The year ahead in DevOps and agile: still some missing pieces to plug in

DevOps works wonders, but the challenge for the year ahead is achieving scale. 'You need to measure outcomes and monitor it going into the future.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

These days, everyone says they are pursuing DevOps and agile, and it's a sure thing that the coming year bring an even more intense focus on both. The Covid-19 crisis has proven to be a natural jumping-off point for DevOps, which was intended for remote operations. The need for greater collaboration -- especially since a lot of it is digital -- has never been more intense. What's ahead for DevOps and agile in the coming year? In this first of a series on the year ahead, I canvassed industry leaders with that question, and, essentially, found agreement that DevOps and agile proponents have their work cut out for them. 

Photo: HubSpot

DevOps, the alignment of and collaboration between development and operations teams, and agile, which promotes the same between IT and business users, promise to push software out the door and keep it updated in an automated and secure way. Reading the trade journals and analyst reports, one can be forgiven for thinking DevOps and agile are all around. But what has been the reality on the ground? Are we truly seeing DevOps and agile as they're supposed to be?  

"In reality, progress within the DevOps landscape has been spotty," according to RJ Jainendra, general manager and VP of IT business management and DevOps at ServiceNow. "Despite advancements and the success that teams have seen within pockets, many of core DevOps challenges continue to hamper organizations. We're seeing small, individual DevOps initiatives succeeding, but larger initiatives are failing to make significant impacts due to manual processes, poor visibility between dev and ops teams, and tool sprawl that hurts agility. For example, many customers aren't seeing significant increases in their rate of releases, claiming that the current range of tools in use as well as the lack of connection to corporate processes are big inhibitors toward making progress."

A big obstacle preventing the success of DevOps is quality control, Jainendra points out. "A big obstacle preventing the success of DevOps is security and compliance. Teams are now able to move more quickly; however, these enterprise processes for risk, security, change and compliance have not evolved to keep pace. For DevOps to truly succeed, organizations need to modernize and automate these processes."

There has been more progress with agile, Jainendra believes. "There's been an increased interest in scaling agile methods by implementing broader agile management such as Scaled Agile Framework," he says. "Additionally, teams have benefited greatly from agile methodology and are seeing productivity boosts as a result of its ability to create a culture of efficiency. Even as everyone began to work remotely, we are still experiencing the same team collaboration benefits as we were before Covid-19." 

What lies ahead, he states, is a need for greater customization of agile efforts. "Organizations often fail to tailor their agile initiatives to their organizations. Like any other practice or methodology, agile methodology should be customized so the unique needs and challenges of the company are being addressed in the most efficient manner. By customizing their agile practices, an organization can make the tools they use more attractive." 

Not everyone is onboard with the current state of progress with agile, however. "The dirty little secret amongst project management experts is that agile is not all it's cracked up to be," Tres Roeder, founder and president of Roeder Consulting, says. There's no question it has delivered many benefits to agile when used for software development -- "it can clarify roles, improve communication, and empower teams."  However, beyond elevating software developers' roles, the benefits are questionable. "Ever since the Agile Manifesto was written years ago at a mountain resort, agile's zealots have claimed it will solve world peace. It does not. The so-called agile revolution has fizzled. Many organizations have experienced first-hand the risks of a complete and unquestioning commitment to agile." 
For example, Roeder illustrates, "agile techniques often fail when it comes to set timelines and broad cross-disciplinary initiatives that have multiple moving pieces. Let's say you're launching a new advertising campaign that includes development of a new product that needs software development. Advertising commitments, in this scenario, have been made and the campaign date is set. The programming team, in a pure agile world, would be self-driven on timelines. However, there is a hard date that must be hit to fulfill the overall mission. Agile won't work on its own."
Predictive project management techniques, in addition to hybrid agile approaches, are called for, Roeder continues. "Modern, forward-looking organizations are past 'agile-only' approaches and are now developing dynamic and customized hybrid methodologies that combine adaptive and predictive techniques."

Cloud has been a great enabler to promoting DevOps and agile practices. With the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, "many businesses went fully remote and digitized processes," Jainendra points out. "We have also seen a lot of interest in AI, though it is just beginning to make inroads into DevOps and agile practices. There is a large demand for applying AI to help create effective automation in complex processes. Low code has also been of interest as citizen developers have been able to create, deploy and scale apps in record time, but it hasn't necessarily dramatically impacted other approaches."

Terry Simpson, technical evangelist at Nintex, says he has seen an acceleration in DevOps adoption over the past year. "I have witnessed a lot of tenacity around DevOps when groups see the value it brings," he says. What's still missing from the DevOps equation, Simpson adds, is a prevailing "never-cloud" approach in DevOps that has slowed progress in this space. "In many cases, this is limiting the latest and greatest features and functionality that is available."  In addition, there's a need for more analytics associated with DevOps. "In many cases the focus of DevOps is to make processes more efficient, but many forget they need to measure outcomes and monitor it going into the future. Continuous improvement is critical to understanding how the business is changing, as is being able to react quickly."

Simpson sees low-code solutions as a critical enabler to driving DevOps forward, especially when it comes to providing more analytics. "Generating meaningful dashboards and reports around data can be a time consuming and technical challenge," Simpson says. "Low-code solutions today are making it much easier for business users to connect data from processes to these dashboards."

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