In the ever-evolving landscape of software development and IT operations, staying ahead of the curve is essential for success. Within this dynamic environment, the DevOps methodology has emerged as a guiding light, fostering collaboration, automation, and seamless integration between development and operations teams. At the heart of this transformative approach lies a principle that fuels its very essence: continuous improvement. Just as a beating heart sustains life, the commitment to enhancing processes, streamlining workflows, and embracing innovation sustains the lifeblood of DevOps.
In this fast-paced digital era, where customer expectations are higher than ever before and technological advancements occur at a breathtaking pace, the need for organizations to adapt, evolve, and optimize is undeniable. This is where DevOps, with its fusion of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools, steps into the spotlight. Imagine an ecosystem where development and operations teams work in harmony, not as distinct entities but as a unified force, driven by the pursuit of excellence. This dynamic collaboration isn't a mere aspiration; it's a reality that DevOps empowers through its unwavering focus on continuous improvement.
In this blog post, we embark on a journey through the core of the DevOps philosophy, delving into the significance of continuous improvement as its beating heart. We'll explore a myriad of innovative ideas, strategies, and best practices that organizations can embrace to refine their DevOps practices. From automating repetitive tasks to fostering a culture of open communication and learning, we'll uncover how the principle of continuous improvement serves as the catalyst for growth and excellence within DevOps.
Whether you're a seasoned DevOps practitioner or are just beginning to navigate the realms of this transformative methodology, this exploration of improvement ideas will provide you with valuable insights to amplify your processes, enhance collaboration, and ultimately deliver higher-quality software solutions. Just as a painter perfects each stroke to create a masterpiece, and a musician refines each note to compose a symphony, DevOps practitioners fine-tune their processes, iterate on their methodologies, and embrace emerging technologies to craft a harmonious and efficient software delivery pipeline.
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DevOps Improvement Idea 1: Set Product, Organization, and Team Goals
Set goals as a team to ensure everyone is on the same page. What we should really be striving for with DevOps is the ability for people to work and deliver independently. By giving everyone the guard rails to work inside of through goals, you can more quickly achieve that outcome than you could through micromanagement.
Goals do not need to be onerous and extremely long term, but they do need to be clear and achievable. A trap that I see people fall into frequently is simply trying to over engineer their goals to be some monumentally profound and eloquent piece of art. Be simple, concise, and as straight forward as possible in your goals and communications bout how goals may change over time.
Goals should also be more flexible than they are rigid. Let's face it, the market changes, businesses change, and people change. Using goals as a communication tool rather than a carrot and stick will allow you the flexibility you need as a business to meet your customers where they are.
Additionally, goals and their change over time are a great way to keep a pulse on team change fatigue. Without goals, I would bet that your teams are suffering from change fatigue already and you do not have a solid foundation to have a conversation with them about it. With goals in place, it is easy for a team to express their concerns and to have their concerns addressed more quickly because everyone is working form the same playbook.
DevOps Improvement Idea 2: Documentation into your repositories
Documentation should be an expectation for delivery. As part of your code review processes, a qualification for acceptance should be updates to the documentation. By keeping docs it in the repository you can get a lot closer to achieving this reality.
But how do non-technical team members contribute to documentation if it is not in the repository? In my experience there are 2 schools of thought on this.
First, get some training for non-technical resources and have them contribute directly. This comes with some caveats around repository security that you need to think through if you do this. What if someone errantly disables all of your tests and starts to push garbage to production? What if someone deletes all of the things?
Second, pair repos based documentation with wiki based documentation. This adds some complexity to build and release processes especially when the wiki has a documentation lifecycle behind it (drafts, published, versions, etc.). This does take care of some of the concerns from the first school of thought, but obviously has its own unique constraints.
Either way, I would recommend getting your documentation into your product lifecycle as quickly as possible to ensure that everyone is ensuring that future parties have the materials they need to be successful.
DevOps Improvement Idea 3: Short, small, and compact iterations
Long running branches, changes, or features are fraught with issues. As time increases, complexity and risk increase as well.
In any DevOps flow, planning should be just as important as delivery. Take a step back and look at the body of work more in a light of validating your assertions than delivering a feature.
If you make some small changes to test if a strategy is going to work or not, you are more likely to release those changes more quickly and get feedback on those changes more quickly.
If you keep your changes locked up in a repository for a long period of time without validating assertions, that code can have detrimental impact when it is finally released along with the several hundred other changes that have been made around that code.
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This is personally one of my favorites. Fast, iterative, and smaller changes in software will get you to your destination much more quickly than big bangs.
The key here is to spend more time planning and working on what you know you can accomplish versus constantly trying to reach some sort of aspirational goal full of unknowns.
DevOps Improvement Idea 4: Automate Testing
When I hear "Automate Testing" my mind immediately goes to unit and functional testing. While those kinds of testing are table stakes in any technology delivery in today's market, make sure you are not missing out on other kinds of testing. How about infrastructure testing, security testing, testing your monitoring systems, disaster recovery / failover testing, pipeline testing, and the list goes on. The more testing you can automate, the more you can trust that code changes are not having unintended impacts on systems you did not expect to be impacted.
DevOps Improvement Idea 5: Automate Deployments
Let's face it, humans are not perfect... but deployments should be. Nobody will ever come to you and complain that your system is working too well, but they will complain when the slightest bump happens with technology.
Avoid this hassle by completely automating your deployments. The goal here should really be that 100% of changes happen without human interventions in the system. While this can seem like a daunting task, look at the ideas around Automate Testing and Short, Small, and Compact Iterations for inspiration about how to reduce the complexity of this kind of system.
DevOps Improvement Idea 6: Autoremediation
Autoremediation in DevOps involves automating the detection and resolution of issues in software systems. It's a good idea because it speeds up problem solving, ensures consistency, scales well, reduces costs, and allows teams to focus on important tasks. However, careful implementation is needed to handle critical situations and ensure accurate automation.
Autoremediation can hav some drawbacks as well such as the dreaded infinite remediation loop. Say you have a system which is in a state where it isn't recovering gracefully and you are left fighting against your remediation strategy to regain access to a system (i.e. 2021 Facebook Global Outage). Make sure your remediations are targeted and have a kill switch if things go awry.
DevOps Improvement Idea 7: Automate Security Validations
Automating security validations in DevOps is a highly beneficial practice that brings numerous advantages to the software development and deployment process. Some of the benefits of this are Early Detection of Vulnerabilities, Faster Remediation, Reduced Human Error, Documentation and Audit Trails.
Every system on earth is really just one bad commit away from exposing a lot of sensitive data. Giving your business and customers piece of mind that every commit has been put through its paces ensures, or at least greatly lowers the chances, that your product will end up on front page news.
DevOps Improvement Idea 8: Feature Flags to manage rollouts
Feature flags, or feature gates, are a great way to allow teams to continually push their code updates into a running system without worrying about the negative impact of that code in production. The idea here is to ensure that your code is wrapped with true/false statements which help determine the overall hot path that code takes to fulfill its intended design. From there, when a feature is ready to be launched, instead of pushing new deployments you are able to just flip a feature on and your customers can start to consume it. If there is an issue, just turn the feature back off to restore your system.
This is great if you are interested in doing a/b testing as well. You can setup your feature flags to only be available to a percentage of your users and get their feedback or measure engagement. Once you have ironed out all of the kinds, then flip the flag on for everyone and move onto the next feature.
DevOps Improvement Idea 9: Gather Metrics
Gathering metrics in DevOps is crucial because it enables informed decisions, drives continuous improvement, detects issues early, optimizes resources, validates changes, enhances user experience, and fosters accountability. Metrics provide a data-driven approach to monitor, analyze, and optimize processes, leading to more efficient and reliable software delivery.
Without metrics, everyone is just guessing. One of the things that I tell people is, "I am just as good at taking blind guesses as the next guy". With metrics you can measure change over time in a meaningful way.
Metrics are not just limited to software either, you can measure just about anything in your delivery pipelines. Looking for optimizations can also have diminishing returns over time so don't try to min/max every single facet of delivery or you will burn your teams out.
DevOps Improvement Idea 10: Uniform Planning
I look at uniform planning through the lense of brining all interested parties of a product or project together into a single well orchestrated planning session or sessions. There is a great deal of information that is disseminated through planning sessions and that information will spark curiosity throughout the rest of the team. This can lead to a myriad of different outcomes but my favorite is crowd sourcing simpler solutions to seemingly complex problems.
One of the dangers of this tactic is getting wound too tightly around the axel and not making progress. This kind of uniform planning needs a referee that is able to help keep a team focused and on task and proper facilitate follow ups so a few dominant topics do not overtake an entire planning session.
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Remember, planning is a tool not a sacred text. The plan you start with is never the plan you end with.
I like to use Agile or Waterfall plans as a communication tool first and foremost to help communicate change as it happens rather than a blunt object to push my teams harder and faster. When you plan in unison across all of your teams, then the communication side of your projects becomes easier because everyone is starting from the same baseline assumptions.
DevOps Improvement Idea 11: Talk with the industry
A singularly myopic focus will never yield the results you are looking for. When hiring people, one of the first things I tell them on their first day, aside from where the keg is, their perspective in the first 90 days is the most valuable perspective that the business has.
It is easy to get hyper focused on your own problems, your own customers, your own products / solutions and it is easy to loose sight of the fact that your peers in the industry are dealing with exactly the same problems or challenges. Getting out to meetups, conferences, going to reddit, or whatever you can to get outside perspective with out exposing your secret sause can only have positive impact on your future.
DevOps Improvement Idea 12: Get Training
All software has some kind of intent behind it. How you are attempting to utilize that software may or may not match the intent.
My learning style lends itself well to persistent trial and error. I need to touch and use a thing rather than reading a full body of documentation before I understand it. After I get a good understanding of a new piece of tech, and if I feel it is a good fit for any of the projects I am working on, I make sure I get into some vendor supplied training courses.
By doing this I fully understand what the intent of the software or tool is before I go all in on utilizing that software. By understanding the intent I can make sure that my usage is in line with the future direction of the software, and I can make sure that I also have a communication channel to talk directly with the owner of the product to understand finer details of operations when I inevitably run into issues.
DevOps Improvement Idea 13: Process over aspiration (initially)
Early on in your DevOps journey, I believe that you should hold process above all other aspirations in the early phases. This is not true over the long run, but can be helpful early on.
By focusing on process over aspirations, you are able to test out what works and what doesn't for your team much more quickly. Focus on how you smooth out the flow of your delivery. Focus on "Developer Ergonomics" more than delivery timelines since employee cost far out weights any technology cost you may currently have.
Focusing on process over aspirations early on also offers opportunities for everyone involved to become more intimately involved in the transformation rather than external factors which may detract from that transformation. Having a team half in and half out of DevOps does not work and causes more consternation than it is worth.
DevOps Improvement Idea 14: Perform Retros
Retrospectives play a pivotal role in the DevOps methodology by fostering a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration. These structured reflections enable teams to identify areas for enhancement in their development and operational processes. By openly discussing what worked well and what didn't, teams create an environment of trust where insights can be shared without fear of blame. This leads to the identification of bottlenecks, root causes of issues, and opportunities for adapting processes to align with changing requirements.
Moreover, retrospectives provide a data-driven approach to decision-making. By analyzing metrics and performance data, teams gain valuable insights that guide their improvement strategies. These sessions are not only about addressing challenges but also about celebrating achievements, boosting team morale, and maintaining alignment with DevOps principles. In essence, retrospectives offer a platform for iterative learning, where successes and failures are examined, shared, and transformed into actionable insights that shape more efficient and collaborative practices in DevOps.
As we conclude our exploration of DevOps improvement ideas, one thing becomes crystal clear: the path to excellence is an ongoing journey, not a destination. Embracing the spirit of continuous improvement means committing to a cycle of learning, adapting, and refining. It's about recognizing that even the most successful practices can be refined, even the most seamless workflows can be optimized, and even the most cutting-edge tools can be integrated more effectively.
In a landscape where change is the only constant, DevOps equips us with the mindset and tools to not only survive but thrive. By fostering a culture of open communication, learning, and iteration, organizations can empower their teams to push boundaries, challenge norms, and architect the future of software delivery. The heart of DevOps beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of progress, reminding us that the pursuit of excellence is unending, and the possibilities for improvement are limitless.
So, as you embark on your DevOps journey or continue refining your existing practices, remember the transformative power of continuous improvement. Embrace the challenges as opportunities, the setbacks as stepping stones, and the innovations as catalysts for change. With DevOps as your guiding principle and continuous improvement as your compass, you're poised to create not only remarkable software but a remarkable future for your organization and the technology landscape as a whole.