The DevOps movement – bridging the gaps between software development and operations – is intended to enable IT teams to increase the cadence of release and deployment cycles, allowing products and updates to be released faster.
Successfully transitioning to DevOps requires not only organisational alignment, but also a cultural shift towards behaviour like information sharing, cooperation and trust.
While there is no magic bullet DevOps toolset that will achieve this shift, there are tools you can introduce to develop these behaviours and support the practices that are an integral part of modern technology environments.
The tools that will make the most sense for you will depend on the fluency of your IT team, their environment and the technology ecosystems (platforms, infrastructure, type of product) in which they are operating.
I want my teams to be more collaborative
With DevOps, building the code is no longer the singular responsibility of a developer. People need to be able to understand how their work fits into the bigger picture, in order to work more collaboratively as a IT team.
The solution: planning and project management tools
Traditional planning and project management tools are built around phase gated delivery models, where large pieces of work are broken into tasks and handed to specialist teams.
In DevOps culture, cross-functional teams will ideally be picking valuable options from a work backlog and delivering them into production with as few hand-offs as possible. Here the use of online collaboration tools requires less focus on visualising delivery plans, and more on maximising the flow of work through the development pipeline.
You’ll also need to ensure that your teams understand how their work connects to organisational objectives, helping to create context for individuals and transparency for leaders and other business stakeholders – in order to drive effective decentralised prioritisation. Visualising the work in progress and any dependencies also helps to coordinate work across multiple teams.
We need the activity of each team member working across the same product to be coordinated
Multiple team members working on the same codebase can be a recipe for disaster, particularly in a fast-paced DevOps culture. Yet you don’t want to slow the process down by adding in time for integration and testing. Instead, you want your teams to be confident that they are working from the same foundation.
The solution: continuous integration and source control tools
Continuous integration is an essential DevOps practice which allows your teams to regularly integrate code updates from different team members, through a shared repository – effectively merging the work of all the teams. These systems provide instant feedback if there are integration problems, from automated builds and tests.
Source control systems traditionally centralise the codebase and keep a record of all changes to the software. This means you are able to view the stored changes and retrieve previous versions of the source code should you need to.
Teams practicing DevOps want to put as much of the solution as possible under source control, as they will not only be crafting software, but working on the entire stack of configurable items from the operating system upwards.
Your source control tools need to enable you to support infrastructure as code, allowing your teams to roll back entire configurations.
The team needs to have a focus on continuous feedback
As much as you want to speed deployment, there is a risk in releasing things too quickly, only to discover there are errors and bugs that have to be fixed. Instead, your tech teams should be discovering problems early in order to minimise the risk that a change will break the production environment, affect customer experience, or even business performance.
The solution: testing tools
In order to discover potential flaws before they have had a chance to have an effect, continuous testing is key to DevOps in order to create an endless feedback loop.
The right DevOps tools will help you automate the comprehensive set of tests that we previously phased throughout the software development lifecycle, helping with the standardisation and frequency of testing of a range of factors including:
- Quality of the code – will it function as intended
- Usability and UI testing – examining it from a consumer’s perspective
- Performance – what will be its effect on other applications
- Internal systems and infrastructure compatibility – how well it will work in the environment you’re releasing it into
- Security – investigating any potential security risks that it may cause
Early detection of problems through continuous testing will benefit your team in two ways. It will reduce the time spent on investigating and fixing bugs later. It will also free up the time and headspace your team have to focus on value adding activity, rather than fixing and maintaining code.
I want to reduce the effort of deploying software updates
With the right planning and development processes in place your software can be ready to launch, but the process to get final approval for launch may still be a very manual process. Continuous deployment can be crucial to improving the reliability of releases while lessening the impact on your team.
The solution: release management tools
Release management tools allow software deployment to be made cheaper, faster and more reliable. DevOps tools like this also reduce the impact of software changes, not only to the IT team, but the wider business by minimising the process of approvals and sign-offs that create waiting time when deploying software.
With testing in place, to provide quality assurance and automation through electronic sign offs or security reviews, teams practising DevOps are now able to release as soon as updates are ready, and can promote small changes continuously.
By providing a real-time status of releases, release management tools help keep key stakeholders like marketing and customer service in the loop so that they are aware and prepared when something is going live. And in larger IT organisations, these tools offer features to coordinate multiple releases, further reducing the impact of change.
We need a continuous focus on performance
DevOps is a culture that believes that non-functional requirements are just as important as releasing new features. But if you want to focus their efforts they need to be aware of the expectations and how they are performing so that they are given an opportunity to practice the required behaviour.
The solution: operations and monitoring tools
DevOps is not just about faster releases, but about creating an environment that supports the creation of effective software that continually delivers value to the customer. To support your teams in having a focus on continuous delivery, you need operations management and configuration tools.
If you are implementing a continuous delivery pipeline, these tools track data against the KPIs you want to achieve, to provide your teams with visibility of their performance. This can include:
- Routine system checks and application performance
- Alerts on customer usage and software updates
- Optimisation opportunities
- Performance tracking
- Chaos engineering tools which deliberately break the system to prove your recoverability capabilities
Preparing to introduce new DevOps tools
Because so much of the performance of a DevOps initiative depends on the internal culture and behaviour, don’t understate the role of change. Ultimately a tool is only useful if the team finds value in it; if you don’t see the right behaviour or outcomes arising, it could be that your team needs more support, or a different tool.
To reduce the impact of change, start off with a small number of more generalist tools that will perform more than one of the functions discussed above. And as your team’s capabilities grow and their needs become more complex, you can slowly increase the number and specialisation of tools that you employ.