How a Mature DevOps Practice Can Strengthen Competitive Advantage

Software development and delivery has become an integral part of every aspect of a business and is no longer simply a support function. Nowadays, most of us, including those in business operations, know the anxieties of having to wait for specific environment release dates to deploy code for urgent fixes or updates to Dev, QA, UAT or production, which slows down productivity. Or worse, an environment has gone down with no backup environment. We all know systems have to be in place to ensure quality and security, but what makes some companies more successful than others when it comes to their DevOps operations?

Any organization that builds and delivers software applications and digital services can benefit fromDevOps. The main difference is the maturity of their DevOps culture and practices. Companies with mature DevOps practices and cultural philosophies are not only able to build and deliver applications faster than those with traditional DevOps practices, but also learn and innovate faster. Mature DevOps capabilities, tooling, and cultural philosophies enable faster innovation by automating and streamlining development, testing, deployment, and infrastructure management processes. The ability to outpace others from both a delivery and learning standpoint is a huge competitive advantage.

Most organizations understand this and as a result, have been investing heavily in maturing their DevOps capabilities and practices. However, most struggle to make meaningful progress to catch up to leading companies.

Why is That?

The most obvious reasons are resource constraints–budgetary, human and/or systems. Many companies have fixed budgets and must balance the tradeoffs between setting up an expensive infrastructure (equipped with yearly upgrades) with other business needs for short-term/long-term benefit gains.

We believe a company’s DevOps maturity is directly associated with and significantly impacted by how well and disciplined they are at making business prioritization and tradeoff decisions, picking what they will focus/work on and what they will not – ideally leaning out how much work they commit to completing.

It goes without saying that most companies that want to but don’t yet have mature DevOps practices have more work than they can handle, from setting up and documenting CI/CD processes to creating business continuity and disaster recovery plans to ensuring they have the right people for execution. These critical elements take time, effort, expertise, and budget to put together. While everyone wishes their teams could get it all done in a timely manner, the reality is that everyone has a finite amount of budget and capacity.

Quite often, progress on DevOps capabilities and automation gets sidelined in favor of ongoing customer delivery work. The trick is to establish a mechanism for balancing teams’ capacity allocation so that it includes a healthy mix of work focused on becoming more effective and efficient at delivery (eg, maturing DevOps capabilities, improving architecture and design, etc.) and work to fulfill customer needs. In this way, a percentage of a team’s capacity can always be devoted to advancing DevOps delivery capabilities while the rest can be used to address customer requests.

How Can This be Accomplished?

Start With Culture. Culture is a critical factor when it comes to having a mature DevOps practice. Team members must fulfill their individual roles but also operate as a cohesive unit. The mindset of each team member must be focused on the greater good of the whole – not individuals. Has the team established a way of working together that fosters accountability along with encompassing growth and innovation?

Focus on Process. Progress cannot be made without identifying a clear, sensible process. For example, having a well-documented and executed CI/CD process is paramount to DevOps maturity to address all developer pain points and ensure a smooth deployment process. The key is having a documented process that establishes the team’s way of working and addresses the following: Are the right team members engaged? Are there special circumstances that need to be accounted for during the development/configuration/deployment processes? Does everyone have the same understanding of the process at each stage?

Automation and Tools. Have your processes been automated in a way that allows the DevOps practices to happen in the same way each time, without manual intervention? Do you have and know how to use the fundamental tools that all successful DevOps practices need 🇧🇷eg, build and test code continuously, source control (eg, GitLab), environment configuration management, performance measurement (eg, load balancing))? Are deployment pain points properly identified and addressed to prevent coding/release bottlenecks?

Business Prioritization and Trade-off Decisions. We believe this is the most important aspect of becoming a mature DevOps practice because it allows for progress over time. Balancing the teams’ capacity to include advancing DevOps delivery capabilities is critical for establishing and sustaining a competitive advantage. Optimizing your DevOps capabilities allows you to free up and capitalize on the time, talent and performance of your team members for learning and innovation.

As Jack Welch once stated, “The only sustainable competitive advantage is to learn faster than your competition and to be able to act on what you have learned.” When a software organization becomes too rigid without an adaptive DevOps edge, it will be left in the dust.

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