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The future of DevOps lies in people

Devops
(Image credit: Image Credit: Profit_Image / Shutterstock)

DevOps was designed to shorten development cycles, giving organizations renewed efficiency and, by its very definition, bridge the gap between software development and IT operations. Since its inception, it has empowered businesses to create software with greater team proximity. It’s hardly surprising the DevOps market size is now projected to reach $17 billion by 2026. The proliferation of digitization across industries has fueled this growth and transformed how enterprises and software producers develop their applications and digital services.

DevOps has indeed come a long way and has ultimately led companies to develop better products by increasing business agility and employee workflow. Yet despite its success, it still has some way to go in order to fulfil its true potential. The future of DevOps lies in people and the way companies approach digital workflows within their IT functions.

Fostering a cultural shift

To many, DevOps is still associated with being a technology solution. But truly effective DevOps is more about people, process and culture than it is about any single vendor’s toolchain. In fact, most programs often hinder their chances of success because paradoxically, they are too focused on the technology, rather than their own employees.

Employees are the ones adopting a DevOps approach and therefore need to embrace it as a cultural practice. Operations teams, developers and testers must collaborate during the development and delivery processes. Departments working cohesively is crucial to enterprise DevOps adoption. Cultural practices and norms that are characteristic of high-trust organizations, such as cross-functional collaboration, transparent information flow and shared responsibilities, are the same as those at the heart of DevOps. An organizational culture that nurtures effective software development programs and IT operations is one that encourages new ideas and enables teams to learn from failures. This is fundamentally why DevOps practices correlate so strongly with high organizational performance. The point is, it is only achievable when you show people the value of working differently through a more orchestrated approach.

Delivering a cultural shift within an organization must also come from the top down. If senior leaders get behind a collaborative culture, then the ethos will trickle down to all separate teams and individuals. It’s equally important to hire employees who embody such values and want to engage with and foster an environment of collaboration.

Embracing intelligent automation

When employees on both sides of DevOps start to understand what tasks they need to focus on, they can begin to consider which are the most and least important. This targeted approach will help employees prioritize their responsibilities in the process.

DevOps allows businesses to gain huge competitive advantage through automated functions that happen throughout the software development lifecycle, but automation only works successfully if people know that the advantage is there, otherwise they might carry out the process manually.

This is why DevOps is still a work in progress. When we start to understand where we are and what our place is in the workflow, we become more readily freed up to start solving real business problems and unleashing creativity. Well executed DevOps practices hinge around a core appreciation of this reality and require less people, because systems run more efficiently.

The importance of workflow management

In the past decade or so that DevOps has existed in its current form, there has been much industry discussion around its effectiveness. Over this time, we have learnt many of the core change management lessons being tabled back in the age of the mainframe. The difference now is that the web is ubiquitous and the cloud is democratically pervasive. This is generally a good thing, but brings with it new responsibilities.

This means that anybody and everybody can deploy to the cloud, which makes things more complicated at the surface level. In the distributed computing world of cloud, well-orchestrated DevOps with intelligent workflow management has to be in place, or companies risk flying blind.

It’s a bit like the over-engineering that old-school drivers complain about when they look at modern car engines. You used to be able to get your hands dirty and tinker with the mechanics, but you can’t do that anymore. If we’re going to drive software forward now on a more sophisticated internal combustion engine, then we need to have protocols and processing in place to be able to deal with that level of higher engineering. In other words, the cloud raises the importance of intelligent workflow management.

The final hurdle for DevOps

In 2021, if there is one area for improvement, DevOps requires better tooling for insight into the whole development and operations process. If organizations are serious about focusing on people, rather than the actual technology, we must address the systems of work that bring employees together across the DevOps cycle. The focus should be firmly placed on building cross-functional and multidisciplinary teams that can learn and grow together. The implementation of cross-team communication is now more important than ever as we continue to work remotely during the pandemic in widely dispersed teams.

This is the last mile that DevOps has yet to travel. This is the route to being able to gather code artefacts and comply with all the required levels of governance and auditing. Bringing employees together in this way will mean companies can contain, corral and coalesce all the creativity that great software development teams have the potential to deliver.

DevOps has come a long way in terms of closing the gap between software development and IT operations. But the final piece of the jigsaw for DevOps is people. Before considering what the software does or how powerful it is, it’s important to ask where the people fit in. Fostering a company culture that breeds collaboration and delivers cross-functional communication is a crucial part of this last step. Once cross-functional teams have been established, then companies can strike the perfect balance needed to deliver an effective DevOps program which is fit for purpose.

Chris Pope, VP of Innovation, ServiceNow