Even for DevOps teams, troubleshooting still gets in the way of higher-value activities

Survey shows IT teams -- DevOps and developers -- want to grow their businesses, but still get consumed with fighting daily fires.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

The dream of DevOps is for a more smooth-functioning and synced enterprise that quickly and efficiently moves new or updated software to where it is intended: into organizational systems, into products, or into customers' hands. However, a recent survey of tech professionals suggests that even the most well-organized DevOps teams are getting snagged up in day-to-day troubleshooting mode. 

Photo: HubSpot

That's the word from SolarWinds, which surveyed 336 tech managers -- including DevOps practitioners -- ,and found a lack of focus on priority business and career growth activities, due to daily time spent troubleshooting application issues. So much for innovation.

Nearly half of the respondents say "troubleshooting" is in the top three tasks they manage on a daily basis, with 48 percent spending their time on this activity on a given day. For the DevOps practitioners in the survey, the percentage rises to 53 percent.

The Daily Reality

The top activities across all categories of tech pros are as follows. The high-level activities that DevOps should enable are in bold italics. 

  • Troubleshooting application issues  48%
  • Planning/strategizing future technology innovation  43%
  • Managing or deploying apps  29%
  • Writing or cleaning up code  29%
  • Managing end-user experience 22%

For DevOps practitioners, there is more emphasis on high-value activities, but troubleshooting tends to get in the way:

  • Troubleshooting application issues  53%
  • Planning/strategizing future technology innovation  45%
  • Managing end-user experience 38% 
  • Managing or deploying apps  31%
  • Monitoring application availability or load time  30%

A Perfect Day

It's also notable that when asked about the activities they love the most about their jobs, IT professionals want greater engagement with high-level business activities:

  • Planning/strategizing future technology innovation 63%
  • Managing end-user experience 45%
  • Writing and/or cleaning up code 34%
  • Managing and/or deploying apps 34%
  • Building product roadmaps 33%

High-value business activities and innovation were also at the top of the preferred list for DevOps professionals as well:

  • Planning/strategizing future technology innovation 68%
  • Managing end-user experience 42%
  • Managing and/or deploying apps 38%
  • Building product roadmaps 27%
  • Monitoring application availability and/or load time  23%

The SolarWinds authors make some recommendations for maximizing higher-vale activities while minimizing troubleshooting and other rote maintenance tasks:

Remember, it's about cultural change. "Just having DevOps teams doesn't make that so," the authors state. "DevOps must have a hand in every stage of application development and performance monitoring, without silos or knowledge barriers. This includes planning and strategizing, development, testing, and, yes-troubleshooting. Involving DevOps teams in this cycle of innovation fuels their passions -- evident in the fact that 41% of surveyed tech professionals say they joined their companies for the opportunity to use technology to solve real-world problems."

Put out fires before they start. "Tech professionals should be using comprehensive APM tools to analyze response times, resource usage, and other metrics to identify hotspots early and often before they become fires that need immediate attention."

Double down on automation. "Many DevOps teams have used automation in their application performance management, either via their own programming script or third-party applications like GitHub, Puppet, or Chef, to benefit from a greater amount of free time that allows them to focus on the more strategic and complex aspects of their jobs. When troubleshooting is automated, it's done the same way each time so there is reduced variability and increased velocity-these two factors combined will reduce the number of application errors."

Build institutional knowledge. This "guarantees the next generation of tech professionals will be able to get back to building applications faster. Once tech pros can diagnose an error or get a system back to peak performance, they must document the resolution and share it broadly to shorten debugging time for the next situation. Use tools that enable collaboration by allowing saved searches, alerts, and views; this documentation that drives institutional knowledge is one of the core tenets of DevOps' success. Communication and
collaboration are key." 

The bottom line is technology managers and professionals want to get more involved with their businesses -- they want to make an impact. When people "don't have time for more meaningful work, the business can suffer, and talent may leave," the survey's authors conclude. "The ability to solve real problems and have a positive impact are the top two reasons DevOps, web product managers, and developers chose their roles. They should be viewed as business strategy partners and given the tools they need to succeed."

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