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Improving DevOps collaboration: Challenges and tips

At the heart of DevOps lies collaboration. Learn why DevOps success depends on collaboration among teams, more than any tool, product or individual.

DevOps erases the traditional silos that long isolated coders, testers and production teams by enabling organizations to iterate and innovate at a much faster pace.

But for all the benefits that modern tools and techniques bring to software development, DevOps success depends on human collaboration. Software project managers, stakeholders, developers and operations teams must work closely to ensure that a project's functional and performance goals are met throughout the project's lifecycle. Without effective collaboration, the paradigm fails.

What is DevOps?

DevOps is a blend of software development and IT operations. The goal of DevOps is not to combine these into a single team or function, but rather to create a constructive methodology or set of practices that enable development and operations teams to work together throughout the software project's lifecycle.

When implemented and cultivated properly, DevOps can streamline and accelerate software development, deployment and ongoing management in ways that foster an Agile workplace culture of continuous iteration, delivery and improvement. Thus, DevOps isn't concrete -- it's not a new software tool or tangible product that can be procured and installed. DevOps is really a way of thinking and working together. Actual DevOps practices can take a wide variety of forms depending on the size, structure and needs of each individual business.

A graphic depicting the continuous loop of DevOps.
DevOps can be understood as an infinite loop of continuous integration, development, delivery, deployment and feedback.

Why is DevOps collaboration important?

DevOps success is not rooted in tools or technology, but rather in the collaboration among vital business teams. A well-developed DevOps environment can bring a variety of important benefits to the business, including the following:

  • Productivity. Collaboration allows people to work faster and better together. Working faster helps teams resolve tickets and meet sprints or other tight deadlines. DevOps gives teams new and more efficient ways of handling workflows and competing projects.
  • Faster time to market. Greater productivity can also yield benefits such as faster time to market. This enables DevOps teams to deliver new products and updates faster, with fewer defects than traditional development approaches. This ultimately improves the organization's competitive market position.
  • Quality. Collaboration allows software, operations and business teams to set reasonable goals, share knowledge about customer needs and expectations, operate within existing technical limitations, identify issues or problems, and work together to overcome roadblocks. These considerations all translate into better product quality.
  • Innovation. The rapid iterative nature of Agile development paradigms like DevOps can foster the idea that it's all right to fail. It's easy and inexpensive to try creative new approaches, such as a new software algorithm or deployment strategy. Collaboration is often the catalyst for innovation, which can lead to features and functionality that set the product apart in the marketplace.
DevOps isn't concrete -- it's not a new software tool or tangible product that can be procured and installed. DevOps is really a way of thinking and working together.

These broad DevOps benefits can be difficult to quantify, but there are numerous technical and business goals that have grown to depend on DevOps practices for success, such as the following:

  • Continuous approaches. Development approaches such as continuous integration and continuous delivery or continuous deployment rely on well-tuned workflows and strong collaboration. Businesses cannot support a reliable CI/CD environment without DevOps collaboration.
  • Performance and reliability. Application software must perform well under load and operate with minimum disruption. Maintaining applications demands close cooperation among developers and operations teams to share performance and log data, make suitable changes and updates to the code, and then deploy software to a suitable execution environment.
  • Automation. The iterative nature of DevOps often depends on strong automation technologies to handle many of the routine steps involved in the cyclical workflow of development, testing and deployment. Automation has far less value and practicality in siloed development and deployment environments. Automation relies on strong collaboration to ensure that automated processes remain relevant and beneficial.
  • Infrastructure as code (IaC). The strong workflow and collaboration support fostered by DevOps is also a vital foundation for advanced software-driven infrastructure technologies such as IaC. IaC enables teams to specify and provision IT infrastructure through software -- such as PowerShell scripts or other automated tools -- rather than through traditional manual provisioning and configuration techniques. Collaboration is crucial for proper IaC implementation and maintenance.
  • Monitoring. Applications typically require software instrumentation to gather performance and health data. Monitoring was traditionally a manual, ad hoc process. DevOps collaboration helps to define the workflows that can standardize and automate the monitoring and logging tools needed to enhance product quality.
  • Governance. As more businesses rely on software for data gathering and revenue generation, there is a greater emphasis on corporate governance and adherence to regulatory compliance. DevOps collaboration strengthens interaction between teams, allowing product development and technical infrastructure to better align with business needs. As a result, the business has a far better understanding of how its software products are developed, deployed, managed and maintained.
A table listing the elements of DevOps and their benefits.
From automated code preparation to a CI/CD pipeline, orchestration, monitoring and feedback, collaboration fuels every component of DevOps.

Challenges of DevOps collaboration

Despite the benefits, DevOps and fostering collaboration within it can pose several potential challenges for the business, such as the following:

  • Corporate culture. DevOps is a methodology -- a way of working together that is intended to break down barriers and enhance mutual support, with the goal of better business outcomes. However, for DevOps paradigms to be successful, organizations must be willing to embrace and support DevOps at every level, including senior management. Lack of management support and resistance from the prevailing corporate culture can limit the benefits and effectiveness of DevOps initiatives.
  • Complex and inflexible workflows. Although DevOps can accelerate everyday work cycles, the workflows and automations that DevOps uses can add complexity to traditional development and deployment cycles. DevOps requires care to prevent practices and tools from creating new bottlenecks or limiting the flexibility that DevOps paradigms promise. Automation and policy should never take the place of collaboration.
  • Security and shared workflows. Collaboration requires teams to share work. To share work, team members must grant each other access to various software components and builds. This can pose potential security issues if unauthorized employees access workflows and products. Business and technology leaders must address the implication of pull requests, role-based access control, and other security and shared workflow issues when building a DevOps environment.
  • Governance. Businesses are ultimately responsible for the outcome of their software products. This often leads to great emphasis on software quality standards, deployment standards, and monitoring and reporting requirements. A highly collaborative environment can make it difficult to identify areas of responsibility, so it's important for business leaders to ensure proper governance as work becomes more transparent and collaborative.
  • Tooling. Although DevOps is about collaboration, there should always be a strong emphasis on interoperable tools for development, deployment, monitoring and collaboration. A successful toolchain streamlines workflows and automation while simultaneously supporting security and governance. Inappropriate tool choices can create bottlenecks and security vulnerabilities.
A graphic depicting three ways to evangelize DevOps in the organization.
Leadership must communicate the benefits of DevOps to cultivate organizational buy-in and cross-team collaboration.

Tips for DevOps collaboration

Considering the potential challenges involved in fostering DevOps environments, there are several best practices that can help improve the chances of DevOps collaboration success. Some of the most important collaboration tips include the following:

  • Develop a culture of collaboration. Silos can be difficult to erase, but doing so is a central requirement for collaboration and DevOps success. Many businesses start small by developing new practices and workflows on simple projects first, then expand opportunities to collaborate gradually over time. Management support for collaboration is essential.
  • Define roles and responsibilities. Collaboration does not mean that everyone is involved in everything -- that would be chaos. Instead, understand the roles and responsibilities of each team and how teams should interact. For example, project managers will understand customer needs and project goals, then translate those into actions for the team to implement. Software teams will translate requirements into code, and operations teams deploy and monitor the results in production. It's generally not useful or appropriate for a developer to select new provisioning tools, nor should a system admin design a software algorithm.
  • Refine methodologies. DevOps is based on Agile methodology intended to foster collaboration, flexibility and improvement -- but there is no single methodology that works for every business size, type or need. Use collaboration and interactions among teams to find opportunities to adapt and refine the DevOps paradigm for the specific business. This can create faster and more efficient outcomes for the business and its unique needs.
  • Training and sharing. Take advantage of opportunities for cross-training and information-sharing sessions among development, operations and business teams. Common cross-training mechanisms include workshops, training sessions and informal lunch-and-learn meetings. These opportunities foster broader interactions among teams and help them understand the needs, capabilities and constraints of others. Collaboration is better when each party understands the others' perspective.
  • Assess and improve. Businesses seek to understand just how much collaboration and DevOps really translate into measurable business benefits. This can involve ongoing, periodic assessments of collaboration efforts based on varied measures. Subjective measures might include recommendations for improvements based on anecdotal project experiences. Objective measures can involve metrics -- such as help tickets resolved or bugs fixed -- that can help identify tangible outcomes. With the subjective and objective assessments available, the business can suggest and implement areas of improvement for collaboration and DevOps efforts.

Stephen J. Bigelow, senior technology editor at TechTarget, has more than 20 years of technical writing experience in the PC and technology industry.

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