Blog: What's in a name?

I am still trying to figure out exactly what DevOps is. This confusion is not from lack of research. I have read countless articles, reviewed multiple white papers, and investigated this topic in discussions with knowledgeable people. The further I investigate the more I realize, an objective, standard definition for DevOps either does not exist or is very elusive.

Gartner defines DevOps as “a customer-value-driven approach to deliver solutions using agile methods, collaboration and automation”. I am led to believe DevOps is a label and no organization does it the same way. When you search for standards or guidance, every article or white paper seems to have a unique view. From what I have read it appears DevOps characteristics always include agility (Agile Development) and lean principals along with customer centric tools such as Application Performance Management.

In the Office of the CIO I’m starting to see a blur between Operations and one of our development teams. I can’t exactly explain how or why it happened, but it seems to be working. This particular team is comprised of many of our former interns, who now work for us full time, and they typically bring new ways of looking at their development roles. They brought the desire to use Agile Development, then they incorporated Lean Kanban and were the first to embrace performance management tools.

The monitors you see below are just a some of several that dot their area on the third floor of our building keeping watch of application performance and real-time analytics. Is this what DevOps looks like? Since this team includes all three characteristics of DevOps, are they organically becoming a “DevOps” team? It certainly looks as though they are doing all of this to better support their customers.

Monitors in DevOps Environment

In this environment, there is no handoff from Operations, the Developers are doing their own monitoring and even getting alerts to ensure the best possible user experience. I heard they had the sensitivity of the alerts set a little too aggressive and some on the team were woke up several times throughout the night until they dialed it in correctly. Of course, the Office of the CIO Operations group is still monitoring this environment as normal practice, but this development team has eliminated the handoff, yet another Lean improvement providing information seamlessly to developers to enhance our organizational performance. Is this DevOps?

Monitors in DevOps Screen

Other groups in the OCIO and in other Agencies are asking for the ability to utilize this same performance monitoring tool. They too can leverage this to gauge user experience and introduce proactive solutions like synthetic monitoring. Theoretically they could be reducing or eliminating the overall impact of an issue and detect bugs that would otherwise impact the end user experience before the end user was aware. The idea is to respond to issues when they are detected and reduce the time to resolution with rapid identification, diagnosis and swift resolution for stakeholders.

Responsibility for monitoring is not turned over from Operations, but it is augmented by developers. Lean practices that I learned in manufacturing during the 1980’s have in the last few years been adopted by the Technology sector. I wrote about culture change three years ago in “An Army Brat’s Views on Culture Change”, and I believe what I am seeing is this:

  1. OCIO Teams enabled to make independent decisions to help customers. If it is in the best interest of the customer, they just do it.
  2. Providing employees with the tools necessary to get the job done effectively and efficiently is essential to do great work.
  3. Utilization of meaningful metrics and eliminating those that do not show true value.
  4. Continuous improvement.

No two organizations are the same, so of course process improvement does not follow a pre-described course. Regardless if what we are seeing today in the Office of the CIO is DevOps, the pioneers of process improvement like W. Edwards Deming, James Womack and Daniel Jones, I am certain, would be proud.

As always, I appreciate your commitment to the citizens of the State of Nebraska.