Surprise! Broad Agreement on the Definition of DevOps

Author: Eric Minick

For the past few years, the conventional wisdom has been that DevOps has no agreed upon definition. Instead, everyone has their own interpretation. However, the conventional wisdom is wrong.

While everyone supplies slightly different words, the same working understanding of DevOps is nearly universal. Our understanding of DevOps goes back to a handful of common touch-points. There is the “CAMS” (Culture, Automation, Measurement and Sharing) acronym popularized by John Willis and Damon Edwards. CAMS has been extended repeatedly – Eveline Oehrlich of Forrester is now discussing CALMSS. Gene Kim offers his “3 Ways” and Patrick Debois has codified “4 Areas”. Allspaw and Hammond had 10 deploys a day, and Etsy made technologists fascinated by a virtual crafts bazaar.

Analysts, authors, industry, and community leaders all agree. The ideas are big and mutually supportive. In short:

  • DevOps exists to help the business win
  • The scope is broad, but centered on IT
  • The foundations are found in Agile and Lean.
  • Culture is very important
  • Feedback is fuel for innovation
  • Automation helps

Why: To help the business win

The most popular DevOps book today is The Phoenix Project, with a subtitle “A Novel about IT, DevOps and Helping Your Business Win”. DevOps is not a navel gazing IT methodology for making IT better for IT. It is focused on how stuff involving the technologists can deliver better results for the business.

As Patrick Debois writes in his excellent post,”DevOps Areas – Codifying devops practices“:

As rightly pointed out by Damon Edwards, devops is not about a technology, devops is about a business problem. The theory of Constraints tells us to optimize the whole and not the individual ‘silos’. For me that whole is the business to customer problem, or in lean speaks, the whole value chain.

At IBM, our definition of DevOps calls out enabling the business to “seize market opportunities”.

Today, technology is critically important to how a wide variety of companies compete. Retailers who neglected e-commerce have gone out of business. Logistics companies like UPS find a competitive edge by creating software to shave miles off delivery routes. In the automotive space, Ford is at tech conferences recruiting companies to write apps for its cars and Tesla’s first fix for their flammable battery problem was an over the air software update.

DevOps is a response to what the IT is experiencing – from a back-office concern that needed to “keep the lights on” to key part in how the business competes every day.

Who: A Broad Scope, beyond development and operations.

Yes, DevOps is a portmanteau that brings development and operations together. Yes, the classic DevOps concern is the Wall of Confusion between development and operations. However, with the focus on business value, the scope must include everyone who is involved in taking an idea through IT to business value.

In recent years, there’s been something of a cottage industry of community leaders and analysts writing, “No, no it really should be Dev_____Ops” where the blank is filled in by their own specialty. Examples: DevQAOps, DevOpsSec, DevSecOps, BizDevOps and of course Bussdevtestqanetsecnetops.

When a Finance department must approve the provisioning of each new test environment, slowing the delivery of new applications by weeks or months, there is a DevOps problem that leaves narrow confines of development and operations. It leaves IT. Patrick’s quote above talks about optimizing the whole value chain. In that post he describes DevOps as being about “collaboration, optimization across the whole organization. Even beyond IT (HR, Finance…) and company borders (Suppliers)”.

Based On: Agile and Lean

In answering why he didn’t support a manifesto for DevOps, Patrick Debois points people back to the Agile manifesto and asks them to reread it more broadly. Agile’s shift towards a faster delivery of software, and focus on the end goals make it a natural spiritual ancestor for DevOps. However, from the perspective of Ops teams, Agile represented the barbarians at the gates. Agile generally took root in development side of the house, enabling it to create something the business wanted faster. But with operations still moving at a pace suited to waterfall, pressures grew and the need for something like DevOps became clear.

Where much of DevOps energy seems to come from its Agile roots, the intellectual side of the movement is more rooted in Lean. It seems no accident that many of the Phoenix Project’s lessons are taught away from the cube farm and instead from the factory floor. While we can intuit that faster feedback is better, and the “continuous” in CI and CD is convenient because it lets us map feedback to fewer changes, it is in the Lean literature where we encounter Little’s Law. It provides the queue theory mathematics supporting the idea that smaller batch sizes supports shorter cycle time. And so Reinertsen’s “The Principals of Product Development Flow: 2nd Generation Lean Production Development” has become popular in DevOps circles and is well cited by Jez Humble in his new Lean Enterprise book.

Culture: Collaboration and Experimentation

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