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The business case for Devops

Business case for Devops is a tricky subject.

This requires we clearly define the investment and then prove that the return on it is going to be positive.

So, what exactly is a Devops investment and how can we go about calculating its return?

At the most basic level organizations want their Dev and Ops team to effectively collaborate to ensure that they reach a  state of continuous delivery. Continuous is off course contextual. Continuous can be monthly, weekly or even hourly for  some organizations. Moreover, not all systems need continuous releases - the so called systems of records need lesser cadence than their new age counterparts - the systems of engagement which evolve more rapidly.

Continuous delivery is also not just about frequency. The underlying premise is that the increased speed will be achieved at less cost (more efficient automated process) with predictable quality (functionally and structurally).

So, in a way, Devops is just a 'means' towards the larger 'end' of continuous delivery. I prefer to use the word  predictable delivery instead of continuous delivery - which means that business pulls value as and when it needs with  predictable consistency rather than being continuously fed. 

With this definition in place, let's now first see how we calculate the return on a Devops investment. This is  important as unless the benefits are clear, investments would be difficult to justify.


As per the last Standish Report in 2012 (the next one is due in 2014), only 39% of IT projects succeed - 43% are  challenged (late, over budget, and/or with less than the required features and functions) and 18% outright fail (cancelled
prior to completion or delivered and never used). While the same statistics for 'smaller' projects is much better (and  incidentally as per Standish small projects need not necessarily mean 'agile' projects - small waterfall projects are  almost equally successful - we'll revisit this in more detail in a later post), it is not very difficult for organizations
to take stock of their fairly large portfolio of badly performing projects and calculate the 'return' if something was  done to improve their probability of success.


What I am implying is that Devops practices will improve the success rates of IT projects.
Agile has done its bit but its influence starts waning as a project enters its system testing stage. One way of looking  at Devops is to see it as an extension of Agile - into the last mile stages of an IT project and beyond. 

Interestingly in their 2013 CHAOS Manifesto, the Standish Group credits agile process with only a 10% influence on the  success of a small IT project (which is a project with less than $1M of labour content). Executive management support  (20%), project management expertise (12%) besides 3 other factors have more influence than 'agile'. In my view, Devops,  when properly institutionalized, can enhance the relative influence of agile processes from its current 10%.

So to summarize, the return of a Devops initiative should be improved IT projects performance.

Now let's turn to the other side of the equation - the 'investments'. What do organization's need to do to 'Devops' enable their IT teams?

In my view the investments can be bucketed under 3 broad categories:

Structure & Process

An empowered group has to be set up to investigate what structural changes are required to incentivize Dev and Ops to  collaborate.

One simple step could be to extend the scope of a 'project' to also include deployment and post live ops support for  atleast 6 months. Selected members of the Ops team become part of project teams (not just lent resources but owned  resources) which lasts for a significant duration after the system has gone live. This ensures that the Dev team can no 
longer just toss over the code to the Ops guys to run - they are equally responsible to run it themselves.


In fact, many organizations are extending this ownership beyond the 'stabilization' phase. They are repositioning their  'project teams' into 'product teams' with almost cradle to grave ownership for the assigned products / systems. This has  its own pros and cons but that’s the subject of another post some other day.

The other alternative could be a more formal alignment of responsibility and KRAs of the Dev and Ops team - joint ownership  of system upgradation and stability, common KRAs, etc.

The group has to find out what works best in their organizational context - by collecting / analyzing data, talking to  people and exploring best practices outside their organization. Not a very huge investment in terms of cost - maybe 4  people working for 4 weeks max - total 4 person months.

Technology

While all the 4 functional areas - planning / monitoring, building / integration, testing / validation and release /  deployment - lend themselves to technology enablement, organizations need to assess what their relative technology  strengths are in each of these areas and then define their investment strategy. 

While quality needs to be built it, probably the last stage when it should be formally validated is during the build  process. Automated unit test scripts should be integrated into the build process especially when integration is  continuous. Structural code checkers like CAST and specialist CI tools like Jenkins / Hudson add more teeth to this  process - although the same can be accomplished through multiple other tools.

Continuous testing needs rapid provisioning of testing environment and rapid deployment of builds / packages into the  provisioned environment. The provisioned test environment should also closely resemble the production environment - this  requires service virtualization capabilities (GreenHat, Lisa, etc.,) as well as a robust change & configuration management of production environments. The whole concept of 'infrastructure as code' where an entire environment can be mapped to a  piece of code and managed as any other CI enables this very easily. Rule based workflow enabled automated deployment of 
code through release automation tools like uDeploy, Nolio, Automic etc., coupled with server / cloud provisioning tools  like Chef / Puppet can be useful if implemented in the right context.


Devops is also about end to end flow so it is necessary that all the siloed sources of truth - project management,  requirements management, code management, test / defect management, service management are integrated and mapped to each  other to create one source of truth which can be viewed from different perspectives. Integration of tools is a major and  important investment in a Devops initiative. The ability to trace relationships between different entities - code -> user  story -> feature -> business process -> commit -> build -> package -> defect - > environment - > incident - > CR is  crucial. ALM platforms which accommodate integration with multiple tools like TeamForge, Jazz, Omnibus, etc., are almost a necessity.

Drive Change

This is the most difficult part.

More so because IT organizations won't have the luxury of taking a 'shut down' to transition to this new state of  collaboration. The tires of the car have to be changed while it is running.
It is not only difficult to achieve it, but also to estimate the efforts behind it.

Gene Kim's 'The Phoenix Project' clearly shows how daunting and complex this change exercise can be. It requires very  strong leadership and a multiple of other factors in the right proportions - sense of urgency, availability of skills,  technology literacy, culture of process rigor and an eco system which celebrates teamwork. If this right mix does not 
exist, it has to be created.


While the structure re-alignment and a formal 'process design' phase to define the new way of working will be a good  start, unless there is an urge to adopt this new mantra from that critical mass of people, it won't last. Investments have to be made in terms of identifying a change leader, change champions at various levels, trainings / workshops / awareness 
sessions / pep talks / a holistic communication campaign / forums participation, etc., to drive home the point that the  entire IT function has to perform this delicate balancing act of maintaining stability in the face of disruptive  innovation. That it is no longer Ops which is responsible for stability and Dev has the eternal prerogative of breaking  that stability under the guise of innovation - rather it is a collective mandate to deliver both.


In my experience, most organizations in their current Devops journey are paying far more attention to the 'Technology'  investment bucket relative to the other two. My hope is that this post will remind them that no transformation can be just about technology - it is always about people and the structural framework within which they interact with each other.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Sujoy Sen

Sujoy is a TOGAF Certified Enterprise Architect, a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt and Manager of Organizational Excellence from American Society for Quality, a PMP, a CISA, an Agile Coach, a Devops Evangelist and lately, a Digital enthusiast. With over 20 years of professional experience now, he has led multiple consulting engagements with Fortune 500 customers across the globe. He has a Masters Degree in Quality Management and a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering. He is based out of New Jersey.

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