and signifies a cultural shift that bridges the gap between development and operation teams, which historically functioned in siloes. 

Atlassian DevOps infinity wheel

At its essence, DevOps is a culture, a movement, a philosophy.

It's a firm handshake between development and operations that emphasizes a shift in mindset, better collaboration, and tighter integration. It unites agile, git, continuous delivery, automation, and much more, to help development and operations teams be more efficient, innovate faster, and deliver higher value to businesses and customers.

Devops isn't any single person's job. It's everyone's job.

Christophe Capel
Principal Product Manager, Jira Service Desk logo

Who's doing DevOps?

Chef is the company behind the Chef Automate platform for DevOps workflows. Tens of thousands of developers use Chef to test, automate, and manage infrastructure. At the forefront of the DevOps evolution, the Seattle-based company has released products like Chef, InSpec, Habitat, and Chef Automate to advance new ways of developing and shipping software and applications. To experiment with and refine its own internal DevOps practices, Chef relies on the Atlassian platform.

History of DevOps

The DevOps movement started to coalesce some time between 2007 and 2008, when IT operations and software development communities got vocal about what they felt was a fatal level of dysfunction in the industry.

They railed against the traditional software development model, which called for those who write code to be organizationally and functionally apart from those who deploy and support that code.

Developers and IT/Ops professionals had separate (and often competing) objectives, separate department leadership, separate key performance indicators by which they were judged, and often worked on separate floors or even separate buildings. The result was siloed teams concerned only with their own fiefdoms, long hours, botched releases, and unhappy customers. Surely there’s a better way, they said. So the two communities got together and started talking – with people like Patrick Dubois, Gene Kim, and John Willis driving the conversation.

What began in online forums and local meet-ups is now a major theme in the software zeitgeist, which is probably what brought you here! You and your team are feeling the pain caused by siloed teams and broken lines of communication within your company.

You’re using agile methodologies for planning and development, but still struggling to get that code out the door without a bunch of drama. You’ve probably heard a few things about DevOps and the seemingly magical effect it can have on teams: Nearly all (99%) of DevOps teams are confident about the success of their code that goes into production, in a survey of 500 DevOps practitioners conducted by Atlassian¹. 

However, DevOps isn’t magic, and transformations don’t happen overnight. The good news is that you don’t have to wait for upper management to roll out a large-scale initiative. By understanding the value of DevOps and making small, incremental changes, your team can embark on the DevOps journey right away. Let’s look at each of these benefits in detail.

Compared to C-suite executives, DevOps practitioners “on the ground” are more likely to agree it is difficult to measure the impact of DevOps progress and success: 62% agree compared to 46% of C-suite executives.

Atlassian survey of DevOps practitioners


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Collaboration and trust

We conducted a survey that found the number one factor of a DevOps team performing well is collaboration. Building a culture of shared responsibility, transparency, and faster feedback is the foundation of every high performing DevOps team. Collaboration and problem solving are ranked as the most important elements of a successful DevOps culture, according to our survey. 

Teams that work in silos often don't adhere to the “systems thinking” DevOps espouses. “Systems thinking” is being aware of how your actions not only affect your team, but all the other teams involved in the release process. Lack of visibility and shared goals means lack of dependency planning, misaligned priorities, finger pointing, and “not our problem” mentality, resulting in slower velocity and substandard quality. DevOps is that change in mindset of looking at the development process holistically and breaking down the barrier between development and operations.

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Release faster and work smarter

Speed is everything. Teams that practice DevOps release deliverables more frequently, with higher quality and stability.  

A lack of automated test and review cycles slow the release to production, while poor incident response time kills velocity and team confidence. Disparate tools and processes increase operating costs, lead to context switching, and can slow down momentum. Yet with tools that drive automation and new processes, teams can increase productivity and release more frequently with fewer hiccups.

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Accelerate time to resolution

The team with the fastest feedback loop is the team that thrives. Full transparency and seamless communication enable DevOps teams to minimize downtime and resolve issues faster.

If critical issues aren't resolved quickly, customer satisfaction tanks. Key issues slip through the cracks in the absence of open communication, resulting in increased tension and frustration among teams. Open communication helps development and operations teams swarm on issues, fix incidents, and unblock the release pipeline faster.

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Better manage unplanned work

Unplanned work is a reality that every team faces–a reality that most often impacts team productivity. With established processes and clear prioritization, development and operations teams can better manage unplanned work while continuing to focus on planned work.

Transitioning and prioritizing unplanned work across different teams and systems is inefficient and distracts from work at hand. However, through raised visibility and proactive retrospection, teams can better anticipate and share unplanned work.

The CALMS Framework for DevOps

CALMS is a framework that assesses a company's ability to adopt DevOps processes, as well as a way of measuring success during a DevOps transformation. The acronym was coined by Jez Humble, co-author of “The DevOps Handbook,” and stands for:

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DevOps isn’t simply a process, or a different approach to development -- it’s a culture change. And, a major part of a DevOps culture is collaboration. 

All the tooling and automation in the world are useless unless development and IT/Ops professionals work together. Because DevOps doesn’t solve tooling problems. It solves human problems. 

Think of DevOps as an evolution of agile teams -  the difference is now operations is by default included. Forming project or product-oriented teams to replace function-based teams is a step in the right direction. Include development, QA, product management, design, operations, project management, and any other skill set the project requires. Rather than having one team do everything or hiring “DevOps professionals”, it’s more important to have project-based teams that can seamlessly work together.  

Few things foster collaboration like sharing a common goal and having a plan to reach it together. At some companies, switching suddenly to project-based teams is too much, too soon. So take smaller steps. Development teams can – and should – invite appropriate members of the operations team to join sprint planning sessions, daily stand-ups, and sprint demos. Operations teams can invite key developers to their meetings. It’s an agile and organic way to get on the pulse of each other’s projects, ideas, and struggles. 

Challenges and even emergencies are effective tests of DevOps culture. Do developers, operations, and customer support swarm on a problem and resolve it as a team? Does the incident post-mortem focus on fixing processes instead of pointing fingers? If the answer is “yes,” that’s a good indication that your team is working within a DevOps structure.

Note that the most successful companies are on board with DevOps culture across every department, and at all levels of the org chart. They have open channels of communication, and talk regularly. They assume that keeping customers happy is just as much product management’s responsibility as it is the development team’s responsibility. They understand that DevOps isn’t one team’s job. It’s everyone’s job.

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Automation helps eliminate repetitive manual work, yields repeatable processes, and creates reliable systems.

Build, test, deploy, and provisioning automation are typical starting points for teams who don’t have them in place already. And hey: what better reason for developers, testers, and operators to work together than building systems to benefit everyone?

Teams new to automation usually start with continuous delivery: the practice of running each code change through a gauntlet of automated tests -- often facilitated by cloud-based infrastructure -- then packaging up builds and promoting them to production using automated deployments. 

Why? Computers execute tests more rigorously and faithfully than humans. These tests catch bugs and security flaws sooner. And automated deployments alert IT/Ops to server “drift” between environments, which reduces or eliminates surprises when it’s time to release.

Another major contribution of DevOps is “configuration as code.” Developers strive to create modular, composable applications because they are more reliable and maintainable. That same thinking can be extended to the infrastructure that hosts them, whether it lives in the cloud or on the company's own network.

“Configuration as code” and “continuous delivery” aren’t the only types of automation seen in the DevOps world, but they’re worth special mention because they help break down the wall between development and operations. And when DevOps uses automated deploys to send thoroughly tested code to identically provisioned environments, “works on my machine!” becomes irrelevant.

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When we hear “lean” in the context of software, we usually think about eliminating low-value activities and moving quickly – being scrappy and agile. Even more relevant for DevOps are the concepts of continuous improvement and embracing failure - which lay the foundation of an experimental mindset.

A DevOps mindset sees opportunities for continuous improvement everywhere. Some are obvious, like holding regular retrospectives so your team’s processes can improve. Others are subtle, like A/B testing different on-boarding approaches for new users of your product.

We have agile development to thank for making continuous improvement a mainstream idea. Early adopters of the agile methodology proved that a simple product in the hands of customers today is more valuable than a perfect product in the hands of customers six months from now. If the product is improved continuously, customers will stick around.

And guess what: failure is inevitable. So you might as well set up your team to absorb it, recover, and learn from it (some call this “being anti-fragile”). At Atlassian, we believe that if you’re not failing once in a while, you’re not trying hard enough.

In the context of DevOps, failure is not a punishable offense. Teams assume that things are bound to go pear-shaped at some point, so they build for fast detection and rapid recovery. Postmortems focus on where processes fell down and how to strengthen them – not on which team member messed up the code. Why? Because continuous improvement and failure go hand in hand.

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It’s hard to prove your continuous improvement efforts actually improve anything without data. Fortunately, there are loads of tools and technologies for measuring performance, like how much time users spend with your product, whether that blog post generated any sales, or how often critical alerts pop up in your logs.

Although you can measure just about anything, that doesn’t mean you have to (or should) measure everything. Take a page from agile development and start with the basics:

  • How long did it take to go from development to deployment? 
  • How often do recurring bugs or failures happen?
  • How long does it take to recover after a system failure?
  • How many people are using your product right now?
  • How many users did you gain / lose this week?

With a solid foundation in place, it’s easier to capture sophisticated metrics around feature usage, customer journeys, and service level agreements (SLAs). The information you get comes in handy when it’s time for road mapping and spec’ing out your next big move.

All this juicy data will help your team make decisions, but it’s even more powerful when shared with other teams – especially teams in other departments. For example, your marketing team wants shiny new features they can sell. But meanwhile, you’re seeing high customer churn because the product is awash in technical debt. Providing user data that supports your roadmap – even if it’s light on features and heavy on fixes – makes it easier to build consensus and get buy-in from stakeholders.

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The long-standing friction between development and operations teams is largely due to a lack of common ground. We believe that sharing responsibility and success goes a long way toward bridging that divide. Developers can win instant goodwill by helping to carry one of operations’ biggest burdens: the pager. DevOps is big on the idea that the same people who build an application should be involved in shipping and running it.

This doesn’t mean that you hire developers and simply expect them to be excellent operators as well. It means that developers and operators pair with each other in each phase of the application’s lifecycle.

Teams that embrace DevOps often have a rotating role whereby developers address issues caught by end users while, at the same, troubleshooting production problems. This person responds to urgent customer-reported issues, creating patches when necessary, and works through the backlog of customer-reported defects. The “developer on support” learns a lot about how the application is used in the wild. And by being highly available to the operations team, the development teams build trust and mutual respect.

As much as we wished that there was a magic wand to transform all teams into high-performing DevOps teams, DevOps transformations require a blend of practices, cultural philosophies, and tools. But like you’ve read, the benefits to breaking down the Development and Operations siloes are well worth it -- increased trust, faster software releases, more reliable deployments, and a better feedback loop between teams and customers.

Implementing DevOps is no small task. Yet given the right framework, effort, and tools, an organization can undergo a DevOps transformation that yields significant benefits. 

Contact for more details about the survey, conducted in partnership with Cite Research.

Ready to start your DevOps journey?